In the poem "The Maldive Shark" Herman Melville uses the relationship between two sea creatures as an allegory for specific human relations. How is the relationship described and what human relationships could be referenced?
The poem describes the relationship between a shark and the small symbiotic fish, pilot-fish, that clean the sharks skin and crevices. The shark is defined as a stupid, large brute that is in dire need of help to find food, which is eagerly provided by the smaller fish. The smaller creatures are described as agile, cunning individuals that show no ethical restraint in getting what they need in helping the bigger animal. The relationship between the two animals has a less harmonic than a opportunistic feel to it, entirely orchestrated from the point of the weaker one. Seeing this poem as an allegory for human relations, it could refer on the one hand to the inability of the strong to lead without help. On the other hand the weaker human is described as an individual without morals that does what is needed to get forward. In total the poem creates a rather dark vision of interpersonal relations in places of power.
Within his most famous work Moby Dick, Melville discusses the depths of human madness in pursuing a goal. Which dark human ability is alluded to in the poem "The Maldive Shark"?
Within the poem "The Maldive Shark", two main characters and therefore two main human archetypes can be identified. The first would be the strong, stupid shark, a symbol for ignorance in power. The second is found in the cunning, agile pilot-fish, a symbol of amoral aim for one's own gain. Using the foreign and mysterious creatures of the Indian Ocean, Melville casts an interesting picture of human interaction. The individual characters have no personal relation further than their personal gain. Everyone is driven by their own ambition and their primal needs, disregarding harmony or even friendship. The pilot-fish is described as a friend of the shark, however, the shark is described in a way that makes this unbelievable. The shark is too dull, more like a machine for the fish, a tool for the success of the smaller creature. Transferring this to the human world, one can easily see the puppet king and the ambitious chancellor pulling the threads in the background.
The poem "The Maldive Shark" uses the Maldive sea as an exotic surrounding, even more so than Moby Dick. Considering the time period Melville wrote this piece, what could be the impact of this foreign ecosystem on the intended audience of the poem?
Melville only started writing poetry later in his life and while his poetry is considered an American masterpiece, it never got the attention of other American poets of his time. It can therefore be said that his unusual style and references were not considered palpable by the common educated man of the late 19th century. Within this poem the shark, titular placed within the remote island nation of the Maldives, serves as an exotic, unknown dangerous entity that cannot be understood. Using an animal that most people have negative connotations with creates a negative basic mood, something necessary to create the deep emotions needed for this poem. The depravity of the pilot-fish reaches even new heights considering the counsel they keep. And while the shark itself is more like a meat eating machine without mind, within this poem, the exotic ecosystem helps in depicting how alienated the pilot-fish like people are from their surroundings. This emotional distance lets them shine in a deeper and more depraved light than any animal native to America could ever have. Even wolves or snakes have babies and many people would have seen them, not though the emotionless cruelty of the pilot-fish.
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