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Respect for Nature: An Eco-critical Read of Moby-Dick

Abstract There are many conflicting ideas concerning Moby-Dick. One of the major themes in Moby-Dick is alienation between man and man, man and society, and man and nature. Melville in Moby-Dick deals with the fight between man and nature, specifically speaking, the fight between Captain Ahab together with the crew on the whaling ship Pequod and the white whale Moby Dick. The book is an allegorical tragedy. Melville forewarned that if man relentlessly exploited and challenged nature like Captain Ahab, nature would punish us human beings. Man’s conquest and control on nature will leads to crisis. The harmonious relationship in ecosystem should be built. Human beings should respect nature and take proper advantage of nature, which could help avoid the ruin of the entire human beings.

Introduction

Moby-Dick, one of the greatest symbolic novels, is the masterpiece of Herman Melville. It displays the severe struggle between man and nature in American literature. And also there are many conflicting ideas concerning it. Moby-Dick is a vivid description of man’s encroachment on nature. The novel is generally regarded as an encyclopedia of many things: cetology, history, philosophy, religion and so on. Because of this, many reviews on this book from different points of view appear, such as from the point of view of psychology to reveal man’s psychic confusion as Ahab’s monomaniac syndrome; of the problems of identity, race, and sexual innuendoes in this novel; of classical American themes, such as religion, fate, and economic expansion, as well as a radically experimental anachronism in modern times. It has been read as myth, epic, political allegory, psychological document and philosophical document. Melville spoke ahead of his time. One of the major themes in Moby-Dick is alienation between man and man, man and society, and man and nature. Melville sensed these in his time on different levels: Captain Ahab seems to be the best illustration of it all. Melville in Moby-Dick deals with the fight between man and nature, specifically speaking, the fight between Captain Ahab together with the crew on the whaling ship Pequod and the white whale Moby Dick.

1

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of opinions coexisting about the relationship between man and nature. One is anthropocentrism, that is, man as the centre and the other is ecocentrism, that is, nature as the centre. “Anthropocentrism is a system of beliefs and practices that favor humans over other organisms; it believes that humans are entitled to make the greatest use of the surrounding natural world, and humans have a superior value over animals and other beings in nature” (George Sessions, 1995:156). In an anthropocentric view, the focus is mainly or exclusively on human beings, and the natural world is ignored or merely a background. Nature is treated just as a source of the living and the development of human beings. Humans have the direct responsibility for their own species and indirect or even no obligation for nature. Value is placed chiefly on human beings, and the natural world has less value or the only instrumental value. Human beings are superior to the natural world and nature is the only object of study and use. “Ecocentrism regards nature as having inner value, while anthropocentrism usually sees nature as having only instrumental value (possessing value only in relation to human interests, usually narrowly economic) if it is valuable for something else”(GeorgeSessions, 1995:163). Ecocentrism calls for equality among creatures within the ecosphere and emphasizes that man is only part of nature. It also calls for harmonious coexistence between man and nature, civilization and the natural environment in the whole ecosphere. However, the notion nature is created for the sake of humans has been deeply rooted in the West, especially, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. Nature was viewed as a dead machine. The only function was for human exploitation. Therefore, the notion offered an excuse for humans to keep on relentlessly plundering nature without considering the benefit of the whole ecosphere. In Moby-Dick Melville holds different views about the relationship between man and nature from the people of his time. He shows in advance that human beings’ greedy plundering of nature will undoubtedly lead to a tragic end. All the crew’s death on Pequod best proves this idea.

