The Use Of Geography In Moby Dick

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A Look at Geography in Moby-Dick
Melville’s Moby-Dick is a richly woven psychological masterpiece. Time and again concepts and characters are deftly paralleled and contrasted. The sheer density and breadth of references spans biblical allusions, a range of mythologies, as well as the geographical knowledge of a learned cartographer. Perhaps Melville’s most commonly underappreciated device, however, is his complex use of geography. His locations do not only represent real world challenges but also states of emotion, metaphors for characters and relationships, and metaphysical beliefs. Although examples are abound in the novel, I will focus on interpreting Cape Horn as an analogue for the physical and spiritual life of the whalers, and how this
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Continuing the theme, it appears Melville also associates Cape Horn with Ahab’s madness. In Chapters 19 and 41, we hear of “/that thing that happened to him off Cape Horn/” when “/his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another/” but upon leaving this part of the ocean “the old man 's delirium seemed left behind him with the Cape Horn swells.” The cause of Ahab’s madness is clearly his fateful encounter with Moby Dick, but his emotions are tied to his location. While he is passing around the stormy seas of cape, he is mad for three days and needs to be tied down by the crew. The visual imagery of storms and waves raging while Ahab struggles is powerful; and when they move to calmer seas, so does Ahab’s rage …show more content…
This happens throughout, we see whaling extolled particularly in chapter 24, The Advocate. Ishmael praises “I know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty whales. I account that man more honourable than that great captain of antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns.”
It’s very clear that for Ishmael, and through him to the reader, that whaling is meant to be placed as a profession on honor and heroism, a profession of adventurers, conquerors, and heroes.
However, Melville also presents the opposing side of the whalers, the barbaric nature of their blood sport. The strongest realization is in Chapter 87, The Grand Armada. Here, instead the whale being presented as an epic beast, we see “suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales/ even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight.” We see now a different perspective of the whale; instead of a mythic beast to be conquered, they are serene and peaceful.

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