Anne Fleming

Moby-Dick, Day 3

Chapter 1: Loomings

Ah. Here we are. Chapter I. “Call me Ishmael.”

Ishmael is what we can call him, but presumably Ishmael is not his name. He’s using a pseudonym and in the doing, he’s allying himself with Abraham’s son with his wife Sarah’s handmaid Hagar: Ishmael (and in my mind, then, with all those Biblical older brothers: Cain, Esau, et al — the less loved, the cheated, the murderous — but it wasn’t my intention to get into interpretation, only to convey the reading experience of Moby-Dick, so stop, stop, no more allusion-chasing or interpretation).

In this chapter, Ishmael tells us that when he has no money and a certain mood takes him that he wants to run into the street and knock people’s hats off, he goes to sea. We are all drawn to the sea, says he for many pages, offering many examples, and I have to grant he has a point. We all do like to look out to sea. Eventually, he lets out that he has lately been a country schoolmaster and formerly a merchant seaman but now, for some reason — a fascination with whales, fate — this time he is going a-whaling.

He’s funny, this Ishmael. He’s got a light touch, along with a cyclical trend toward hat-knocking-off and ocean-going. “Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage mangaers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and jolly parts in farces.”


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