2

The whaling ship of Pequod is a mirror of American society— it contains a large number of social and ethical groups; out of their various reactions to the chase of the White Whale, Melville sets up a complicated statement about American view of nature and living existence. In the novel, Captain Ahab, whose leg wass snapped by Moby Dick, bore a deep hatred for Moby Dick, so he went to the sea again to seek for revenge. His purpose is to challenge the greatness and power of nature. Except that Ahab chased the white whale for vengeance and to fulfill his self desire, other sailors hunted whales for wealth. At that time, America was in its economic growing and most people thought man could do anything to nature. Actually, nature and humans can be in harmony with each other and they both are co-existent and interdependent on each other. Through the experience of Ishmael, who is not only a witness to his own thoughts, but also a witness to the actions of Captain Ahab and of the other crew on Pequod, the book reflects such kind of relating and coexisting relationship between nature and human beings in an artistic way. In our common sense, probably, the hugeness of the whale and the immensity of the sea make us afraid. However, trying to observe carefully, we will perceive the friendly attitude of the whales and feel the beauty of nature, if only we do not disturb its calmness and harmony. Without human invasion, the whales live peacefully and happily in the sea. Ishmael sees the loveliness and helplessness of the white Moby-Dick. When Moby Dick was encountered first, he was in no flurry quietly gliding through the sea, “a mighty mildness of repose”. Ishmael describes: Close under our lee, not forty fathoms of, a gigantic sperm whale la rolling in the water like the capsized hull of a frigate, his broad, gloss back, of an Ethiopian hue, glistening in the sun’s rays like a mirror But lazily undulating in the tough of the sea and ever anon tranquill spouting his vapoury jet, the whale looked like a portly burghe smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon. (Herman Melville, 1999:291) The beautiful and grand scene leaves a deep impression on Ishmael. He believes man and nature can be in harmony. He finds virtue in the whale and holds the leviathan up as a standard for human thought and action. Even though “surrounded by circle upon circle of consternation and affrights”, “these inscrutable creatures” did“at the center freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; serenely reveled in dalliance and delight.”(Herman Melville, 1999:391) In Melville’s view, nature is not only a helper of human beings, but also a spiritual teacher who teaches us the meaning of life. He expresses his friendliness to nature and the life in nature. From the very beginning Moby Dick is not a symbol of evil to Ishmael, but a magnificent symbol of creation itself. As a symbol the whale is endlessly suggestive of meanings. It is as significant and manifold as Nature herself. But humans did not waste any chance to make wealth from nature. The first half of the nineteenth-century America saw a period of tremendous economic development. whaling became the main industry because of the unsubstitutable use of the whale’s oil in ornament, lighting, steel-making, hide-processing, etc. “Starting from as early as 1670s, the American whaling industry had possessed whaling ships shipping all over the world, three times more than those of Europe. As many as 20,000 people were engaged in the career, bringing 700,000,000-dollar profit to the country each year. The whaling industry reached its climax in the 1830s and kept booming for about 30 years”(Yu Jianhua,1989:85)So to speak, the prosperity of the United States, in particular, the eastern coastal cities, was built on the killing of the whales. The cities, New Bedford, Nantucket, and Sag Harbor, mentioned in Moby-Dick, became the world centers of the whaling industry. The whales and their precious oil were symbols of wealth at that time. The more oil one had, the richer he was. According to the 6th chapter of the novel, in New Bedford, “fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.”(Herman Melville, 1999:52) With the purpose of making enormous profits from nature, a great many go to the sea to extract profits from nature, just as Melville depicts: Nothing will satisfy them but the extreme limit of the land loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. they must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. and there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and valleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. (Herman Melville, 1999:22) They hold the view that they could conquer the sea and make use of it at their pleasure,” for the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires”, (Herman Melville, 1999:81) and they could do anything to nature to fulfill their nonstop expanding desires. Ishmael couldn’t help uttering such plaint, “But that pipe, poor whale, was thy last.”(Herman Me 1999:291) Humans rudely kill the whales to provide humans with the necessities of life and at the same time to accumulate wealth. The whales in man’s eyes are nothing but the resources of human life. The whales are a vitally necessary source of energy to light the lamps of civilization. Therefore, they must be hunted out, killed, and dismembered so that their raw natural energies can be transformed and applied to the uses of civilization. Man can get food and light and shelter from the environment, and all these assure man’s material existence. But what has accompanied with the intrusion into nature is not only progress in civilization, but also sense of guilty and damage to environment. And then, the whaling ship becomes a symbol for the exploitation of nature, intruding into the sea for commercial purposes carrying the profit-seekers. In the book Melville warns in advance that the optimistic view of human domination of nature and relentless plundering nature must lead to the ecological crisis and the tragedy of human beings. Human beings relentless killing the whales has been questioned and some shocking numbers about the perishing whales were given us in the novel. The whale-killing makes the hunted whale unable to escape speedy extinction. “The cause of the wondrous extermination of animals on the land and in the sea is the spear of man. The decreasing number is very amazing. For example, forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whale for forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west(in whose sunset sun still rise)was a wilderness and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically stated.”(Herman Melville, 1999: 458) Humans continuously exploit nature to satisfy their inner desire for profits in spite of the hardships in whaling. In chapter 98 “Stowing Down& Clearing Up”, Melville vividly depicts the actions of the sailors on the whaling ship. When the sailors extracted oil from the whale, they knew” no night; continuing straight through for ninety-six hours; when from the boat, where they have swelled their wrists with all day on the Line”. (Herman Melville, 1999:428)But when they heard the cry of “There she blows”, they flew away to fight another whale. This is not only “whale massacre”, but also “man-killing”. They, driven by the desire for wealth, have no mercy of the whales and nature, and even have no mercy of themselves. Without men’s invasion, the seas and the species in the deep sea live peacefully and tranquilly.But all the tranquil and harmonious scenes are destroyed by man’s invasion: As the marching armies(the whales)approaching an unfriendly defile in the mountains, accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that perilous passage in their rear, and once more expand in comparative security upon the plain; even so did this vast fleet of whales now seem hurrying forward through the straits; gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle, and swimming on, in one solid, but still crescentic centre.(Herman Melville,1999:384)

