The Use Of Racialism In Moby Dick By Herman Melville

1184 Words 5 Pages
Herman Melville’s enduring masterpiece, Moby-Dick, is often regarded as a very progressive novel in its representation of ethnicity, and religion. Melville uses the mixed ethnicities/faiths of the harpooneers and likewise motley crewmen to illustrate an egalitarian social order among the ship’s crew. Even the lowly cabin boy, Pip, and the cook, Fleece emerge as far richer characters than the base caricatures of African-Americans that they may at first appear to be. This deceptive use of stereotypes is further evinced in the characters of Ahab’s mysterious harpooneer and advisor, Fedallah and his ghostly crew. Melville has often been criticized for presenting the enigmatic Parsee as nothing more than a piece of “gothic furniture,” that only …show more content…
For instance, as scholar Kyla Schuller notes, “Animating the trope of orientalism enables Melville to paradoxically humanize whales while simultaneously casting Fedallah and his crew as their counterparts” (16). This connection between the sperm-whales themselves and the specific ethnicity of Fedallah and his crew is evident in descriptions of each respective party. Melville presents the whales in language that openly connects them with Middle-Eastern peoples: “In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman, swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces and endearments of the harem” (328). The racialized humanizing of whales is contrasted in the racialized animalizing of Fedallah’s …show more content…
Ahab sees Moby Dick as an agent of a merciless god, while the crew of the Pequod views Fedallah as an agent of a conniving devil. Stubb himself refers to Fedallah as “the devil in disguise” (275) a supposition not unlike the otherworldly connections attributed to Moby Dick. In fact “Many critics have noted that Fedallah functions as Ahab’s double, […]. But Fedallah is also the twin of Moby Dick, […]” (Schuller 16). Fedallah is frequently connected to Ahab as his “shadow,” but rarely is Fedallah seen as a companion to inscrutable white whale. Schuller asserts that this connection manifests in an even more concrete way stating that, “Fedallah’s fate similarly suggests that his link to Moby Dick is a matter of corporeal affinity. When his dead body reappears, it is entangled in the hempen ropes that are wrapped around Moby Dick, as if united with his kind in death” (16). This argument seems to support the idea that Fedallah and Moby Dick are both more than they may seem to Ahab, the crew, and the reader alike. Both characters quite possibly are agents of Ahab’s fate, one as a monolithic opponent the other as a spiritual guide privy to information far outside the ken of mortal men, but both tangible incarnations of an ineffable

Related Documents