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Moby Dick as an Icon for America

VIEWS: 31 PAGES: 46

									         Masaryk University
          Faculty of Arts

     Department of English
     and American Studies

English Language and Literature




                Iveta Plachá



Moby-Dick as an Icon for America

      Bachelor‘s Diploma Thesis




Supervisor: Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, Ph.D.


                  2008
                I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


                                  ……………………………………………..
                                                        Author‘s signature




                        2
I would like to thank Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, PhD. for her significant help and advice.




                                    3
Table of Contents

1. Introduction …………………………………………………………………..5

  1.1. Moby-Dick throughout the Times………………………………………5

2. 1851 and Moby-Dick…………………………………………………………..9

3. The 1920s and Moby-Dick…………………………………………………...13

4. The 1940s and Moby-Dick…………………………………………………...17

  4.1. Moby-Dick as America………………………………………………….19

  4.2. Ahab as Adolf Hitler……………………………………………………23

  4.3. Pearl Harbor as the Beginning of the Big “Hunt”…………………….30

5. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………….35

  5.1. Present Day Moby-Dick…………………………………………………35

Works Cited……………………………………………………………………….41




                                 4
Introduction


        The aim of my thesis is to prove that the Second World War and the attack on

Pearl Harbor had an effect on the significance of Moby-Dick not only as a novel but

also on Moby-Dick as an icon. It was World War II which brought Moby-Dick and its

symbolisms into the minds of Americans and other readers all over the world. Within

my research I would like to examine the historical, cultural and literary changes since

1851 up to the present, including the first critiques and reviews as well as later

interpretations. My aim is also to examine how important role politics actually played in

the perception of this novel, particularly Fascism and Adolf Hitler.


   1.1. Moby-Dick throughout the Times


       There can be identified four different periods in the development of the

perception of Moby-Dick as a novel and its symbolism since it was first published in

1851. The first period is the year 1851 and the 1850s which did not accept or did not

understand this novel. The main concern in that period was slavery, and the

Compromise of 1850. But the 1850s was not prepared for such a novel, which the

critiques and reviews reflected. This period was followed by the 1920s in which there

was a turn in the perception of Moby-Dick. It started to be slightly appreciated as a

quality novel. The first interpretation of its symbols was discussed, and it was the period

when the novel started to attract the attention of both critics and readers as the stiff

Victorian manners started to loosen. In that time, there was a strong population of

movie-goers, too and with this movement an adapted version a Moby-Dick got into the

cinemas. The third and the most important period was the 1940s, the period of World

War II. The 1940s was the peak of the positive critiques and the general knowledge of

Melville and his White Whale. World War II brought Adolf Hitler who served the


                                              5
critics as a rewarding topic for comparison with the mad Captain of the Pequod; and it

also brought the Pearl Harbor attack after which the Americans became united into one

nation. This nation was then decided to find, get and destroy the mad captain who dared

to attack them. In the 1940s, Moby-Dick, or the White Whale, was compared to the

nation, to the state; and Captain Ahab to the monomaniacal leader whose quest for

revenge has to head into perdition. The last but not the least period is the current

development of the symbolism and the use of various symbols from the novel in the

media, politics and literature following the symbolism of World War II. But at present,

there is a little shift in the perception of the novel because the mad captain Ahab is not

portrayed as an outer threat to the United States, but more as an inner threat. Captain

Ahab is compared to the current president of America, George W. Bush who is fighting

the Moby-Dick represented by terrorism. As in the novel, George W. Bush is heading

for his destruction in an attempt to revenge the attack on New York on 11 September,

2001 which symbolizes the leg of Ahab bitten off during the first meeting of Ahab,

George W. Bush, and Moby-Dick, terrorism. In spite of the negative characters which

appear in the novel and are connected to the negative personalities, World War II still

had a very positive effect onto the novel. Despite or because of the negative literary

character and a real dictator, it brought Moby-Dick to a broad readership, if not the

novel as such, then definitely at least its symbolism and its characters.


       The most important source for this thesis has been the collection of critical

essays edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker called An Authoritative Text

Reviews and Letters by Melville Analogues and Sources Criticism. This collection

provides reviews since 1851 up to 1951, which covers the main periods of this thesis. It

functions as a guide to the novel by Herman Melville because it enables to compare and

contrast the development of different views and critical analyses; it provides the text


                                             6
itself with various notes and explanations how to read or understand Moby-Dick; and it

also contains Melville‘s own opinions and thoughts about the novel which appeared in

the letters he was sending to his friends and acquaintances when he was writing the

novel and after it was published. And even though, as Melville admits, he did not

include the symbols purposefully or, rather, he did not write Moby-Dick as a symbolical

novel, others started to see the symbols and allegories immediately. Soon after the first

publishing, a friend of his sent Melville a letter reacting to the novel and Melville was

quite surprised by the allegories his friend noticed in Moby-Dick, ―I had some vague

idea while writing it [Moby-Dick], that the whole book was susceptible of an allegoric

construction, & also that parts of it were – but the specialty of many of the particular

subordinate allegories, were first revealed to me, after reading Mr Hawthorn‘s letter,

which without citing any particular examples, get intimated the part-&-parcel

allegoricalness of the whole‖ (568).


       Apart from the literary values, The Authoritative Text Reviews and Letters by

Melville similarly fulfills the concept of a literary reader or an anthology, even though a

slightly unusual one because, instead of the changing literary genres, it puts together

changing reviews. Moby-Dick as a novel shows that it has ever valid interpretations

hidden in itself. In the preface to the book Forging the American Character John R. M.

Wilson defines that ―The theme of this reader is the American character. I trust that the

concept will illuminate American history without being overly restrictive‖ (vii). This is

as true for the reader as for the collection by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker

because it serves as a source of interpretations of American history and American

character presented in this thesis. ―Trying to define the American character can be very

frustrating. No one has been able to develop a widely accepted definition of the

concept‖ (Wilson vii), but Moby-Dick, guided by Hayford‘s and Parker‘s collection,


                                             7
provides a definition and an explication of American nation throughout the centuries

emphasizing the power and feeling of invincibility. Although not every topic is included

in the reviews and interpretations, it gives a satisfactory variety of ideas in one book,

which the readers or anthologies of literature are trying to present in many books. ―The

readings do not pretend to cover every possible topic, rather, they explore various areas

that shed light on the American character yet suffer comparative neglect in many

textbooks‖ (Wilson vii). Yet going through the various interpretations of Moby-Dick

and various approaches to the novel in the collection edited by Harrison Hayford and

Hershel Parker, one gets such a comparison of the changes in the society. Instead of

putting together various novels throughout the century showing the development of

literature, Moby-Dick and its interpretations show the different critical approaches to

the still same novel according to the current historical cultural or literary changes. The

chosen interpretations and explications of symbols thus reflect the current political,

cultural or historical situation. Moby-Dick then provides a great amount of symbols and

every possible reader can hunt and catch his/her own symbolism in the form of a White

Whale.




