Thursday, March 31, 2011
A lot of writing time was taken up recently in researching literary agents to query for possible representation of "The Brigadier's Daughter," a completed YA novel discussed briefly in my last post. However, a new book I just read invited another peek at comments my protagonist, Caitlin, makes about the classic, "Moby Dick," during her English class. "All Things Shining--Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age," by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, devotes a chapter and more to discussion of possible meanings and allusions embedded in "Moby Dick."
Caitlin is asked to discuss Melville's scene where Queequeg casts dice on the deck of the whaling ship to learn his fate, as an example of Pagan versus Christian attitudes toward death. The book had been one of Caitlin's favorites, and being the whimsical person she is, she'd constructed an alternate reality for Queequeg. In her imagination, he was probably from the Afghan village of her immigrant mother (still Pagan, even today). When challenged by other students, Caitlin makes her case in her best, authoritative manner. Since the "All Things Shining" book had new information about Queequeg I wanted to go back over Caitlin's discussion to see whether any revision might be useful.
A brief paragraph from the "All Things Shining" book illustrates the magic of Melville's novel:
...the whale is a mystery, so full of meaning that it verges on meaninglessness, so replete with interpretations that in the end they all seem to cancel out. It is this tantalizing but ungraspable quality of the great Sperm Whale, we are later told--his facelessness, his imposing "pyramidical silence," but also the immensely amplified sense of the "Deity and the dread powers" that lurk within his brow---it is this unrelenting but also unyielding mystery that stands at the center of the universe. "I but put that brow before you," a central character says. "Read it if you can."
Heady stuff, but you don't need to be a philosopher to enjoy the drama of "Moby Dick."