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Old 03-20-2012, 11:01 PM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
23,892 posts, read 16,163,495 times
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I served in the Navy back in the '60s. The ship I was on was a deep water vessel- we sailed independently of a fleet, and we were often on station far out, at the ends of the earth, all alone, just as the whalers were.

I'm finding old memories of the sea are coming back increasingly as I read Moby Dick. Melville's descriptions of the deep ocean are really accurate, especially in how the wide sea has an affect on a person's thoughts and contemplations.

I've only been to sea once, briefly, since I was discharged, almost 50 years ago now. I thought I had forgotten most of the experience, but Melville is sure bringing a lot of them back vividly.
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Old 03-24-2012, 07:24 PM
 
6,079 posts, read 5,687,392 times
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HI Banjo - Glad you're joining us! Yes, I too have been encountering both whales and Ahab-like behavior since I've started MD. By complete chance I picked up a quick-read book (Jamrach's Menagerie) which was about a man who joins a whaling voyage while in the employ of an English rare animal dealer. After failing to capture a monitor lizard, the ship sank and the rest of the book was about cannibalism in a life boat. Ick!

But speaking of, have you noticed how many times Melville mentions cannibals and cannibalism? (for ex. in Ch 58 "The universal cannibalism of the sea . . . " We all know by now that M lived for a time on the Marquesas. Did cannibalism become a slight obsession for him there?

By the way of nothing except I thought it was interesting, have any of you read Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceana? In his exploration of the peoples of the pacific islands he concludes that people became cannibals only on islands where there wasn't enough plant or animal protein for human survival. Isn't that interesting? So you'd think in modern America, since there's plenty of available plant protein, no one would ever need to eat any sort of animal meat. Just saying.

Anyway, here are some thoughts from Chapters 51 - 64:
- I'm still trying to catch the Civil War allusions. Is this one? C51 - "In tempestous times like these . . . nothing more can be done but passivlely to await the issue of the gale. . ." He writes about it more openly in describing the sharks that follow slave ships to feed on bodies thrown from those ships. I don't know, Bunjee, if we can answer "could he (M) have done more re slavery. Did the few readers who actually read MD at the time even pick up these references? Would those references have been clearer to a period reader than they are to me? Or harder?
- The significance of The Town-Ho's Story (funny how word meanings change over time!) is it that someone with official authority over another person who is actually superior to them will try to bring down that superior person?
- in Ch 58 The Sea - all the horror's of the half-known life. Land = the soul - peace and joy. M's constant navel gazing
- More of M taking from other books to write about whales in art and history.
- The story turns to adventure writing again in C-61. M says the whales were AWARE of their pursuers. Kind of sickening and sad.
- in C63 Ish/M explains that he writes about how the details and dangers of the hunt because "an understanding of these details will become important later . . . "

Bunjee, even though the thought of MD being a "Branjalinaism" enchants me, I think the island off the coast of Chile is a better bet. How interesting! I keep meaning to buy a globe . . .

Well, I'm off to the Northwoods, where I have no tv or work, and hopefully will finish MD (or nearly).
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Old 03-25-2012, 03:09 PM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
23,892 posts, read 16,163,495 times
Reputation: 17948
Quote:
Originally Posted by 601halfdozen0theother View Post
HI Banjo - Glad you're joining us! Yes, I too have been encountering both whales and Ahab-like behavior since I've started MD. By complete chance I picked up a quick-read book (Jamrach's Menagerie) which was about a man who joins a whaling voyage while in the employ of an English rare animal dealer. After failing to capture a monitor lizard, the ship sank and the rest of the book was about cannibalism in a life boat. Ick!

But speaking of, have you noticed how many times Melville mentions cannibals and cannibalism? (for ex. in Ch 58 "The universal cannibalism of the sea . . . " We all know by now that M lived for a time on the Marquesas. Did cannibalism become a slight obsession for him there?

By the way of nothing except I thought it was interesting, have any of you read Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceana? In his exploration of the peoples of the pacific islands he concludes that people became cannibals only on islands where there wasn't enough plant or animal protein for human survival. Isn't that interesting? So you'd think in modern America, since there's plenty of available plant protein, no one would ever need to eat any sort of animal meat. Just saying.

