Moby Dick

Revisit the significance of Ishmael? What are some reasons the narrator has chosen this name?

Chapter 1

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Ishmael is the narrator of the novel, a simple sailor on the Pequod who undertakes the journey because of his affection for the ocean and his need to go sea whenever he feels "hazy about the eyes." As the narrator Ishmael establishes him as somewhat of a cipher and an everyman, and in fact his role in the plot of the novel is inconsequential; his primary task is to observe the conflicts around him. Nevertheless, Melville does give his narrator several significant character traits, the most important of which is his idealization of the Sperm Whale and his belief in its majesty. Also, it is Ishmael who has the only significant personal relationship in the novel; he becomes a close friend with the pagan harpooner Queequeg and comes to cherish and adore Queequeg to a somewhat improbable level open to great interpretation; Melville even describes their relationship in terms of a marriage. Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod's voyage, living to tell the tale of Moby Dick only because he is by chance on a whaling boat when Moby Dick sinks the Pequod and is rescued by a nearby ship.

The name Ishmael is Biblical in origin: in Genesis, Ishmael was the son of Abraham by the servant Hagar, who was cast off after the birth of Isaac, who inherits the covenant of the Lord instead of his older half-brother. In the Islamic tradition, with which Melville was certainly much less familiar, Ishmael is an heir of Abraham. Infact,according to stronger traditions in Islam mentioned in Qisas Al-Anbiya,she was daugter of king of Maghreb,whose father was killed by Pharoah and she was taken as slave. In Moby-Dick Ishmael does not comment on the significance of his own name, but he does refer to himself by that name several times in the book.


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