Thursday, August 13, 2015

Moby Dick Ch. 9: The Sermon

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.

After ascending his ship-pulpit, Father Mapple offers “a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.”  Then he leads the congregation in a hymn whose speaker is, appropriately, Jonah—the biblical prophet who fled God’s calling, went to sea, was swallowed by a whale, repented, got barfed up by the whale, and then completed his prophetic mission.  The hymn is quite moving, expressing Jonah’s despair and redemption.

After the hymn, Father Mapple gives his sermon, which is an impassioned re-telling of the story of Jonah, with some commentary.  This is a sermon for mariners.  Here are some quotes I liked from Father Mapple’s sermon:

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all ports.”

“Terrors upon terrors run shouting through his soul.  In all his cringing attitudes, the God-fugitive is now too plainly known.”

“To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood!  That was it!”

“Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall!  Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness!”

“Delight is to him—a far, far upward, and inward delight—who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self.”


Father Mapple’s sermon can be seen as a kind of microcosm of the novel.  Perhaps Ishmael is Jonah, fleeing American society to find himself at sea.  Perhaps Ahab is Jonah, raging against the white whale, which is like his god.  Moby Dick is a book deep with spiritual significance, almost like an American prophecy, and Father Mapple’s impassioned sermon drives home this theme.


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