Anyway, here are some thoughts from Chapters 51 - 64:
- I'm still trying to catch the Civil War allusions. Is this one? C51 - "In tempestous times like these . . . nothing more can be done but passivlely to await the issue of the gale. . ." He writes about it more openly in describing the sharks that follow slave ships to feed on bodies thrown from those ships. I don't know, Bunjee, if we can answer "could he (M) have done more re slavery. Did the few readers who actually read MD at the time even pick up these references? Would those references have been clearer to a period reader than they are to me? Or harder?
- The significance of The Town-Ho's Story (funny how word meanings change over time!) is it that someone with official authority over another person who is actually superior to them will try to bring down that superior person?
- in Ch 58 The Sea - all the horror's of the half-known life. Land = the soul - peace and joy. M's constant navel gazing
- More of M taking from other books to write about whales in art and history.
- The story turns to adventure writing again in C-61. M says the whales were AWARE of their pursuers. Kind of sickening and sad.
- in C63 Ish/M explains that he writes about how the details and dangers of the hunt because "an understanding of these details will become important later . . . "

Bunjee, even though the thought of MD being a "Branjalinaism" enchants me, I think the island off the coast of Chile is a better bet. How interesting! I keep meaning to buy a globe . . .

Well, I'm off to the Northwoods, where I have no tv or work, and hopefully will finish MD (or nearly).
Hi, halfdozen...
I, too, noticed the cannibalism thing. Melville brings it up a lot in many different ways.
The PBS show I mentioned goes into cannibals in detail. There was an enormous amount of fear of cannibals throughout the whaling fleet.
The Essex, the whaler that was actually sunk by a whale, didn't sink fast. Although stove in, she floated for about 2-3 days, half sunken, and the survivors used that time to adapt their boats for a long open voyage. They were 1000 miles away from the nearest land.

The nearest land was the Maquesa Islands, where cannibals lived. Their fear was so great the survivors decided to try for Chilé instead, a voyage of over 3000 miles. Only 5 of the original 20 in the boats survived. Ironically, the survivors had to resort to cannibalism of their dead to stay alive.

Melville himself jumped ship in the Marquesas about 10 years later. He lived there for several months, and received his hand-written copy on the account of the Essex while there, so naturally, he pondered on this a lot. He never had any bad incident happen while he was there, and never saw anything but hospitable natives.

The whaling industry was conducted by all the naval nations of the world, but the Americans were the leaders. They sent out more ships, and went to all ends of the earth first. The PBS show commented on how Navy charting vessels would find Americans sailing in officially un-charted waters continually, and the Navy used whaler's charts extensively in their first maps of the oceans.

Cannibalism was found all over the whaling grounds from pole to pole. It may have been rare, but the whalers had no way of knowing, and the Americans tended to make trips ashore to only places they were sure of. When in dire need of water, they would go ashore and split as soon as possible.

Melville wrote Moby Dick 10 years after his whaling adventures. He got to see worse and better conditions on the other ships he sailed on after he deserted the first one; the next was out of Australia, and the crew mutinied. He went ashore again with the mutineers, and eventually boarded another Nantucket whaler which brought him home.

There were a lot of runaway slaves, freemen, and former slaves from other countries aboard the whaling fleets, so there was a lot of discussion onboard about slavery. These men all were very confined in small ships, for years, and all shared long periods of boredom, punctuated by very dangerous and short hunts, followed by bone-grinding hard work for days rendering the whales into oil.
It was equally nasty work. All the crew worked on a deck piled high with whale guts, heaping mounds of flesh, and blood so thick that everything was coated with it for days. Then it was all washed down, and it happened again.

They had to work continuously, as the fatty blubber went bad quickly in the heat and produced bad quality oil when it did. They were at it 24 hours a day.

Blacks and whites worked together shoulder to shoulder in complete equality, so racism simply did not exist. If some sailor was so racist he could not tolerate another race, he was left in a port, or marooned, or was quietly murdered in rare instances.

Since the Quakers were deeply anti-slavery, the long string of events and decisions that led to the Civil War were very much on Melville's mind. He was a strong abolitionist, and dreaded the eventuality of the impending war, so really a lot of his allegories probably came from those thoughts. Billy Budd was another allegory on human rights, equality, and the complications that arise from authority vs. personal equality and freedom.
I've noticed Melville uses whales in some of this anti-slavery allegories.

The allusions to slavery must have been very apparent to those who read Moby Dick at the time, but the book was not widely read. It was a big bomb compared to his earlier works, and effectively ended his burgeoning career as a novelist. The book didn't make much of a dent in the slavery question- nowhere nearly as much as Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The whales did indeed know they were being hunted. The whale boats were rowed as silently as possible to sneak up on them, and the whales would purposely go after the boats, especially the cows. A stove boat was very common, as were deaths on the hunts. It didn't take long for the herds of whales to change their feeding grounds, or move out of established grounds due to hunting pressure.