                                             8
2. 1851 and Moby-Dick


       An examination of the first period in the process of the discovery of the uneasily

accessible novel by Melville brings together the first critiques and the historical

background which then resulted into the effect on the reader the novel had in that time.

The year 1851 was the year in which Melville‘s novel Moby-Dick was published for the

first time. Melville expected the novel to be successful but it was a surprise for him that

it was not appreciated by the public: ―When the novel was published, it did not bring

him [Herman Melville] the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Readers of Typee and

Omoo were not expecting this kind of story, and its brilliance was only noted by some

critics‖ (―Herman Melville‖); but even those critics who noticed the uniqueness of the

novel as soon as in the 1850s were not too certain about what exactly caused the

singularity. Everet A. Duyckinck in his criticism suggested that ―The value of this kind

of writing can only be through the personal consciousness of the reader, what he brings

to the book; and all this is sufficiently evoked by a dramatic trait of suggestion‖ (614).

George Ripley wrote about Moby-Dick as about ―A Pregnant Allegory‖ in which ―the

author has constructed a romance, a tragedy, and a natural history, not without

numerous gratuitous suggestions on psychology, ethics, and theology. Beneath the

whole story, the subtle, imaginative reader may perhaps find a pregnant allegory,

intended to illustrate the mystery of human life‖ (616). But the majority of critics did

not even give Melville a chance to be recognized by the public as a noticeable writer. In

1852 there appears another comment on Moby-Dick, this time it was written by an

anonymous writer who expressed a strong but not at all positive opinion on the novel:


               In all other respects, the book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous.

               Mr. Melville‘s Quakers are the wretchedest dolts and drivellers, and his


                                             9
               Mad Captain, who pursues his personal revenges against the fish who has

               taken off his leg, at the expense of ship, crew and owners, is a monstrous

               bore, whom Mr. Melville has no way helped, by enveloping him in a sort

               of mystery. His ravings, and the ravings of some of the tributary

               characters, and the ravings of Mr. Melville himself, meant for eloquent

               declamation, are such as would justify a writ de lunatico against all the

               parties. (Anonymous 619)


This anonymous writer did not only attack Melville as a writer, writing about his book

as about a writ de lunatico, but he even attacked the characters of the novel. Calling the

members of the crew dolts and drivellers, and the hunt a monstrous bore, the

anonymous writer did not give the book any chance for success, or the reader a

motivation to actually read this novel. And even though William Harrison Ainsworth in

1853 suggested that ―there [in Moby-Dick] was about blubber and spermaceti

something unctuously suggestive, with him for whaleman. And his three volumes

entitled ‗The Whale‘ undoubtedly contain much vigorous description, much wild power,

many striking details‖ (620), he continued with as much of a negative criticism as the

anonymous critic one year sooner, ―but the effect is distressingly marred throughout by

an extravagant treatment of the subject. The style is maniacal – mad as a March hare –

mowing, gibbering, screaming, like an incurable Bedlamite, reckless of keeper or strait-

waistcoat….‖ (620). Later on Ainsworth added ―that the story itself is a strange, wild,

furibund thing – about Captain Ahab‘s vow of revenge against one Moby-Dick. And

who is Moby-Dick?‖ (621). Who Moby-Dick really is, seemed to be an essential

question since the book was first published. Some of the possible answers are suggested

in later critiques starting with the 1920s and mainly in the 1940s. Disregarding the

negative criticism and having looked at the political, cultural and social situation in the


                                             10
1850s there was not a strong or evident connection (which was actually found later on)

which could have attracted the reader. It was a bit late in the 1850s to come up with a

novel about fishing because the peak of the whaling industry had just gone as the Time

Magazine wrote in 1939: ―In 1851, when Herman Melville finished writing Moby-Dick,

the golden age of U. S. whaling (1820-50) was on its way out. It probably hit its peak

around 1846 when lusty Yankee whalers out of New Bedford and other New England

ports came home with some $8,000,000 worth of crude whale oil‖ (―Tax‖). In that time,

there were other, for Americans more daunting topics and soon new ones appeared. The

1850s in the United States still was a period of slavery. In the ―1840s – the issue –

slavery – came to overshadow all others‖ (Brinkley 349). There were no slaves on the

board of Pequod, all the whalemen were free citizens while in reality in America ―By

1860, […] 500,000 slaves grew to 4 million‖ (Zinn 167). In the 1850s the United States

also was not united at all, there were different people fighting their own battles; slaves

were trying to get free; ―in fact, however, the United States in these years was in many

respects not truly a nation at all – at least not in the way nations would be defined in

later times. It was, rather, a highly decentralized confederation of states, many of which

had little in common with one another‖ (Brinkley 311). This is also one of the key

moments, because the symbolism of Moby-Dick, as is later noticed by some of the

critics in the 1940s, is the symbolism of America, as of one united nation. However, the

1850s America was more crumbled than united and the Americans in that period were

much more concerned about a more topical problem which was the Compromise of

1850 as the time when ―Senator Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions on

January 29, 1850, in an attempt to seek a compromise and avert a crisis between North

and South‖ (Brinkley 393) (but the tension remained and the number of slaves was

about 42.7% of the total population of the States). Kansas – Nebraska Act in 1854



                                             11
brought another division, this time of Kansas and Nebraska and the ―‗Bleeding Kansas‘

became a symbol of the sectional controversy‖ (Brinkley 393). Another issue which

could potentially make a link between Moby-Dick and the 1850s USA is the

immigrants, the various nationalities coming onto the ―board‖ of the United Stated to

earn a living and the same as various nationalities to share the board of Pequod. As

historical sources such as the American History by Alan Brinkley say, the largest group

of immigrants came from Germany and Ireland. ―The newcomers came from many

different countries and regions: England, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Poland, and

Holland. But the overwhelming majority came from Ireland and Germany. In 1850, the

Irish constituted approximately 45 percent and Germans over 20 percent of the foreign-

born people in America‖ (317). The sea story could be interesting for the immigrants

but the unsuccessful end of the crew of Pequod disables taking this story as an example

or assurance of a happy ending. ―A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All

noble things are touched with that‖ (Melville 118-19). Evidently, the 1850s was not able

to find any accessible way to Moby-Dick as to a novel, first caused by the negative

critiques written soon after the novel was published and also by the historical

development which did not resonate with the whaling crew led by a mad captain.




                                            12
3. The 1920s and Moby-Dick


       Nearly seventy years later, when America entered World War I, there followed

economic boom and social changes which brought a slight change in the perception of

Moby-Dick during the 1920s. The 1920s was not a period inclined to accept Moby-

Dick, maybe it was because of the ―Roaring Twenties‖ whose ideas and various cultural

changes did not meet with the content of the novel or maybe it was just because the

1920s generation was a bit more interested in commercial things and movies which

would attract attention of the majority of people. And this is not the case of Moby-Dick.

