Moby Dick

  1. dahoglund profile image84
    dahoglundposted 7 years ago

    At the time I had to study "Moby Dick" I did not realize how much biblical reference there is in American literature. My question is what is the significance of Ishmael in Moby Dick?The introduction "Call me Ishmael is striking but realizing that Ishmael is a figure in Genesis--what is the significance of the name in Melville's book. I recall the movie version also had a church scene in the beginning. Can anyone enlighten me?

    1. dutchman1951 profile image61
      dutchman1951posted 7 years ago in reply to this

      I am not sure either but I looked this up, hope it answers!

      Ishmael introduces himself in the opening sentence of the novel with the well-known line "Call me Ishmael." The name Ishmael is Biblical in origin: in Genesis, Ishmael was the illegitimate son of Abraham by the servant Hagar, who was cast off after the birth of Isaac, who inherits the covenant of the Lord instead of his older half-brother (in the Islamic tradition, with which Melville was certainly much less familiar, Ishmael is a legitimate son of Abraham). In Moby-Dick Ishmael does not comment on the significance of his own name, but he does refer to himself by that name several times in the book. In fact, in saying "Call me Ishmael", Ishmael gives reason to believe that his name is an alias.

      Ishmael provides little about his personal background before his decision at the beginning of the novel to journey to Nantucket, Massachusetts to enlist as a sailor on a whaler. At the beginning of the novel, he is an experienced seaman who has not previously served on a whaler but in the merchant marine service (an experience that is ridiculed by the owners of the Pequod when he approaches them to sign on). He begins the novel in the first chapter wandering through Manhattan in the dreariness of November with dark thoughts suggesting nearly suicidal tendencies: pausing before coffin houses and following funerals. His primary reason for going to sea, he suggests, is to break out of this depressive cycle and obsession with death. Later in the novel he said he was a school teacher.