The Use Of Biblical Literature In Moby Dick By Herman Melville

In this paper, I will be discussing how the American writer Herman Melville, uses the Bible as a literary model and as a source for one of his best selling novels, “Moby Dick”. I will describe the qualities of the characters in this book, as well as the differences between the 1956 movie and the actual book itself. Moby Dick is a fascinating and intense story told by a sailor named Ishmael when he sets out on a mission with Captain Ahab, as they go whaling on the Pequod to catch and to get Ahab's obsessive revenge on the massive, white whale known as Moby Dick.

One Bible reference in Moby Dick can be found in the beginning of the book stated , “Call me Ishmael” which can be directed back to Genesis 16, to a man named Ishmael who is the son of Abraham. The Bible says that the name Ishmael means, “God Hears”. Both of these stories are very similar in that they both include a man who ends up on an absurd and extraordinary adventure that definitely tests their faith in God. How Melville uses this in the first line of his book is a definite allusion to the Genesis 16 Bible story.

Milville uses the one and only Captain Ahab as a symbol of King Ahab from 1 Kings 21 in this fantastic novel. Powerful Captain Ahab fantasises about conquering the massive whale to get revenge on his lost leg. King Ahab is a king that is prideful and overconfident in his abilities and is a very selfish man with very sinful and selfish desires. Captain Ahab is the same way, putting his crews lives and his own, in very dangerous and threatening situations, only caring about the whales' defeat and nothing else.

I believe Ishmaels motives were purely personal. He has a yearning to go on an adventure and he tells us that whenever he feels down, he goes straight to the sea. It states in the first chapter, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” He feels it in his soul to go out whaling on a ship to get a taste of life at sea, and to fulfill his hunger for adventure.

Captain Ahab is described as an insane, terrifying, angry man in the fact that the whale took his leg and it has become all he can think about. He dreams of killing Mody Dick and risks many lives in the process to get revenge. As the story goes on, Ahab becomes more fixated on the defeat of the whale, so he can finally be at peace with his lost leg. The book goes through more life threatening situations and Ahab gets all the more obsessed with getting victory over the death of the white whale. “All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.” 

I caught some differences between the 1956 movie “Moby Dick” and the original book, “Moby Dick”. One of which was that the Pequod crew spotted and outrun a pirate ship while sailing near southeast Asia. This happened in the book but not in the movie. Another was that in the book, the final hunt for Moby Dick lasts three days, whereas in the movie it only lasts for one day. Those were just a couple that I noticed when watching the film and reading the book.

That is how Miville used biblical literature in this exciting book, along with the qualities of character developments and the differences between film and book. I enjoyed this novel and movie very much, I found myself caught up with the Pequod crew as they traveled through the ups and downs of hunting the massive whale known as Moby Dick. It was a thrilling story that can keep you on the edge of your seat and I am very thankful that I got the opportunity to watch and read it. 

10 Jun 2021
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