But still, it was the period of changing manners which could help the novel together

with some critics who started to realize and appreciate the qualities of Moby-Dick. ―A

‗revolution in manners and morals‘ swept through middle-class America in the 1920s,

fueled by postwar prosperity, new attitudes toward sexuality, prohibition (…), and the

automobile‖ (Guarneri 227). One of the first positive critiques, which was called ―The

Originality of Moby-Dick‖, was written by Carl van Doren who in 1917 said about

Moby-Dick ―that it belongs with the greatest sea romances in the whole literature of the

world‖ (626). Another critique followed in 1919, this time it was written by Raymond

Weaver who discovered in Moby-Dick a quality novel comparable to literary classics:


              Because of this multiplicity of personality, Melville eludes summary

              classification. In his composite achievement he is severally a gentle

              Smollett, a glorified Whitman, an athletic Coleridge, a dandified

              Rabelais, a cynical Meredith, a doubting Sir Thomas Browne. Essentially

              was he a mystic, a treasure-seeker, a mystery-monger, a delver after

              hidden things spiritual and material. (627)




                                           13
Thus the positive critiques which were missing when the book was published not only

but mainly thanks to Carl van Doren tended to attract attention to the novel even though

it was not exactly a mass culture novel. From Lunatico, Melville was promoted to a

treasure-seeker, a mystery-monger and a delver.


       At that time, the novel became an inspiration for a film version. The period of

the ―Roaring Twenties‖ relating to literature and film was a decade of mass culture,

films with heroes and beautiful girls, and they were romantic. ―Millions of young men

and women flocked to their local theatres to see film whose advertisements promised

‗brilliant men, beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting parties

in the purple dawn, all ending in one terrific smashing climax that makes you gasp‘‖

(Guarneri 227). According to Guarneri, for the first time the film discovered the human

body and sexual relationships as they were never shown before. With the development

of film, some changes were done but not towards accepting Moby-Dick as such on the

―big screen‖, comedies and westerns appeared.


               …All the evidence suggests that the vast majority of silent films fell into

               well-defined categories of subject and treatment: the crime story, the

               Western story, the historical costume story, the domestic melodrama, the

               romance. Overwhelmingly, films of contemporary life, crime movies,

               melodramas and love stories centered on men and women from the

               upper-middle and wealthy classes: people who lived in large spacious

               houses, kept servants, owned cars and earned their money from business,

               finance or the professions. (Guarneri 231)


Neither of these was Moby-Dick and ―this was as true before World War I as after‖

(Guarneri 231). Moby-Dick did not include any crime, any love story, or western in its


                                            14
story. The novel was mostly influenced by the Bible and the fight of man against

nature, himself and a mysterious White Whale. But none of these topics were among

the features appearing in the 1920s films. In the 1920s there were many different styles,

cultures and ideas to choose from, but none of them was purely American. Thus a very

important movement got into motion in that time and it was looking for a wholly

American culture: ―And ever since the rediscovery of Melville in the 1920s, there has

been a general consensus that at least in Moby-Dick, here was an author, eminently

American it is true, but at the same time capable of taking his rightful place among the

very grates of modern times‖ (Doren, The Annals of America 470). The process of

uniting America into one nation or into one culture was an essential moment in

accepting the symbolism of Moby-Dick and accepting America as the unbeatable

Moby-Dick. The process of looking for a common identity of both the immigrants and

Native Americans living in the United States of America was very long and

complicated. Finally the process was unfortunately finished, no sooner than by World

War II during which the nation was united after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But in the

1920s, from a cultural perspective, ―in America there is broadly speaking no culture‖

(Ross) and because ―The American People started quite recently, with little that could

at all be called culture, with no class of assured resource, with no leisure class of any

sort, in a new country where sustained toll was the price of mere existence‖ (Ross),

there were no strong foundations on which the symbolism could have been built. ―But

whatever the genre of writing – humorous, reportorial, or romantic – the modern case

supporting the existence of an American style has tended to be disarmingly

simple…What foreigner could have captured on paper as did Hawthorne and Melville,

the tone, and spirit of new England?‖ (Doren, The Annals of America 470). Melville

thus captured the spirit of New England, but definitely not the spirit of New England in



                                            15
the 1920s, the novel has a far more reaching symbolism, which is a symbolism of

World War II, and not much of the decade after the 1920s when America was hading

into the Great Depression of the 1930s. But still one important moment for Moby-Dick

remained and that was the popularity of going to the movies: ―Half the population was

going to the movies once a week‖ (Wilson 131). And it was no later than in 1930 when

another adaptation of Moby-Dick appeared after the 1926 silent movie called The Sea

Beast, but this time it was significantly changed, a woman character was added, Faith,

the daughter of a local minister with whom Captain Ahab fell in love and surprisingly

in this adaptation the whale was actually killed by the captain. ―The script even dares to

substitute a different beginning for the novel and attribute it to Melville! Other added

elements include an evil brother who wants Faith for himself, and a completely

different ending‖ (Fristoe). In the Time Magazine from 1930 there appeared a review of

the new pictures which showed that even with the changes, the movie was not too

attractive for its viewers. ―Like The Sea Beast, the silent version of Herman Melville's

story in which Barrymore appeared four years ago, this is a true moving picture, no less

effective because a conventional love-interest has been added to the activities of a crazy

one-legged sea-captain who wanted to get even with a whale‖ (―The New Pictures‖).

These changes were simply made to fit into the story frames of the pictures which were

popular at that time as Barbara Taylor Bradford argued in an article in Knight-Ridder

Newspapers on the adaptation of her books into the film in 1993 as a reaction to the

filming of another of her novels and remaking it just for commercial purposes: ―It

surely would have bothered Herman Melville if he had known Hollywood would film

his Moby-Dick in 1930 as a love story in which Ahab survives his showdown with the

great white whale and comes home to wed Joan Bennett‖ (―When Her Stories‖). But

even the remake did not significantly help Moby-Dick to become a bestseller but at



                                           16
least it got into the awareness of more readers, and heading into the 1940s, Moby-Dick

started to be more than just a White Whale for them.




                                          17
4. The 1940s and Moby-Dick


       It was no sooner than in the 1940s when finally the political situation met the

literary symbolism of Moby-Dick. The meeting enabled a growth of the symbolism and

its explanations throughout America up to present. The political situation of the 1940s

brought Fascism, the dictatorship and two of the most important battles of Pearl Harbor

and Midway (At Pearl Harbor there was not actually a battle, but it had as great an

importance in the 1940s as the Battle of Midway). ―Bombers with the Rising Sun flag of

Japan painted upon their black wings flew over Pearl Harbor, ‗key to the Pacific,‘

shortly after dawn yesterday and thus merged the Chinese war and the European war

into a war of the world‖ (Baldwin). Suddenly there were two threats for America to

defeat. The literary Captain Ahab met two real ones, Adolf Hitler and Yamamoto

Isoroku, so there would be no better news than the news of their death: ―When the name

of the man who killed Admiral Yamamoto is released, the U.S. will have a new hero.

