Moby dick

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Let me suggest that Moby-Dick is an almost totally ironic novel, perhaps a parody. Bear with me. Though anti-Transcendental, it is written in the Transcendental style. A symbolic novel, its major 'symbol' symbolizes absolutely nothing. Its heroic central figure is a character on the epic scale, whose strength overwhelms all the men who surround him; but he is blinded by his own vision, mouths the ideas of an author whom Melville thought "a humbug," and is ultimately a parody of the Transcendentalist "great man." The white whale whose image Captain Ahab pursues around the world is nothing but a whale--an occasion for the projection of symbolism but not a symbol. In any larger context the Pequod's quest means nothing and the fate of its crew little. Whatever meaning the novel has lies in the paradigm presented to us by Ahab's quest and failure--that all attempts to force meaning upon the world are futile, are indeed more than futile: they are destructive. The world exists. Physical reality is nothing more nor less than what it is. Nature has no value; it wills nothing; its relation to man is one of coexistence.
By 1850, Transcendentalism was a long-established Romantic orientation and Emerson its American spokesman. As with all nineteenth-century cultural stages Transcendentalism attempted to solve the difficulties inherent in earlier Romantic 'solutions.' So, too, does Melville try to expose the problems he felt Emerson had failed not only to solve, but even to take into account--particularly the limitations of individual freedom. For Emerson the universe is a book that can be read by any individual: "Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable" (Nature [1836]). A spiritual reality underlies the world and unites both man and the vegetable in an occult relationship. "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit" (Ibid.). Since the individual's origins are spiritual he may feel free to extend his spirituality outward, limited, for Emerson, only by

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