MELVILLE: Moby Dick [Chapters 7-9]

Welcome to Part 3 of this series on Moby Dick. In this lecture, we will discuss Chapters 7-9.

In Chapter 7, Ishmael enters the Whaleman’s Chapel of New Bedford for Sunday service. On the walls of the chapel, there are plaques commemorating the sailors lost at sea. Ishmael wonders “How it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.” Ishmael believes that a man’s true essence is his soul, which can never be injured or destroyed. This belief lessens the grief one experiences upon the death of a loved one, and also lessens the fear one has of death.

In Chapter 8, Father Mapple finally arrives at the chapel, and ascends by a ladder into the pulpit, which is shaped like a ship’s bow. Ishmael notes that there must be some meaning in the shape of the pulpit. He concludes, “The pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.” Ishmael believes that religion, symbolized by the pulpit, leads the world. Religion, as defined by Ishmael, is not the organized Abrahamic religions of the Western World, but rather a system of metaphysical feelings and beliefs. For example, Ishmael believes that his true essence is his indestructible soul, and this belief guides him through life.

In Chapter 9, Father Mapple delivers a sermon on the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. He argues that Jonah offers us an example of how we ought to repent for our sins. “Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.”

The character of Jonah and the character of Captain Ahab are diametrical opposites. While Jonah expresses gratitude for receiving punishment at the hands of God, Captain Ahab desires revenge for the harm that he suffered at the hands of Moby-Dick, which arguably symbolizes God. For example, when Father Mapple describes how Jonah is swallowed by the whale, he states “God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom.” In this passage, Melville might be implying that God came upon Captain Ahab in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom. The difference between Captain Ahab and Jonah is their reaction to similar circumstances.

Chapter 7
“Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these.”

“How it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.” WANT DEATH OUT OF SIGHT AND OUT OF MIND….FEAR THE DEAD MAY COME BACK AND TELL US WHAT ACTUALLY IS THERE AFTERLIGE…THE FEAR OF CERTAINTY IS GREATER THAN THE FEAR OF UNKNOWING….IT EFFECTIVELY ERADICATES HOPE…..FEAR OF NO LIFE AFTER DEATH….OR FEAR OF UNKNOWN AFTER DEATH…FAITH, BY VIRTUE OF THESE FEARS, GROWS IN STRENGTH

“Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.”

Chapter 8
“No, thought I, there must be some sober reason for this thing; furthermore, it must symbolize something unseen. Can it be, then, that by that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions?”

“What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

Chapter 9
“All the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do—remember that—and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.”

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

“Observe his prayer, and learn a weighty lesson. For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment. And how pleasing to God was this conduct in Jonah, is shown in the eventual deliverance of him from the sea and the whale. Shipmates, I do not place Jonah before you to be copied for his sin but I do place him before you as a model for repentance. Sin not; but if you do, take heed to repent of it like Jonah.”

“God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom.” [Is Moby-Dick God?]

“Eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath—O Father!—chiefly known to me by Thy rod—mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”

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