Marital Images in Moby Dick

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  • Topic: Moby-Dick, Love, Marriage
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  • Published : November 10, 2011
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Marital Images in Moby-Dick
Authors use symbolic elements in their writings to communicate a deeper thought or feeling in their message. In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville uses several symbols to illustrate the loving relationship, or “marriage” between Ishmael and Queequeg, such as the bedding of the men, the smoking of the pipe, and the monkey-rope. The symbolism Melville uses to create the “marriage” between Ishmael and Queequeg provides the opportunity for the hero’s maturation and as Bainard Cowan explains in his “America Between two Myths: Moby-Dick as Epic, “the marriage allows Ishmael to put away fear and misgiving and accept the path that destiny has arranged for him,” (226). Ishmael has to get out of the depression that he is in and Melville creates Queequeg as an outlet for his progression. However, Queequeg is not just a bystander in the story. Ishmael and he must have a deep love in order for Ishmael to fully change as a person and live on to be the hero. In his article “Melville’s Portrait of Same-Sex Marriage in Moby-Dick,” Steven B. Herrmann claims that a deep love within the characters must be present to fully experience the “marriage” between them. The two characters definitely have a deep love for one another and repeatedly refer to the other, in some way or another, as “wife”. Herrmann defines the marriage between Ishmael and Queequeg as a “spiritual marriage,” however, rather than a “traditional marriage.” Ishmael and Queequeg follow the patterns of traditional marriages, however, their relationship is built on a spiritual foundation. Through “courting”, “marriage”, and a “honeymoon”, Ishmael and Queequeg prove their love to one another, which is essential for the journey of the hero, Ishmael. Why Melville chose to exclude women from the novel and illustrate these two characters in love is a topic many critics have addressed. Some critics have argued that Melville had a homosexual, unreciprocated love for Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his writing was a type of propaganda to his unrequited love. Others may not construe the homosexual undertones of Melville’s writing, but still believe it had a lot to do with Hawthorne. In her article “Moby-Dick as Sexual Protest,” Camille Paglia “suspect(s) the heart of Moby-Dick was generated by Melville’s ambivalent reaction to Hawthorne’s female-centered work,” (698). It is almost as if Melville is trying to copy Hawthorne’s works but not obviously so. Because Moby-Dick is lacking the necessary counterpoise a female would bring to the story, Melville creates the male/male relationship. Louise Cowan in her “Introduction: Epic as Cosmopoesis,” states that in the epic, for every towering male figure there exists a female fully imposing,” which is, in this case, provided to Ishmael through his male friend, Queequeg, (22). Since the novel does not contain a female character, the love between these two allows for femininity in the novel, showing that the characters are capable of nurturing as well, and not just destruction. The “courting” stage of Ishmael and Queequeg’s relationship occurs in Chapter 4, The Counterpane. The men meet for the first time, are curious of one another, and Ishmael begins to reflect on change. In this chapter, Ishmael and Queequeg are forced to live together in the Spouter-Inn and Ishmael is reluctant about staying in the same room with him. Ishmael though, begins to feel the impact of Queequeg in his life upon realizing that he has slept better than ever before. However, Ishmael is still somewhat skeptical of Queequeg as notices Queequeg’s sleeping position: “I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost though that I had been his wife,” (36, ch. 4). Ishmael remembers a dream he had as a child and a strange feeling when he thought his hand was not his own. Ishmael is fighting an inner battle in that he might enjoy lying there with Queequeg, but his mind is still confused and chooses to...
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