The whale's deaths were gruesome. The harpoon didn't kill the whale- it only secured it to the boat. Lances were used for the killing, and all the vitals of the whale were either too deep inside the body or protected by heavy bone. Only the lungs were vulnerable. The lances were struck into the lungs over and over until the whale drowned in it's own blood. Only the boat's Mate, who could be the Captain, First Mate, or other high rank on the vessel, killed the whale. The harpooneer was a common sailor with a specialty- he rowed with the other crew until the boat was in striking distance, then he got up and threw the harpoon.
The aim and strong arm of the harpooneer was needed critically. The whales were harpooned at as far a distance from the boat as possible, to keep the boat away from the whale. It was much safer to cut the harpoon loose than to close with a whale- close range was the killer of boats and men. The harpooneer always got a share that was greater than all the other common sailors, and was often equal to the share of the 2nd Mate. If they survived, they could become very rich men.

The first whaling ground were just off Nantucket. By 1820, these grounds had been depleted. As word came in of other rich grounds off Newfoundland, Chilé, Peru, and in the other coastal waters of the Pacific, the voyages grew increasingly longer, and the ships became larger.

By the time Melville was at sea, the deep ocean grounds near the Pacific's equator had been discovered, but only the Americans ventured into them the most, as they were very far out to sea and very hazardous due to the distances back to civilized shores. Other nations had more fear of the deep Pacific, and more problems getting their whale ships back home from them.

The Spermacetti whale was the most desirable whale to hunt, and it's a deep diver. It is also the largest predator on earth, so it was doubly dangerous. The Right whale was next; it got it's name because it was the Right whale to hunt for the early whalers. It is a baleen whale that also has a lot of blubber.

Baleen was the plastic of the 19th century. It was strong and flexible and could be molded by heat, so it was almost as valuable as the spermacetti wax that is found only in the head of the Sperm Whale. This waxy substance provided the brightest light to be had before the use of petroleum, and was used for candles at a time when everything was lit by candles or oil.

Common whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication. As a lubricant, it was still the best to be found until well into the 20th century. Advanced Petroleum refinery techniques eventually came close, but only the development of synthetic oil actually equalled it.
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Old 04-02-2012, 01:19 PM
 
6,079 posts, read 5,687,392 times
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Wow, Banjo, what a wonderful, informative post! Thank you for all of the info. I don't think the PBS show played in my area yet - or if it did I wasn't paying attention. Will try to get it on DVD.

I'm back from my trip up north. Have almost finished MD. Tomorrow will write about it all - for now -

It NEVER takes me a month to read a book! I think Moby Dick is "hard" to read for two reasons. Firstly, because the narrative thread is continually broken with informational and philosophical sections. I enjoy those, and they are important to the story in the end, but my brain kept having to adjust, and my mind would wander. I'm probably mentally lazy. Secondly, the language - tone - in the book changes continually. Sometimes Melville is channeling Shakespeare, sometimes he's ripping off Hawthorne, and sometimes he's taking sections straight out of other books, and sometimes (I think) he's writing in his own voice. But now I have to read another of his books to try to figure out what Melville's voice really is. Maybe his voice IS stealing other people's voices???

More tomorrow.
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Old 04-02-2012, 04:23 PM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
23,892 posts, read 16,163,495 times
Reputation: 17948
Quote:
Originally Posted by 601halfdozen0theother View Post
Wow, Banjo, what a wonderful, informative post! Thank you for all of the info. I don't think the PBS show played in my area yet - or if it did I wasn't paying attention. Will try to get it on DVD.

I'm back from my trip up north. Have almost finished MD. Tomorrow will write about it all - for now -

It NEVER takes me a month to read a book! I think Moby Dick is "hard" to read for two reasons. Firstly, because the narrative thread is continually broken with informational and philosophical sections. I enjoy those, and they are important to the story in the end, but my brain kept having to adjust, and my mind would wander. I'm probably mentally lazy. Secondly, the language - tone - in the book changes continually. Sometimes Melville is channeling Shakespeare, sometimes he's ripping off Hawthorne, and sometimes he's taking sections straight out of other books, and sometimes (I think) he's writing in his own voice. But now I have to read another of his books to try to figure out what Melville's voice really is. Maybe his voice IS stealing other people's voices???

More tomorrow.
Hi, halfdozen...
I once complained to a writer friend of mine about how some books are hard and slow to read. He said some books demand to be savored, like a thick chewey steak, while others can be gobbled right down, like a Big Mac. Once I understood that, I never gave a thought to how long a book was taking me to read again.
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Old 01-08-2013, 10:06 AM
 
34,509 posts, read 35,204,993 times
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I tried to read Moby Dick years ago and got about halfway and simply wasn't able to finish it at the time.
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