3

In Moby-Dick Captain Ahab is the embodiment of the desire and a representative of modern civilization. He held deep hatred for Moby Dick, for one of his leg was crunched off by Moby Dick on an earlier voyage of hunting. “It was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now.’ He shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose;’ it was that accursed white whale that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!’ then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted out:’ Aye, aye! And I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! To chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now?”(Herman Melville, 1999:175) So he led the other sailors to invade the sea and hunt for it and was determined to revenge himself on the white whale at the cost of all the other sailors’ life. Ahab actively hunted for the white whale in order to claim man’s supremacy over what swam in front of him as “the monomaniac incarnation” of a superior power: “If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But it is enough He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, s even that fair play. Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”(Herman Melville, 1999:176) Ahab wanted to prove his power over nature and at the same time found his spiritual sustenance in fighting against nature. Ahab’s tragedy is doomed because of his selfishness and revenge on nature, which is the cause of the disruption of Edenic harmony in nature. He is too egocentric to be persuaded. When Starbuck dissatisfied with his revengeful purpose of this voyage and tried to persuade him to give it up, he announced: Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other.(Herman Melville,1999:176) And then he sailed on and on to search for Moby Dick. “In that way, mostly, the disastrous encounter between Ahab and the whale had hitherto been popularly regarded.”(Herman Melville, 1999:190) To revenge, Ahab gave up all his love either to his wife or to his followers. He went to the sea to revenge himself on Moby Dick and to prove that he could conquer nature. “He thought he was the lord and master of nature and of the others and he was superior. Ahab cried, with a laugh of derision, I am immortal then, on land and on the sea,—immortal on the land and on the sea.”(Melville, 1999:491)The hatred for nature and desire for domination of nature accelerated the pace of Ahab’s death. In Ahab’s egocentric obsession, he lost his sanity and humanity and became a devilish creature rushing toward his doom. Ahab’s tragic end exemplifies that anthropocentric view about nature and expanding desire are the main causes of the tragedy. Ahab’s tragedy lies in his anthropocentric thought that man, through his rational faculties, sits atop and controls the great chain of being; that civilized man is fundamentally different from and superior to uncivilized men and wild beasts. Humans want to prove their power and domination of nature, but we are not strong enough compared with nature. Ishmael clearly realized that and he said: “So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping on the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that.” (Herman Melville, 1999:232) Stubb had the same idea with Ishmael. He said to Starbuck:” The sea will have its way. Stubb, for one, can’t fight it. You see, Mr. Starbuck, a wave has such a great long start before it leaps, all around the world it runs, and then comes the spring.” (Herman Melville,1999:494) Therefore, in the fight between man and nature, temporary triumphs may be achieved; but finally man must be the loser. This can be seen in the end of the book. “Ahab, Queequeg, Tashtego and the rest of the Pequod’s crew (excepting Ishmael) are sucked by the sea, perhaps in the punishment for their pride in contesting against nature.”(Michael P. Branch and Scott Slovic, 2003:197)
What causes the tragic end? Actually, Melville has already given us the definite answer in Moby-Dick. We can see that it is not the white whale, but the selfishness of human beings that causes the tragedy of the whaling ship, Pequod, led by Captain Ahab. In the last chapter, Starbuck thought Ahab had “heart of wrought steel” (Herman Melville,1999:553)and said to Ahab, “Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!”(Herman Melville, 1999: 556)Melville, through the mouth of Starbuck, reveals that human’s avaricious selfishness is the real cause of self destruction. Nature in itself is neither good nor evil. Nature’s good or evil can only be reflected by human good or evil which decides their fate.