Said one veteran of Pacific service: ‗The only better news would be a bullet through

Hitler‘‖ (―Thank You‖). But due to these two personalities, the unbeatable Moby-Dick

met America in its symbolism; and the hunt for the White Whale was started after the

attack on Pearl Harbor which was followed by the bombing of Tokyo. ―On April 18,

1942, sixteen American bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy

Doolittle took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet and flew six hundred miles to bomb

Tokyo‖ (Surowiecki). During the hunt Japan lost its leg and thus had a cover-up for a

counterattack at the battle of Midway where it was actually defeated. ―After the opening

round the only question was how quick and how powerful the Jap counterattack would

be‖ (―Counter-Attack‖). Moby-Dick did not only get the victory in that battle, but as a

novel it finally got the glory deserved since 1851. Finally, there appeared a positive



                                            18
influence of the circumstances that promoted Melville‘s Moby-Dick among the classic

novels of American literature and its symbolism started to spread all over the world. It is

just sad that it had to be caused by something like World War II and Fascism that

America interiorized the character of Moby-Dick, or the White Whale.




                                            19
   4.1. Moby-Dick as America


       Moby-Dick was not and is not only a cetacean for Melville and readers of Moby-

Dick; it is a source for imagination because the book as a whole is full of symbolism

and enables the reader to develop his/her explanations and clarification of the symbols

which have slightly been changing decade from decade; ―…the author has constructed a

romance, a tragedy and a natural history, not without numerous gratuitous suggestions

on psychology, ethics, and theology. Beneath the whole story, the subtle, imaginative

reader may perhaps find a pregnant allegory, intended to illustrate the mystery of human

life‖ (Ripley 616). Each reader thus can choose any of these fields and make his/her

own interpretation based on psychology, ethics, theology or on any other point of view.

But it was Thomas Hobbes who as early as in 1651 significantly interpreted the symbol

of a whale when he opened his book called Leviathan with a comparison of the whale to

the state: ―by art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State (in

Latin, civitas) – which is but an artificial man‖ (Melville 19). Just as there are numbers

of states in the world, there are various whales which, according to Melville, need some

kind of a classification to be understood: ―Now the various species of whales need some

sort of popular comprehensive classification‖ (Melville 197). This comparison of

various states and whales can enable the explication of Moby-Dick as the symbol of

America, as the symbol of the state, or of the nation because if whales represent various

states, then unquestionably one of them is America. Mainly, Leviathan in connection to

America was used and published in various American newspapers for which America

clearly is a Leviathan, a Moby-Dick. For example in his article on America‘s economic

situation Barney Warf uses this likening: ―Troubled Leviathan: The Contemporary U.S.

versus Brian Berry‘s U.S.‖; or Barry Wright uses these words in his article ―Quiescent




                                            20
Leviathan? Citizenship and national Security in Late Modernity‖ published in 1998 in

the Journal of Law and Society.


       The term of the White Whale became coined in American society and culture

during World War II as a synonym of America. Even though the connection of the

whale and America was created during that time, still the concern with the white color

remained there and the question of why exactly the white whale is compared to the

United States. As Melville wrote in his Moby-Dick: ―it was the whiteness of the whale

that above all things appalled me‖ (Melville 267). America, taken from any point of

view, could not and cannot be marked as white if all the nations and people who live

there are taken into consideration. The symbolic meaning of the white color as

represented in Europe means royalty and ―among peoples, [it] gives ‗the white man

ideal mastership over every dusky tribe‘‖ (Sedgewick 644). The ―mastership‖ in

America belongs to the occupant of the White House whose color thus gives the

symbolic meaning to America as the color of Moby-Dick. According to the

encyclopedia of symbols, generally, white is the symbol of snow, peace, security and

hope (The Free Dictionary). The white color of the White House has the function of all

of these symbols, it covers all that is happening inside, the same as snow which conjures

up the idea of peace and security even though it may not be true: ―How wildly it

heightens the effect of that passage in Froissart, when, masked in the snowy symbol of

their faction, the desperate White Hoods of Ghent murder their bailiff in the market-

place!‖ (Melville 272-73). White gives its bearer also the characteristics of ―the divine

spotlessness and power‖ (Melville 268) the same as ―whiteness typifies the majesty of

Justice in the ermine of the Judge‖ (Melville 268). Even though any of the American

presidents cannot be literally called the bearer of the characteristics of the divine

spotlessness, they are the bearers of power in America because they are the head of


                                             21
state, the head of the government, they have the right of veto and they are a commander-

in-chief. And even though the presidents have never worn the ermine, they are

empowered to make treaties, to appoint federal judges as well as to grant pardons or

reprieves as written in the American Constitution. ―The executive Power shall be vested

in a President of the United States of America […] The President shall be Commander

in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several

States […] He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to

make Treaties‖ and ―[He] shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and

Consuls, Judges of the Supreme court, and all other Officers of the United States‖

(Brinkley xv-xvi). But in Moby-Dick the white color is not only associated with positive

characteristics and interpretations but also with death and fear: ―Yet for all these

accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet

lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic

to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood‖ (Melville 268-69). Thus,

according to Sedgewick‘s criticism of Melville‘s book, ―the horror of whiteness, is it the

soul‘s fear of death‖ (645). ―Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same

snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog – Yea, while

these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the

evangelists, rides on his pallid horse‖ (Melville 273). The extreme symbolism of the

white color provided by the encyclopedia of symbolism is (mainly for the Eastern

culture) the symbolism of death (The Free Dictionary). Moby-Dick then functions as a

representative of death for Japan which is one of the eastern cultures. The mortal

prejudice thus comes true in Moby-Dick as well as in World War II. Moby-Dick, the

White Whale, determines the destiny of Captain Ahab either literally in the book or

metaphorically at the Battle of Midway, as the final battle of World War II between



                                             22
America and Japan. Ahab is finally killed by the ―White Beast‖. These western and

eastern points of view personify the two characteristics of Moby-Dick. To America who

wins over Japan, the white color is a symbol of royalty and mastership; for Japan who

loses the Battle of Midway, it is a symbol of death and mortality. Subsequently, also the

white color predestines the approach of America and Japan to Moby-Dick, the While

Whale.




                                           23
   4.2. Ahab as Adolf Hitler


       Not only the symbolism of the White Whale, but also of twentieth century

personalities and events find themselves in Moby-Dick. There are two strong moments

in the period of World War II threatening the USA which support the reason of the fame

of Moby-Dick nearly one hundred years after its publishing. In her critical essay about

Melville, Geraldine Murphy says that he ―Has come to seem not only for America but

for the Western world of eminent importance‖ and that ―The canonization of Melville

was not merely a phenomenon of the Cold War of course, but the culmination of a

process of recuperation that had begun in the twenties. Precisely because his stature by

the forties and fifties had become indisputable, however, the literary critical discourse

on Melville was inscribed by broader political and cultural tensions.‖ The 1940s was a

conjunction of economic and political conditions in America, and the mythical

symbolism of Moby-Dick and despotic characteristics of his hunter, Ahab. World War

II meant an economic boost after the Great Depression and it was the time of political

power of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The economic boost and political power

helped readers to imagine America as the unbeatable White Whale. There was exactly

one moment which awakened the idea of America‘s strength and power, it was World

War II during which Isoroku Yamamoto, a Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet

and an admiral, planned and carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. And one

personality and his regime of Fascism further added to the importance of the novel:

Adolf Hitler, who in 1941 declared war on the USA and thus became another threat to

the endangered United States as Ahab became a threat to the White Whale.


