This article accompanies the fable
Chapter 42 of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is cited all the time these days in relation to the changing face of the United States, no longer a "white" nation. Yet white in Moby-Dick is also the color of life, a life that doesn't necessarily answer to humans. The"craven" Ishmael is horrified...
Melville is having some fun here with Ishmael, as am I in rearranging Melville's text. But he's also having fun with Edgar Allen Poe and the rhetoric of Gothic horror, notably Poe's 1838 work, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Whiteness isn't that horrible really - that's irony for you. What truly is horrible is the slaughter of the whales and that must have deeply affected Melville - and Ishmael if he could have known it. Whaling is a slaughter of life, just as it is today, and while the whaling industry was at the time America's largest industry, that doesn't obscure the fact that these men were forced to confront spiritual matters because they were slaughtering life.
At top is a book cover that makes plain a common problem with the novel: Moby-Dick: The Good Parts... For most readers it's just too long, too detailed and too archaic in its language. The photo of the weather vane on the main page is
from Nantucket Historical Association Whaling Museum
and copyrighted to