Evidently I’m drawn to Moby Dick in much the same way that Ishmael is drawn to the ocean.
Of course I should be very cautious in drawing a parallel because it’s not at all clear why I’m drawn to Moby Dick, nor why Ishmael is drawn to the ocean. In a litany of “whenevers,” Ishmael explains his motivation for taking to sea and “of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.”
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as possible.
I recognize the hyperbolic language of male camaraderie here and wonder if Ishmael (didn’t he just invite me to call him Ishmael?) isn’t saying a lot more about his motivation than can be rightly said.
Presumably his discontentment is owing to the lack of freedom on land. After all, he’s trapped in the “insular city” and is “belted round by wharves” and is even “surrounded” by commerce, where folks are “pent up”—”tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.”
Poor lad is unhappy, no doubt, and needs the ocean as a slave needs freedom. If a broad path is what Ishmael wants, he’ll certainly find it on the open sea.
But after carefully establishing imagery of captivity and confinement, Ishmael doesn’t contrast the land with the ultimate freedom of the ocean. Instead he acknowledges a deeper necessity. Call it a metaphysical necessity. So why does he go on a whaling voyage?
[T]his the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way—he can better answer than any one else.
Indeed, this voyage “formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago…” and even cajoled him “into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.”
In other words, Ishmael hasn’t the faintest clue why he takes to the ocean.
Just as I haven’t the faintest clue why I love Moby Dick.
So maybe the parallel is right after all.