Page reached: 195 of 522 (37.36%)
Status Report: One nice thing about this book: even if you put it down for a few days, you don’t have any trouble remember where you left off. “Oh that’s right. They’re on a boat. And nothing. Is. Happening.”
Fortunately, considerably less nothing happened in this last fifty pages than in those prior. Captain Ahab convened the crew of the Pequod and publicly announced his intention to seek and destroy the white whale that cost him his leg; the first mate, in turn, publicly announced that the captain is cracked, thereby raising the specter of mutiny. Plus, Moby-Dick himself is described (though not yet seen).
This novel is written from a curious point of view. A few months back I was reading a primer of fiction writing, and one chapter discussed the various POVs you can adopt for your narrative. I always though there were three — first-, second-, and third-person — but, as this book pointed out, there are actually quite a few more. There is third person intimate, for instance, where you see all the events over the shoulder of the protagonist, and can occasionally even read his thoughts. There is third person objective, where you view all characters equally and can peer into the minds of none. And there is third-person omniscient, where the narrator knows (and relates) all the relevant facts, including what the characters are thinking and feeling. Third-person omniscient was apparently quite popular with nineteenth century authors.
Moby-Dick is written in first-person omniscient. Though told from the POV of Ishmael, and usually confined only to those events he directly observes, the narrative will occasionally wander about the ship, looking through walls, eavesdropping on conversations, and letting us know that other crewmembers think.
Here’s a passage from Chapter 44:
Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall that took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table. Then seating himself before it, you would have seen him intently study the various lines and shadings which there met his eye; and with slow but steady pencil trace additional courses over spaces that before were blank. At intervals, he would refer to piles of old log-books beside him, wherein were set down the seasons and places in which, on various former voyages of various ships, Sperm Whales had been captured or seen.
Note that Ishmael had not followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin — he’s just relating what you would have seen, had you done so. How he knows this in never explained.
Likewise with the edutainment chapters. Ishmael knew nothing about whaling before he joined the Pequod; now that they are at sea, though, he suddenly breaks the narrative with entire chapters devoted to the taxonomy of oceanic mammals and the migratory patterns of whales. Apparently he can access Wikipedia via the Pequod wireless network.
I gotta say: I’m all for artistic license, but I don’t like Ishmael knowing more than he should. I’d prefer the character to be either a man or disembodied narrator, but having him as both smacks of cheating.
Words looked up:
- Bruited: Spread news of; repeated.
- Entablatures: The upper section of a classical building, resting on the columns and constituting the architrave, frieze, and cornice.
- Japonica: An ornamental shrub (Chaenomeles japonica) that is native to Japan and cultivated for its red flowers. (oh, shit — no one tell my botanist wife I didn’t know that).
- Magniloquent: Lofty and extravagant in speech; grandiloquent.
- Alb: A long white linen robe with tapered sleeves worn by a priest at Mass.