When Ishmael meets Queequeg he is disgusted by Queequeg's shocking appearance and strange behaviors. This is not surprising since Queequeg has tattoos all over his body. Eventually, Ishmael gets used to Queequeg's presence and even learns to appreciate him for his kind spirit as well as his generosity. Both of them agree to work together in the whaling vessel. I believe Ishmael represents a basic contradiction between the settings of Moby Dick and the story itself. Through Ishmael's character, Melville develops an insightful, religious and philosophical story which he depicts through a world of many uneducated men.
Religion is mention the first time when Ishmael goes into the black church. The loudness and the seriousness of the whole church greatly frightens him. Ishmael later in the novel relates his experience in the church to that of a biblical image of the dark angel of doom and Tophet. In this scene Ishmael becomes disturbed by the Old Testament notion he gets in this short glimpse.
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The religious undertones and views of Melville are demonstrated in chapter two of the novel when Ishmael goes from inn to inn in search of a good place to spend the night. This parallels the travel of Joseph and Mary. The theme of religion is further evident in Ishmael's character. He does not have a definite ordained faith yet he attends church services on Sundays. I believe this is a habitual search for wisdom and reasoning in Ishmael's world.
In the bible, Jonah attempts to run away from the will of God and ends up bringing God's wrath on himself. The same case of fighting against God's will applies in the novel; when Ahab makes it his personal mission to destroy Moby Dick, a savage animal, which bit off his leg. In the real sense he is going against God by opting to place his own above fate.
Melville's views towards religion are demonstrated further through Ishmael when he makes a token worship to an idol belonging to pagans without seeing it as a problem. In my opinion religion is a tool which is used for comfort but not to be blindly followed. It's vital that one's own course is defined by what one believes to be fit. Melville tries to demonstrate that attending church services is important but in a practical sense it's of equal importance to be good to others since that's God will.
In chapter sixteen to thirty, religion is demonstrated mainly through Queequeg. He fasts for a whole day during the period of Ramadan. Ishmael perceives Queequeg's practices as stupidity because it's putting him in danger of starving to death. For Ishmael, religion is a mere formality and whenever it put a person at risk it ought to be thrown away.
On the other hand, Queequeg continues fasting and opts to have faith in unseen forces. Melville carries on the theme of religion when Peleg and Bildad refuse to let Queequeg onto the boat until he proves that he has become a catholic. Ishmael steps in and tries to prove that Queequeg is and has always been in the church of life to which everyone belongs. In this scene, Melville once again brings out religion as taking second place in people's lives when Ishmael states that Queequeg has sacrifice church time in order to perfect his harpooning skills. When Ishmael learns that the name of the prophet is Elijah, it greatly disturbs him since it's similar to the biblical prophet.
Chapter thirty one to forty five demonstrate Melville's perception of religion as being important and inescapable. Ahab's rage towards the whale is symbolic and demonstrates anger and fury against, injustices which many perceive to be caused by God from the time Adam was created to the present. This is similar to the earlier tale of Jonah but in this case Ahab is not running away from his destiny, instead he is attempting to attack God through defiance.
Ahab perceives himself as being above fate as well as the natural world; he sees himself as a God and this conviction lends him authority and power but in the end it leads to his demise. Just like the heroes of Shakespearian and Greek tragedy, Ahab fails to see his greatest weakness, one which is common in legendary characters such as Faust and Oedipus. His incredible overconfidence makes him defy common sense and perceive himself as a God; he believed that he was immune to nature's forces.
In my opinion, Melville portrays a situation where Moby Dick is perceived as the incarnation of evil while Ahab on the other hand is depicted as the destroyer of evil. Ahab is thus taken to be a tragic hero though his bad luck is greater than he deserves. Through Ahab's character Melville tries to inflict fear in the reader by making the reader of the novel acknowledge similar possibilities of faults in us.
The element of religion is once again brought out when Ahab refuses to kneel because his ivory-made leg. Although his excuse may be reasonable, he had a great sense of pride when he refused to kneel. God cannot tolerate pride. Ishmael observes the religious rituals even though he is not strictly religious. He sees himself as being a traveler on a boat and not the captain, thus he tries to follow his own fate.
Melville's theme of religion is notable when Fleece is asked to make a sermon so that the sharks would stop feeding in such fury. He delivers a sermon which in my opinion an actual priest might give, although more eloquently, about realizing and acknowledging the angels within us and self control. This is metaphoric and the group of sharks signifies the Old Testament i.e. feed the stomach first then the soul. In the real sense Fleece's sermon is a waste of time because the sharks can't understand what he is saying since they are too busy feeding.
In chapter sixty one to seventy five Melville brings in a character by the name of Gabriel. He is a madman who boards the Jeroboam.
The aspect of religion is brought out by the fact that Gabriel was an angel of God. Gabriel warns Ahab and his men against going against Moby Dick since he strongly believed that Moby Dick was God's Incarnation. What's more perplexing is that even though Gabriel was a mad man, in the end all his predictions and prophecies came true.
The first person died immediately after Gabriel's warning when his ship attacked the white male. He further warned Ahab against sailing towards the whale. Ahab's refusal to listen ended up destroying the entire ship. Elijah gave a similar warning earlier only to be seen as equally mad as Gabriel. Melville clearly depicts a close connection between religion, prophesy and fate.
In chapter twenty one Ahab sees the carpenter fixing coffins and perceives the whole scenario as capriciousness of Gods. Ahab perceives himself as capable of opposing such capriciousness of Gods. He further believes that he can he can understand the ways of the Gods and can choose whether to oppose or support God's will. Melville brings out the aspect of free will and religion as very important; in this chapter he depicts every man as having a will to either follow god's word or go against him. Melville further portrays Ahab as a figure of blasphemy. One of the major assumptions in the novel is that Ahab's mission against the powerful whale is blasphemous and the consequences which meet Ahab's crews are further evidence that indeed Ahab's quest was blasphemous. In this case Blasphemy can be viewed from two different perspectives. The first form of blasphemy is Hubris; the fact that Ahab believes himself to be Gods equal. The other form of blasphemy is evident when he rejects God and instead opts to form a pact with the devil. This point is evident throughout the novel for example the instance whereby Gabriel warns Ahab by stating "this will be a blasphemous end" also in chapter seventy one Peleg designates Ahab as an evil man.
Melville also brings out the aspect of impersonal forces, God and religion through Moby Dick. In a way, Moby Dick is not really a character because the reader does not have right of entry to the whale's intentions, feelings and thoughts. In my opinion Moby Dick is an allegorical symbol of God, an enigmatic and extremely powerful life form which human kind can neither defy nor understand. Moby Dick cannot be overpowered and lives free; he can only be avoided or accommodated. Ishmael tries his best to use his knowledge of whales to analyze Moby Dick but he ends up frustrated. Ishmael however points out to the fact that most whales hide from open view.
This is a natural way of mirroring the environment therefore human beings are always limited to seeing the surface of the sea while deep in it there lies the mysterious and unknowable truth. In addition when Ishmael finally gets to see a whole whale, he cannot figure out which part of it would help him understand the whole creature. He fails to localize the fundamental nature of the whale. This can be interpreted as Melville's way of putting in a metaphor in the novel. I believe Melville was trying to show the relationship between God and mankind. He is trying to reveal that God is beyond our understanding and cannot be destroyed by man. The habits of Moby Dick depict those of the Christian God in the sense that he remains a mystery and therefore trying to understand him as Ahab does can only be fatal and futile.