Mar 05 2010

The Epilogue

Published by at 6:52 pm under Narration and narrator

The brief and spare epilogue comes as a bit of a shock after 500+ pages of Melvillian conditioning. Ishmael doesn’t often find himself lost for words, so why is he so tightlipped about a situation that so lends itself to hyperbole? In class Professor Friedman suggested that the epilogue allows us to reframe Moby Dick as a survival account, the entire narrative is comprised of Ishmael’s varied attempts to make sense of his sole survival retrospectively, that the detachment is his description of such harrowing personal experiences as if through another lens. The novel explores every position possible to try to understand why he was the only survivor, was it fate or chance, god or science?

I think that we can lend further support for this view of the epilogue in an earlier account we have read of someone lost at sea – Pip. Ishmael was clearly not present for Pip’s lonely experience as a castaway, so we can read the detailed account of it as Ishmael projecting his own time spent alone at sea onto Pip, and in this way trying to explain it to himself.

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, throu. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes…He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad” (172)

Pip glimpses the eternal, God, and the infinitude of his own soul – he sees more than he can bare and becomes mad, or is perceived as mad. Is Ishmael then further defending himself against the possibility of his own madness? Then too, the investigation of Ahab is another delving into a personal madness, trying to make sense of it in extension. Ahab is Ishmael’s White whale, he clings to him trying to conquer Ahab’s madness by explaining it, vicariously surmounting his own. In Pip’s account we feel Ishmael’s pain, his smallness lost in the endless ocean. We come to this text-island (the epilogue) and grabbing it as a life raft are left in a like space, adrift and unsure.

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Social Widgets powered by