Monday, August 8, 2011

The End of the Voyage

I did it!  After months of looking up definitions, pictures of whales on the Internet and cross checking all biblical and classical references, I have done what Ahab could not and have conquered Moby Dick!  This novel has been a favorite of mine for years, but is now absolutely my favorite book.  What an amazing tale told by a brilliant, although sometimes long-winded, storyteller.  During the dry, but still interesting, non-fiction chapters, I imagined that Melville must have spent his whaling years, tirelessly researching the animals and industry.  His dark, long New England winters must have been passed doing the same, only I imagine him in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, stacks of leather bound books surrounding his chair.
For me, the Pequod's meeting with The Bachelor and the Rachel are two of the most suspenseful moments in the story's conclusion because Ahab still had a chance for redemption.  I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, shake Ahab by his gnarly beard and shout, "Follow them you fool!!!  Turn back!!"  Imagine the helplessness felt by the Pequod's crew, knowingly being led to their destruction by an insane captain , when they met the Bachelor dressed to celebrate, homeward bound after a successful whaling voyage. 
"And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.
It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches; and now, in glad holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat vain-gloriously, sailing round among the widely-separated ships on the ground, previous to pointing her prow for home.
The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red bunting at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended, bottom down; and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long lower jaw of the last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns, and jacks of all colors were flying from her rigging, on every side." 
To me, it seemed their hope sailed away with the brightly decorated Bachelor and crew.  Afterwards, meeting the Rachel provided Ahab with one last chance to save the Pequod.  If only he had done his duty as a fellow captain and good-willed human, he could have searched for the missing boys instead of Moby Dick, but his revenge obsessed mind wouldn't let him see that saving the lost crew members of the Rachel could be the salvation of himself and his men.  Like Jonah, he was taken down by the Leviathan and sacrificed his crew in the process.  Without a doubt, the most startling image for me was the last, Tashtego's hand reaching out of the churning sea, still hammering the flag to the uppermost mast, the only part of the sinking Pequod still visible while the entangled sea bird was taken down with the ship.  My heart sank with the last visible remnant of the ship.
My family has been encouraging me to finish the novel along the way, my supportive husband looking up unknown references with me and for me while I read.  (I wish we had written everything we learned in the margins!)  He and the World's Most Patient Kids listened to me drone on and on about profound passages or interesting (to me at least) facts, saying things like, "We never knew that's what unctuous meant.  Cool."  They must love me to say such things.
 We were on vacation in the mountains, spending our days floating and fishing in the Potomac and our evenings relaxing in the cabin, when I finally reached the last page of Moby Dick.  My beautiful, big hearted step-kids insisted that we get up and dance when I read the last word.  Closing the book, with that satisfying "thup" sound, we all jumped up and shook our booties and cheered, Moby Dick waving in my right hand high over my head.  My husband was taking a nap at the time, but I'm sure he dreamed about shaking his bootie and cheering, too. 
Basking in my accomplishment, I knew that I could never give up my beloved hard-backs for a Kindle.  There is no substitute for the weight of a great novel held in both hands gradually shifting from a heavy right to a heavy left until the last whispering page is reached and realized with a...



  1. I've never read Moby Dick, but I wondered about the symbolism of the last boat being called the Rachel. What lost boys were you talking about. Do you know this Bible verse:

    "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:18)

  2. I think Melville named the final ship Rachel, whose captain is desperately searching for his son lost on a small whale boat, because the Biblical Rachel represented all the Jewish mothers mourning the loss of the sons after Herod's massacre. I think she is a warning to the readers that we will be mourning the loss of the Pequod's crew.