The process of redemption, or the complete transformation of an individual’s life that enables him to avoid personal destruction is precisely what Ishmael experiences as he embraces cultural pluralism over the course of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Ishmael first begins Moby-Dick as a character who embraces isolation and abstract pondering in a manner that is similar to the obsessive, isolated madness of Captain Ahab. He is saved from the “madness” of absolutism by Queequeg, a South Pacific harpooner, in a process which not only expresses the nineteenth-century perception that cultural Others were less afflicted by madness, but also invokes a message of multicultural syncretism because Ishmael is saved by embracing Queequeg’s cultural identity. Ishmael’s embrace of Queequeg by engaging in his cultural practices and placing tattoos on his body represents a “conversion” experience because Ishmael’s relationship with Queequeg serves to redefine his own identity. After meeting and connecting with Queequeg, Ishmael discovers a community and a worldview which sees the chase after truth as more intriguing and worthwhile than the acquisition of absolute truth. In contrast, Ahab’s obsession with absolute truth causes him to neglect community and steer heedlessly toward his own destruction. Like a phoenix that arises out of the ashes, Melville’s Ishmael rises out of Ahab’s watery grave and presents more effective means to search for knowledge, a method that embraces other perspectives and searches happily for multiple answers.
Issue and Volume
Volume 10, Issue 2
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
"Raciocultural Union and "Fraternity of Feeling": Ishmael's Redemption in Moby-Dick,"
Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism: Vol. 10
, Article 4.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/criterion/vol10/iss1/4