Melville Reading Notes #1 for Wednesday, Sept. 5
assigned reading: if possible, read Moby-Dick: Etymology; Extracts; and chs. 1-29.

introduction to course.

focus for first half of class: Ishmael
introductory lecture on Ishmael, then discussion
for Ishmael & Queequeg, see esp. chs. 1-5, 10, 12 (Ishmael on the Pequod), 18, & 27 (on crew hierarchy)

focus for second half of class: Ahab
introductory lecture on Ahab, then discussion
on Ahab, see especially chs 19, 28-29
also relevant is ch 9, Father Mapple’s sermon

Melville Reading Notes #2 for Wednesday, Sept. 12
Sept. 11: read chs. 30-60.

first half of class, special attention to:
ch 35, Ishmael’s masthead meditation. cf. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress: “The unbeliever sleeps on top of a mast.” Ishmael’s varying responses to his experience, his survival techniques.
ch 41, Ishmael on Ahab and the whale; on the crew
ch 47, The Mat-Maker parable
ch 49, The Hyena
we will also discuss the following 3 chapters as a unit:

  • ch 42, Ishmael on “The Whiteness of the Whale”
  • ch 43, Hark
  • ch 44, The Chart

  • focus for second half of class:
    ch 53, The Gam; note esp. the last paragraph of chapter, on captains trying to stand in whaleboats!
    chs. 55-57, Ishmael’s encyclopedic exploration of “whales variously represented”
    ch 58, Brit [on the sea]
    ch 60, The Line; an example of Ishmael’s meditation/parable techniques, using a specific object as a focus

    Melville Reading Notes #3 for Wednesday, Sept. 19
    Moby-Dick, chs. 61-96.


    focus for first half of class:
    ch. 61, a sperm whale chased and killed: Melville’s use of action
    chs 64-66, on eating the whale (humans & sharks)
    ch 68, The Blanket, and ch. 79, The Prairie: on a sperm whale’s skin and head as hieroglyphics
    ch 72, The Monkey-Rope (compare also ch 78, Cistern and Buckets)
    ch 81, Pequod meets the Virgin. Flash torturing a sick whale
    ch 83, Ishmael on Jonah. compare w/ Father Mapple’s sermon (ch 9)
    ch 85, The Fountain: investigating the whale’s spout
    ch 86, a whale of a tail


    focus for second half of class:

    ch 87 The Grand Armada. attend to both parts: the Pequod’s rivalry with the Malays, then discovering nursing whales in the midst of a whale-hunt massacre
    ch 89 Fast-Fish and Loose Fish: Melville’s parable about colonialism and “might makes right”?
    chs 93-96: a magnificent grouping of chapters. let’s read this as a sequence or cluster, to see how each chapter comments on the others

    Melville Reading Notes #4 for Wednesday, Sept. 26
    finish Moby-Dick, including Epilogue. Be sure to read chs. 133-35 plus Epilogue in one sitting (they’re very dramatic).

    focus for first half of class:
    99 The Doubloon (parable)
    102-03 on the whale’s skeleton; 104 on fossils and on “Levianthanism” in texts
    107-08, Ahab and the Pequod’s Carpenter
    110 Queequeg’s “fever” and Ishmael’s response
    113 The Forge (Ahab’s harpoon)
    114 The Gilder. Ishmael’s meditation on a becalmed ocean.
    119 The Candles [St. Elmo’s fire on the mastheads]. A sailor’s comic song, then Ahab’s soliloquy (compare Shakespeare’s King Lear on the heath)

    focus for second half of class:
    119 The Candles
    125 Log and Line: Ahab and Pip. see also end of ch 127 and all of ch. 129.
    132 The Symphony: more on Ahab’s sense of human ties
    133-35: The Chase
    The Epilogue. Ishmael, like the chasened Jonah, preaches to the decadent city of Nineveh, Melville’s Biblical symbol for his audience in the U.S. and the U.K.: what is his message? Remember the date of the novel’s publication: 1851 (i.e., in the decade leading up to the Civil War).