Comparing Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville's Writings
Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville focused their writings on how man was affected by nature. They translated their philosophies though both the portrayal of their protagonist and their own self exploration. In Moby Dick, Melville writes about Ahab's physical and metaphysical struggle over the great white whale, Moby Dick, symbolic of man's struggle against the overwhelming forces of nature. Ahab's quest is reported and experienced through the eyes of Ishmael. Melville's use of the third person's biographical standpoint exposes conflicting viewpoints that were both in agreement and disagreement with Ahab's quest, creatively allowing Melville to transcend the story line and expostulate his own philosophies. In contrast, Thoreau, wrote from an autobiographical standpoint revealing his own internal conflicts with mans struggle against nature. In, Walden - A life in the Woods, Thoreau reveals his mental and spiritual beliefs through a personal journey in which he strives to become in tune with n ature, working not to be victorious over these universal forces, but rather to participate in harmony with nature, in tern exposing love and truth. Both authors attempt to analyze all aspects of nature and its relevance to human life. They explore the powers and influences of nature over mankind. However, Melville centers his point of view upon mankind in conflict with nature's forces, while Thoreau believes that if mankind experiences nature, we will envelope ideas which will teach mankind to live harmoniously in our natural environment; in turn, allowing individuals to reach the highest levels of achievement synergistically with nature.
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville illustrates man's quest to attain the supreme power of God through the monomaniacal Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab is obsessed with the desire to destroy Moby Dick, his nemesis, which is truly symbolic of man's overwhelming quest to control and conquer nature. Melville depicts Ahab as an evil, egotistical human whose willingness to combat the forces of nature represents man's failure to understand his place in the universe. Melville uses Ishmael to voice his philosophies which portray Ahab as a crazy captain who fails to realize that he's up an unconquerable force. Melville utilizes Ishmael further voice his life philosophies through grossly symbolic statements like, "No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor
I have the satisfaction that all is right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way - either in a physical or metaphysical point of view." (pg. 14 - 15). Through, Ishmael, Melville expresses his longing, for beauty and nature, and a t the same time he contrasts his desires against mankind's/Ahab's tendencies for the controlling darkside of human nature which can't and won't interact with nature and consequently leads to its own ultimate destruction. "Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a pretentious and mysterious monster caused all my curiosity
the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale."(pg. 16). Ishmael sees Ahab as a man possessed, almost demonic in a belief that he could overcome death and evil. For example, Ishmael sees Ahab for the first time: "He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has over runningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them
His whole thigh, broad from seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mold, like Celoni's cast Perseus." (Pg. 111 - 112). Thus, we see a formidable figure affected by a plague on his soul venturing through the water's of hell to reach a deadly quest. Ishmael even finds him almost as crucified as the God Ahab thinks he could become as stated here: "And no only that, but Moby stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of...
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