Moby Dick

Call Him Ishmael: The Reliability and Authority of Melville's Omniscient Narrator

Moby Dick is widely considered one of the greatest literary creations in history. The denseness of meaning, infinite possibility of interpretation, and ambiguity of implications give the text many layers. Therefore, knowing that the trustworthiness of a work of fiction is always somewhat unreliable, the audience must seek to determine whether Ishmael, Melville's all-knowing, omnipresent narrator, is supposed to be a trusted and reliable witness to all events that take place while aboard the Pequod, or a first-person, omniscient narrator who spontaneously inherits mysterious knowledge about all things surrounding the voyage, even when he is not present. Placing Ishmael within the context of the story is where the first problem arises. Is Ishmael a regular, hard-working sailor looking to breathe the fresh sea air? Or is Ishmael the first-person embodiment of a third-person, omniscient narrator? The latter would be a rarity when considering the normal modes of narration in English literature. However, the possibility is there, and therefore one must look to the text for evidence as to whether Ishmael knows information that would befall the normal first-person participant. After establishing our hypothesis, we can then look to...

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