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Herman Melville: Moby Dick or The Whale Essay

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Ishmael and Queequeg attend the Whaleman’s Chapel before leaving New Bedford, where Father Mapple preaches a sermon. The homily is based on the story of Jonah and the whale, which takes a major part of the sermon, where the priest foreshadows the struggle of Ahab and Moby Dick. It seems to me that the story is called for teaching people not to escape God’s commands in order not to experience sufferings, as “we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists” ( Melville 53), “…higher the top of that delight than the bottom of the woe is deep” (Melville 60). Melville rejects the idea of original sin. It means that everyone on earth is perverted to the original sin that arose from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. Atonement can be deserved by God’s grace and needs obedience to God’s anger (Talley 55). The main character of the priest’s sermon wants to escape God’s commands by escaping from any country, where God may watch the people’s doings, “a ship made by men will carry him into countries where God does not reign” (Melville 54). He feels fear for God’s wrath, which he can call down, “I fear the Lord the God of Heaven who hath made the sea and the dry land!” (Melville 57). Finally, Jonah accepts the situation, “For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy temple” (Melville 58).

At the end of the sermon the priest tries to put people to the straight and narrow, “this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who, as the great Pilot Paul has it while preaching to others is himself a castaway!” (Melville 59). The character of a priest is used to support thematic and narrative aims, Melville stuffs the story with a sacrificial line of images (priests, altars, Biblical sermons), but the religion is used in the story only to keep the ship crew in order (Tischler 185-186). The preacher’s teachings are aimed at telling us what Jonah’s sin was.

Works Cited

Moncur, Michael. . 2003-2005. The Literature Page.

Talley, Sharon. Student companion to Herman Melville. Student companions to classic writers. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

Tischler, M. Nancy. Thematic guide to biblical literature. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

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