        It was F.O. Matthiessen who significantly helped the fame of Melville and the

recognition of his writing skills and artistic values of Moby-Dick in that period.


                                            24
Matthiessen noticed some similarity in the writings by Shakespeare and by Melville

which brought attention to Melville as to an important writer of America. Herman

Melville started being seen by Americans as a genuine writer in the way Shakespeare

was and is valuable for Great Britain. ―However, Matthiessen‘s characterization of

Melville as the American Shakespeare not only legitimated antebellum writers, it also

reconciled his own competing commitment to aesthetic excellence and democratic

accessibility‖ (Murphy). The character in which Matthiessen was interested most, as

Geraldine Murphy points out, is the character of the captain of the Pequod and his

obsessive quest for Moby-Dick. The strong personality of Ahab is applicable for both

the important characters of World War II and not only for them. There is an

inconsistency in Ahab, for some he is a hero, for some he is a despot. ―Both hero and

villain, Ahab is superior to the ‗inert mass,‘‖…‖His egotism, willfulness, and spiritual

isolation from common humanity lead to his own damnation and the destruction of the

society represented by the Pequod‖ (Murphy). Geraldine Murphy, reviewing captain

Ahab aptly describes not only this monomaniacal leader but also Adolf Hitler or Isoroku

Yamamoto. Both Hitler and Yamamoto in a way led the society of their nation into such

a perdition either on a real boat or just on a symbolic one in the case of Adolf Hitler. All

the three personalities can share the characteristics Geraldine Murphy has given just to

captain Ahab. ―Ahab is the moral extremist incapable of recognizing life‘s ambiguities,

the monomaniacal leader whose messianic quest destroys himself and his followers‖

(Murphy). With heroes he shares the same qualities which are both positive and

negative; these are the qualities of giants, of strong personalities, of Gods. ―So

Promethean defiance of the gods and intense pride, were other elements in the nature of

the tragic hero‖ (Geist 639). Being proclaimed the captain of the boat, of the hunt, of the

crew, Ahab accepts his importance, his solemnity and his uniqueness. He is thus



                                             25
regarded as a leader, not as a common mariner and this is also the reason why the

negative characteristics of his pride, solitude and stubbornness get something positive in

the meaning. They are positive for the captain who shows superiority and haughtiness

over his crew. As Geist points at, Ahab is the peak to which his mariners look up but

they are not able to see that the symbolic peak also represents the negative side of their

hero, the impetuousness of a volcano, diabolic forces of Lucifer and the courage of a

fowl.


               In proclaiming his sovereign power, the hero also proclaimed his

               solitude. Ahab, studying the figures stamped upon his doubloon, sees his

               own nature mirrored in them and say: There‘s something ever egoistical

               in mountain-tops and towers and all other grand and lofty things; look

               here,-- three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the

               volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted and victorious fowl,

               that too is Ahab. (639)


Again in the quotation there appears the devil symbolism and the egoism so

characteristic of leaders who cannot see anything else than the object of their hunt,

which is as true for Ahab as for Adolf Hitler or at present for George W. Bush.

Considering all of these characteristics, ―Ahab is more machine than a human being‖

(Murphy) and thus comparable to the mountain-tops and peaks. ―The dehumanized

captain moreover, orchestrates the ‗machinery of dictatorship‘‖ (Murphy). They are not

only the characteristics given above but also the ―dictatorship‖ that connect Ahab with

the dictators of the twentieth century. Adolf Hitler as such a dictator and a personality of

the 1930s and 1940s who was first trying to subdue Europe: ―Hitler required to

subjugate Europe‖ (Black) and later on the United States by the declaration of war. And



                                            26
thus he started his monomaniacal hunt for Moby-Dick, his White Whale. This bond

between Ahab and Hitler was noticed by ―Frankfurt scholars [who] … chose instead to

defer to the omnipotent leadership of Hitler‖ (Murphy). In the US News and World

Report, there appears a rhetorical evaluation of the novel and captain Ahab, ―A big

problem with all the Hitler-Ahab rhetoric is that it is high on contempt and range,

leaving little room for any attempt to engage or persuade‖ (Leo). This is both true for

Adolf Hitler during WWII who manipulated the people to finally attack America, as

well as for Ahab who made his crew follow the unbeatable White Whale. In his speech

to the crew after the Pequod set on the journey, Ahab manipulated all the crew into a

hunt after a whale which only a few of them ever saw but all of them were suddenly

decided to find and kill.


                ‗Aye, Aye! And I‘ll chase him round Good Hope, and round perdition‘s

               flames before give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! To

               chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth,

               till ye do look brave.‘ ‗Aye, aye! Shouted the harpooners and seamen,

               running closer to the excited old man: ‗A sharp eye for the white whale; a

               sharp lance for Moby-Dick!‘ (Melville 236)


But to one person Ahab‘s speech is not as influential as to others and he stays out of the

crew keen on killing the white whale and it is Starbuck whose head stays cool,

―‗Vengeance on a dumb brute!‘ cried Starbuck, ‗that simply smote thee from blindest

instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems

blasphemous‘‖ (Melville 237). Ahab‘s speech resembles the speech of a Father Maple

before the crew gets on board of Pequod. There all of the men listened to him as if the

God was talking to them from the pulpit preparing them for the whale hunt.



                                            27
               No, thought I, there must be some sober reason for this thing,

               furthermore, it must symbolise something unseen. Can it be, then, that by

               that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the

               time, from all outward wordly ties and connections? Yes, for replenished

               with the meat and wine of the word, to the faithful man of God, this

               pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold – a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with

               a perennial well of water within the walls. (Melville 79)


And there he talks about the great fish they will have to hunt on the impulse of Captain

Ahab. ―And God had prepared a great fish too swallow up Jonah‖ (Melville 81). Ahab

in his speech plays the role of God for his crew when he appears on board: ―Ahab stood

before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity

of some mighty woe‖ (Melville 185). But according to all the previous characteristics he

is possessed by the devil, as expressed in the guide to the individual chapters of Moby-

Dick on the official pages about this nineteenth century writer: ―Ahab has sold his sole

to the devil in return for revenge on Moby-Dick‖ (―Chapter 73‖); and that could also be

the reason why he failed. He was driven by somebody else‘s will, he was given the

orders by the devil when he personally admitted that ―This whole act‘s immutably

decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I

am the Fates‘s lieutenant; I act under orders‖ (Melville 740); Thus, together with the

whole crew on board following him, he was killed by the Whale, except for Ishmael

who never gave his faith and his trust to the hands of devil-possessed Ahab. ―Is he mad?

