The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read. This will (hopefully) culminate in a large book report on the whole book. I will also include illustrations I find on the internet or in books.
The novel begins by introducing the narrator, who says, “Call me Ishmael.” This name is significant because it is from the Bible, and Moby Dick is full of biblical references. Ishmael was the other son of Abraham, brother of Isaac. It was not Ishmael who received the main promise from God. He became a wanderer, apart from Abraham’s community. Interestingly, however, Muslims revere Ishmael as a spiritual ancestor, unlike Jews and Christians. By telling us to call him Ishmael, the narrator is perhaps saying that he is, in some ways, a rebel, a vagabond from American Christian society of the 19th century.
The narrator is tired of society and life, and so decides to “see the watery part of the world.” Ishmael is depressed in body and soul, and he sees a kind of salvation at sea. He says humans have a mystical longing for water, and it is there we can find renewal. “Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert,” he says, “try this experiment.” The “experiment” is to join the crew of a whaling ship, and head to sea.
Ishmael decides to go as a crew member, not a passenger, for one primary reason: They pay you, and he is poor. But his deeper reason is spiritual. “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote,” he says, “By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open.”
Thus begins Moby Dick.