March 10, 2012
White Shadows of the White Whale
“Malice in the whale, Madness in the man”. Moby-Dick is a novel of darkness. Though Melville did not intend it, his story, I find, can only be read at night by a dim light on my patio, looking out over the starlit desert. As I read, I sense the darkness of his story. I am not moved to fright or horror by it, but I feel those shadows move in. Psyche is near but not yet touchable. Something is missing, at least if you’ve only read to Chapter 40. There is darkness, jocularity, hints of imminent catastrophe, and pleasant old English to be read. The story is only just developing. Ahab, Ishmael, Starbuck, Stub, Flask, and Moby-Dick: all of these characters are well known in our modern, literary world. Ishmael’s narrative sets their qualities clearly, but this is only a tool of literary character development. The reader is not drawn into the horror that has occurred (Ahab’s dismemberment) or into the horror to come until Chapter 41. We are faced with Ahab’s madness in Chapter 36 and, with Ishmael; we stand in awe of the power of the man, overlooking the depth of his madness. Chapter 41—curiously named by the title of the book—finally brings the horror to reality as Ishmael personifies the shadow within Moby Dick- the whale, and the madness in Ahab.
Moby-Dick, the White Whale itself, is only a representation of the sperm whale species so clearly unique and delineated by Melville in earlier chapters. It is difficult to be either drawn to him—Moby-Dick—or repelled by him. That can only happen once the whale becomes the personification of the psychological Shadow. When we personify something, we move it closer to its archetypal meaning. In this essay, Moby-Dick becomes the personification of Shadow in all of us. Within that Shadow are found fear, vengeance, ferocity, and murderous rage.
Personification by itself is not enough. Moby Dick is used as a vessel by the shadow,...