Anyway there‘s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on the deck

when it cracks‖ (Melville 189). Even though Starbuck distrusted his mad captain, he

was not able to influence him anyhow. ―They think me mad-Starbuck does; but I‘m

demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that‘s only calm to comprehend


                                             28
itself!‖ (Melville 243). Starbuck saw the devil in Ahab and tried to persuade him to

change the course of the boat and return because he suspected the death which would

follow, but he was not able to make Ahab change his mind. The mind of this

dehumanized captain and his dictatorship could not be changed not even by Starbuck

who used all possible ways, even his wife and children, to make him give up the self-

destructive hunt for the White Whale.


               ―‗Oh, my captain! My captain! Noble soul! Grand old heart, after all!

               Why should anyone give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! Let us

               fly these deadly waters! Let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck‘s

               – wife and child of his brotherly, sisterly, playfellow youth; even as

               thine, sir, are the wife and child of thy loving, longing, paternal old age!

               Away! Let us away! – this instant let me alter the course!‖ (Melville

               716).


Starbuck was not able to find out how to influence this monomaniacal leader, this

―machinery of dictatorship‖ that Ahab shares with Adolf Hitler, ―What is it, what

nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and

cruel, remorseless emperor command me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I

so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; … Is Ahab, Ahab?

Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?‖ (Melville 717). Adolf Hitler was also

ungovernable; or rather his will, as Morris Dickstein quotes Alan Bullock in the New

York Times in the article called ―Alive and 90 in the Jungles of Brazil‖, ―To his

biographer Alan Bullock Adolf Hitler was at once ‗the greatest demagogue in history‘

and a peculiarly vacuous and unsatisfying character. ‗It is this emptiness,‘ Bullock

notes, ‗this lack of anything to justify the suffering he caused rather than his own



                                             29
monstrous and ungovernable will which makes Hitler both so repellent and so barren a

figure‘‖. As Pope Benedict XVI‘s ‗caster out of demons‘, Father Gabriele Amorth said

in an interview with Radio Vatican, the reason of Hitler‘s characteristics is the same as

Ahab‘s, he was also possessed by the devil: ―Adolf Hitler and Russian leader Stalin

were possessed by the Devil‖ (Pisa). In both of the leaders, Ahab and Hitler, there is an

inside motivation never to give up, never to surrender and this motivation is the

madness which makes it impossible for them to capitulate. ―Give not thyself up, then, to

fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe;

but there is a woe that is madness‖ (Melville 573). And in the conversation between

Stubb and Flask, Stubb commented on Ahab‘s bitten off leg, as an injury from a whale

hunt, adding to his characteristics that he would never show his weak points or kneel in

front of anybody. ―I don‘t know that, my little man; I never yet saw him kneel‖

(Melville 322). But it was not only Adolf Hitler against whom America fought, but the

whole politics of Fascism he was enforcing. The fight was not just about the soldiers,

but ―almost all America were now in agreement – capitalists, Communists, Democrats,

Republicans, poor, rich and middle class‖ (Zinn 398). Under this oppression, all the

people started to cooperate in order to defeat the monomaniacal Hitler, the threatening

Moby-Dick. It became ―a people‘s war‖ (Zinn 398) and it was the first small step in the

World War II process of uniting America into one nation, a process which climaxed

after the attack on Pearl Harbor.




                                             30
   4.3. Pearl Harbor as the Beginning of the Big “Hunt”


       The 1940s thus had the mad captain Adolf Hitler, the unbeatable America as

well as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Midway, which proved the real powers

of America. Together with the positive critiques, Moby-Dick became quite a known

novel. The connectedness of Ahab and Hitler, or the Japanese attack was enabled

because it was not earlier than in the 1940s when the first connections of Moby-Dick

and World War II appeared. One of the first comments on World War II and this novel

appeared in the texts by Nick Selby who said in the 1940s that ―Moby-Dick was now

read as a text that reflected the power struggles of a world concerned to uphold

democracy, and of a country seeking an identity for itself within that world‖ (53). Thus

the comparison of the two strong leaders, one of them on the board of Pequod, the other,

the leader of the Japanese attack on the board of Japanese fleet, suggested themselves.

The story of Ahab also partially resembled Yamamoto‘s story, even though he was not

as mad a captain as Ahab, he led the decisive battle against the USA. ―While other

military leaders avoided the image of being ‗soft‘, Yamamoto continued to practice

calligraphy and wrote poems, though his poems were critiqued by some as being

monotonous‖ (Chen). In Moby-Dick, there was the captain of a boat hunting for whales,

as for a source of food, money and living. In the 1940s there was Japan which was short

on oil, ―The resulting oil shortage and failures to solve the conflict diplomatically made

Japan decide to capture the oil rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and to start a war with

the US and Great Britain‖ (―Militarism‖), the same as the whalemen are in a hunt for

the whale oil, ―They [whales] grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an incredible quantity

of oil will be extracted out of one whale‖ as written in the preface to Moby-Dick by

Lord Bacon (Melville 18). Both Ahab and Yamamoto had the same reason for hunting



                                            31
for whales, but when both of them were hurt by the greatest of them, then their anger

and a craving for revenge awakened. Ahab was hurt by the White Whale the same as

Yamamoto. The history of Ahab‘s bitten off leg is quite unclear, but the fact is that he

lost it during a whale hunt, ―‗Clap eye on Captain Ahab, young man, and thou wilt find

that he has only one leg.‘ ‗What do you mean, sir? Was the other one lost by a whale?‘

‗Lost by a whale! Young man, come nearer to me: it was devoured, chewed up,

crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty, that ever chipped a boat!‘‖ (Melville 121).

The historical context of the Battle of Midway which is the final hunt for Yamamoto is

clearer and factually supported. During WWII Japan attacked various countries just to

provide for the country, ―Japan entered World War II with limited aims and with the

intention of fighting a limited war. Its principal objectives were to secure the resources

of Southeast Asia and much of China and to establish a ‗Greater East Asia Co-

Prosperity Sphere‘ under Japanese hegemony‖ (Coakley). But this limited war meant to

catch one big fish in the ocean of smaller ones which was the United States. ―Japan

believed it necessary to destroy or neutralize American striking power in the Pacific—

the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor‖ (Coakley). The Pearl Harbor attack on 7

December 1941 was the first meeting of ―Captain Ahab‖ and ―Moby-Dick‖. The first

meeting was unsuccessful for Ahab the same as Yamamoto, Ahab lost his leg. But the

loss was not too significant to prevent him from another and final attack: ―If his leg

were off at the hip, now, it would be a different thing. That would disable him; but he

has one knee, and good part of the other left, you know‖ (Melville 322). Yamamoto lost

some of his aircraft but in the film Tora! Tora! Tora! directed by Richard Fleischer he

commented the attack by these words: ―I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping

giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.‖ And he was right, he really awakened a

sleeping giant, which was America, divided till the attack on Pearl Harbor and not



                                            32
taking part in the ―hunt‖, but Pearl Harbor and Yamamoto radically changed this:

―When did the US enter the war? When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese‖

(―Why did the United States‖). And this attack significantly united the USA and made it

one nation, one giant, Moby-Dick. ―Most importantly, the shock and anger caused by

the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided nation and was translated into a

wholehearted American commitment to victory in WWII‖ (―Pearl Harbor‖).


