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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Gothic Undercurrents

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Activities: Author Activities

Herman Melville - Author Questions

Back Back to Herman Melville Activities
  1. Comprehension: Note the description of the Pequod in Chapter 16, "The Ship," in the archive. How does Ishmael characterize the ship and its crew? What does he mean when he says that the Pequod is "a cannibal of a craft"? How is this related to the idea of the "ship of state"?

  2. Comprehension: How would you describe the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg in Chapter 10, "A Bosom Friend," in the archive? Why should the two of them be "a cosy, loving pair"? How does Ishmael seem to feel about Queequeg's religious beliefs?

  3. Comprehension: Why might Melville have chosen to tell the story of Ahab and the white whale from Ishmael's point of view? How do Ishmael's judgments and perspectives affect your understanding of Ahab's quest? And why begin the novel with the line "Call me Ishmael," as if the reader is not privy to the narrator's true name?

  4. Context: Read carefully Ahab's diatribe against Moby-Dick in "The Quarter-Deck." He says that "all visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks," that the whale is like "the wall" that hems in a prisoner, and that "that inscrutable thing [in the whale] is chiefly what I hate." In the midst of a whale-hunt, why bring up pasteboard masks and prison walls? What does Ahab mean by "inscrutable"? What is the relationship between Ahab's speech and Ishmael's later assertion that Ahab identifies Moby-Dick with "all [Ahab's] intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them"?

  5. Context: In "The Whiteness of the Whale," Ishmael continues his assessment of Moby-Dick. He concludes that the whiteness presents "a dumb blankness, full of meaning." According to Ishmael, what is the significance of the whiteness of the whale?

  6. Context: In what sense does Moby-Dick fit Melville's discussion of literature in "Hawthorne and His Mosses"?

  7. Exploration: Melville wrote many texts that can be considered social critiques in a more clear-cut way than Moby-Dick. Read "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Billy Budd, Sailor, and Benito Cereno; then use the social critique in those texts to develop an interpretation of Moby-Dick as a social critique.

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