Литература двух Америк (Jun 2020)

“Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris...”: On the Fantastic / Supernatural / Demoniac in Melville’s Novel Moby Dick

  • Elvira Ph. Osipova

Journal volume & issue
no. 8
pp. 402 – 416


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The paper addresses the theme of the fantastic in Melville’s Moby Dick, or The White Whale. Its importance is underscored in the writer’s letter to Hawthorne, where he mentioned the secret motto of the book, namely, the presence of the demoniac. It is embodied in the figure of Fedallah endowed with pointedly satanic features. An examination of the plot proves that throughout the ship’s journey Ahab was closely connected with Fedallah and acted on his bidding. This mysterious figure has not attracted much attention of the Russian scholars. The analysis of Fedallah’s role in the novel, however, helps to reassess both the protagonist and the message of the book. The paper shows that the definition of Ahab as a romantic individualist pursuing higher values, is inapplicable to the character. At the helm of the “Pequod” was a mad captain possessed by the devil. The assumption that Ahab embodies the principle of Emerson’s “self-reliance” does not hold water, since the captain doesn’t rely on the voice of God in himself, but on the voice of the devil. Emphasized in the book is the theme of revenge as an irrational, blind passion infused into Ahab by the Satan. The analysis of the fantastic element in the novel helps to avoid a certain bias in determining the message of the book, which some Russian scholars define as a protest against the “bourgeois America”. The paper contains a revaluation of the symbolic figure of Moby Dick traditionally treated as an embodiment of the world’s evil. The White Whale in Melville’s novel represents some natural force which carries out punishment for human cruelty, blind revengefulness, and fanaticism.