       Both the Battle of Midway between the USA and Japan, and the final ―battle‖

between Ahab and Moby-Dick took part in three days. Even though the Battle of

Midway officially started on 3 June and ended on 7 June 1942, the first attack was soon

after midnight on 4 June 1942 and the final attack was on 6 June, followed just by the

sinking of an American carrier which fulfilled its function in the battle and was sunk by

a submarine when the battle was already decided. Yamamoto never wanted a long battle

and he was sure that if the attack was too long, Japan would definitely lose. ―For when

three days flow together in one continuous intense pursuit; be sure the first is the

morning, the second the noon, and the third the evening and the end of that thing – be

that an end what it may‖ (Melville 747). This similarity to the literary hunt of Moby-

Dick and Ahab was not only in the process of the battle when the Japanese actually a

few times really hit American troops, the same as Ahab and his crew harpooned the

White Whale, but both the ―battles‖ ended in the victory of Moby-Dick. Both the battles

took part in the sea where the boats played the most important role. And for both of the

battles the danger was waiting under the sea level. In the battle of Midway there were

the American submarines awaiting the Japanese attack ―As part of pre-battle

disposition, 25 fleet submarines under the command of Rear Admiral Robert H. English

were deployed around Midway‖ (―Battle‖); at the ―battle‖ between Ahab and Moby-

Dick ―Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of sea-fight, sharks will be


                                            33
seen longingly gazing up to the ship‘s decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red

meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them…‖

(Melville 406). But this is the sea that gave the battle its typical characteristics because

the same as the white color of Moby-Dick it also hid the whale who killed nearly the

whole crew of the Pequod, the sea hid all the dangerous American submarines which

were in its waters during World War II before the actual battle began, ―…these are the

times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the

ocean‘s skin, one forgets the tiger that pants beneath it; and would not willingly

remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang‖ (Melville 654). And

after the attack started, the submarines were still there, hidden under the water the same

as the sharks accompanied the Pequod, ―every time they dipped in the water; and in this

way accompanied the boat with their bites. It is a thing no uncommonly happening to

the whale-boats in those swarming seas; the sharks at times apparently following them

in the same prescient way that vultures hover over the banners of marching regiments in

the east‖ (Melville 746-47). There is another common sign for both the historical and

literary hunt. Ahab was an active leader on the board of his ship even though it was not

really appreciated by his nearest. Still not even they could change his mind not to be in

the head of the chase.


               Ahab well knew that although his friends at home would think little of

               his entering a boat in certain comparatively harmless vicissitudes of the

               chase, for the sake of being near the scene of action and giving his orders

               in person, yet for Captain Ahab to have a boat actually apportioned to

               him as a regular headsman in the hunt – above all for Captain Ahab to be

               supplied with five extra men, as that same boat‘s crew, he well knew that




                                             34
               such generous conceits never entered the heads of the owners of the

               Pequod; (Melville 323)


Yamamoto chose to be in the head of the battle of Midway as well as Ahab did,

―Nagumo‘s main attack force containing four fleet carriers spearheaded the northern

approach, nominally supported by the main battle force containing seven battleships,

two light cruisers, and twelve destroyers headed personally by Yamamoto‖ (Chen).

Both of them had their two nearest ―vice admirals‖ by their sides. Ahab had Captain

Stubb and Captain Starbuck, Isoroku Yamamoto had Admiral Nagumo and Admiral

Kondo, to support them in their hopeless fights against the ―beast‖. ―The rest of the fleet

led by Yamamoto, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo,

would head for Midway‖ (―Isoroku Yamamoto‖). Finally the battle ended when the

boats were sunk because it was very difficult to repair them on the sea. ―Those boats are

useless now; repair them if ye can in time, and return to me; if not, Ahab is enough to

die‖ (Melville 749). And thus the great Moby-Dick, America, chewed up the mad

captain Ahab, Japan, and enabled the growth of the American icon.


       In this hunt after a whale, there is actually only one thing caught and it is the

symbolism. The United States finally ―caught‖ it, they finally were able to explain the

symbolism and to catch the meaning of the novel. The White Whale gave the

Americans the strong belief that they are the unbeatable Moby-Dick able to defeat

whoever tries to attack them, whether it is the nation of Japan, the regime of Fascism, or

the dictator Adolf Hitler.




                                            35
5. Conclusion


       Since the first publication of Moby-Dick, the novel has gone through many

interpretations. In the 1850s Moby-Dick was in most of the cases just a whale, even

though some people discovered some symbols in the novel. In the 1920 some positive

critiques were written about Moby-Dick and a film version appeared. But it was the

1940s which brought together symbolical Ahab and the two important personalities of

World War II, Adolf Hitler and Isoroku Yamamoto. Moby-Dick has become the symbol

of America and its power. These were exactly the explanations which started to attract

new readers and critics. They looked at this novel in a greater detail and many new

explanations and examinations appeared. The 1940s explanations and interpretations

were a stepping stone for Moby-Dick. Therefore, at present the novel still enables many

new insights into its symbolism.


   5.1. Present Day Moby-Dick


       The current symbolism of the characters in Moby-Dick is getting other meanings

and dimensions. Recently in the US News and World Report there appeared an

interesting comparison of the mad captain Ahab to the current American president

George W. Bush. ―President Bush is Ahab, the mad captain in Moby-Dick, according to

David Ignatius of the Washington Post and Richard Gere of the Hollywood left‘s

foreign desk‖ (Leo). Here, it is possible to see the change, now the head of the United

States, the head of those United States which represented Moby-Dick more than sixty

years ago, has become the dictator, the monomaniacal leader who could subsequently be

comparable to Adolf Hitler, if it was the 1940s. The same as Adolf Hitler and

Yamamoto were two types of different leaders, even though both resembling Ahab in

their endless quest for something unbeatable, George W. Bush partially resembles the


                                           36
mad captain, too when he has got to the same situation. He also has in front of him a

very powerful White Whale who has already hurt him. So it is not such a big surprise

that at the 150th anniversary of this novel, the story has become a different variety of the

historical interpretation of the powerful United States in the 1940s in which a warning

for captain Ahab, and now George W. Bush, is included. It is George W. Bush as a

Captain Ahab fighting against terrorism. This fight started when he lost his leg, the

World Trade Center in New York on 11 September, 2001; according to this

interpretation, he is predestined for a failure:


               Herman Melville‘s Moby-Dick offers another such testament to the

               power of ideas to guide us in our response to September 11. … Melville‘s

               bitter warning about Ahab as a Romantic hero who does not win is a

               textual template that we would do well to consider when constructing

               arguments about the United States‘ potential course of action over the

               coming years. For in truth, George Bush is also Captain Ahab, hell bent

               on avenging the loss of his buildings, New York City‘s legs, if you will.

               (Metz)


Just as Ahab was a devil possessed in some of the interpretations of his character, hell

also appears in the connection with George W. Bush in a search for a revenge of the

New York World Trade Center attack. Consequently, the symbol of Moby-Dick is at

present a symbol of the dark side of the world over which George W. Bush cannot win,

―Yet the single best guide to Mr. Bush‘s presidency may be ‗Moby-Dick‘. Melville‘s

book is, of course, about much more than Captain Ahab‘s pursuit of the White Whale

— a ‗nameless, inscrutable, unearthly‘ symbol of all that is dark and unknown in the

world‖ (Kristof); And even though the white color is, as already explained, also



                                              37
connected with peace, security and hope, this examination of Moby-Dick does not seem

to attract its critics even at present. The critiques of the novel are mainly based on the

dark side of the White Whale and the unsuccessful quest after it. Nicholas D. Kristof

can see a new symbolism in Ahab‘s fight against Moby-Dick and it is the symbol of the

hopeless fight against terrorism: ―To me at least, Melville captures the trajectory of the

Bush years. It begins with a president who started out after 9/11 with immense support

at home and abroad and a genuine mandate to fight terrorism. But then Mr. Bush

became obsessed by his responsibility to prevent another terror attack‖ (Kristof); In the

character of Ahab he sees George W. Bush, the American President, and in the symbol

of the fight he sees the fight against Iraq. Iraq has become the target of his revenge in a

way that resembles the monomaniacal leader Ahab: ―This was an eminently worthy

goal, but Mr. Bush abandoned traditional rules and boundaries — like bans on torture

and indefinite detentions — and eventually blundered into Iraq. And in a way that

Melville could have foretold, the compulsive search for security ended up creating

insecurity‖ (Kristof). In the case of Ahab‘s revenge, there appeared Starbuck who

suspected the negative impact of the quest on the crew, such suspicions coming true in

the war in Iraq as Kristof says in his article, pointing at the insecurity rather than

security which should have been the result of the invasion into Iraq but was not and is

not. Still, this result brings the personality of George W. Bush closer to the personality

of Ahab. There is a common frame of both their hunts: ―Ahab has a reasonable goal,

capturing a whale, yet he allows this quest to overwhelm him and erode his sense of

perspective and balance. Ignoring warnings, refusing to admit error, Ahab abandons all

rules and limits in his quest‖ (Kristof). Disregarding the end of Melville‘s story which

gives the current president a warning not to exaggerate his quest for whatever the

Moby-Dick symbolizes in America, ―Melville‘s lesson is that even a heroic quest can be



                                             38
destructive when we abandon all sense of limits‖ (Kristof), The warning seen in the

destruction of Ahab becomes worthless for George W. Bush the same as for Ahab

because neither of them pays attention to advice not to exaggerate the quest.


       Melville is a very fertile source of inspiration for present day critics of literature

as well as those who assess the current political situation, and it is mainly because of the

political situation which supports all these theories.Thus, Kristof recommends students

to ―study those classics. They are timeless — and in the days of the Iraq war and

Guantánamo, they have never been more timely‖ (Kristof). As a reaction to Kristof‘s

article in the New York Times, there appeared a commentary by William Guy who

suggested even Saddam Hussein could be the White Whale: ―If I we are to explore

President Bush‘s behavior in terms of Captain Ahab in ‗Moby-Dick,‘ as Nicholas D.

Kristof urges, […] then surely the white whale is Saddam Hussein, and not the desire to

prevent another terrorist attack‖ (Guy). The period of World War II really enabled a

great variety of all possible adaptations and transformations of Moby-Dick. Alex A.

Vardamis from the San Francisco Chronicle goes even deeper under the surface of

Moby-Dick in his article on ―Fractured Foreign Policy President Bush and Captain

Ahab – Psychological soul-mates in 2003‖ and enlarges his interest to include

Melville‘s other characters and people from American political sphere, ―Captain Ahab

is played by President George W. Bush. First mate Starbuck is Secretary of State Colin

Powel. The Pequod‘s three harpooners – the Indian Dagoo, the African Tashtego and

the kindly cannibal Queequeg --- are the military forces of the USA. They are the ones

who confront the enemy. Their job is to hurl harpoons (read cruise missiles) down the

whale‘s throat.‖ Having the characters sorted out, the reason for the hunt in this case,

even though with different performers, is the same hunt as during World War II and

Ahab‘s hunt, and it is the oil supply, ―Just as the Pequod‘s job is to harvest oil from the


                                             39
sperm whale, so the current crisis involves controlling Iraq‘s oil supply. But Ahab, like

Bush, demonstrates only a perfunctory interest in economics. He forgets the principal

purpose of his voyage and instead, uses his whaling ship as an instrument of vengeance‖

(Vardamis). Showing just a few present day newspaper articles, it is clear that Moby-

Dick, even though not read as much as it would deserve, has become an inseparable part

of American culture. And there surely will be many other interpretations and people

who will inspire other explanations and insights into Moby-Dick in the future.


       The powerful but ambiguous symbols enable every reader of Moby-Dick at any

period of time his/her own interpretations according to the political, historical or

cultural situation of the particular society. WWII, which actually made it possible for

the reader of this novel to have a look at it as on an up-to-date novel keeping up with

current issues, made of Moby-Dick a source of inspiration and an icon for America a

symbol of its power and strength. ―And Moby-Dick has had a profound effect on

American culture as a whole … Moby-Dick looms over American culture‖ (Rocco).

Even though it is labeled with the characteristics of one of the least-read classics: ―the

Bible and Moby-Dick [have] got to be one of the world‘s least-read classics‖ (Lazare),

it has become one of the best known novels in America. From one of the world‘s least

read classics it has become a guide to George W. Bush‘s presidency. Moby-Dick is a

significant example of how political conditions can influence literature and that World

War II actually had in this case a positive impact on literature because without World

War II, Adolf Hitler, Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, there very probably would

not be any Moby-Dick, in this powerful sense of word, there would not be a discovery

of a present day symbolism and a comparison of Ahab to George W. Bush and Moby-

Dick as a symbol of terrorism. It is very interesting that they were only negative

changes and negative historical developments which brought attention to the novel.


                                             40
None of the positive changes (end of slavery, cultural changes and movie goers, first

positive critiques) since the book was published has not brought the book any

significant help in becoming a well-known classic. Without World War II and the

1940s, it could have happened that Moby-Dick would have remained hidden for many

of its readers and it would not have been evaluated as an inseparable part of American

culture.




                                           41
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