Conclusion

Moby-Dick is an allegorical tragedy. Melville forewarned that if man relentlessly exploited and challenged nature like Captain Ahab, nature would punish us human beings. Man’s conquest and control on nature will leads to crisis. When natural crisis comes about, spiritual crisis comes in the wake; and man’s spiritual crisis leads to the destruction of self and damage to others, society and nature. He drastically and prophetically disclosed the ecological crisis with which American society was confronting when it was in its economic growing time. Perhaps, that is why people at that time couldn’t understand him and accept the novel. He suggested that the harmonious relationship in ecosystem should be built. Human beings should respect nature and take proper advantage of nature, which could help avoid the ruin of the entire human beings.

Bibliography

1. Chang, Yaoxin. A Survey of American Literature. Tianjin: Nankai University Press, 1990.

2. Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism Routledge: Taylor &Francis Group, London and New York.2004.

3. McWilliams, John P.Jr., Hawthorn, Melville and the American Character: A Looking Glass Business. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

4. Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick, or the Whale. Enriched Classic. First Pocket Books printing in 1999.

5. Rubinstein, Annette Ameircan Literature: Root and Flower Vol. I. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press,1988.

6. Sessions, George.,ed. “Ecocentrism and the Anthropocentric Detour”, Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Boston: Shambhala publications, Inc., 1995.

7. 虞建华《20部美国小说名著评析》,上海:上海外语教育出版社,1989年.

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Call for Papers

...Technology(IJAET) ISSN 2231-1963 CALL FOR PAPER IJAET is a carefully refereed international publication. Contributions of high technical merit are to span the breadth of Engineering disciplines; covering the main areas of engineering and advances in technology. IJAET publishes contributions under Regular papers, Invited review papers, Short communications, Technical notes, and Letters to the editor. Book reviews, reports of and/or call for papers of conferences, symposia and meetings could also be published in this Journal Author Benefits : • • • • • • Rapid publication Index Factors and Global education Index Ranking Inclusion in all major bibliographic databases Quality and high standards of peer review High visibility and promotion of your articles Access of publications in this journal is free of charge. PUBLICATION CHARGES: A small publication fee of INR3500 upto 10 pages is charged for Indian author and for foreign author is USD 100 upto 10 pages for every accepted manuscript to be published in this journal. All the transaction Charges will be paid by Author (Inter Banking Charges, draft). Submission Guidelines: Guidelines Authors are kindly invited to submit their full text papers including conclusions, results, tables, figures and references. • The text paper must be according to IJAET Paper format and paper format can download from our website (www.ijaet.org).The Full text papers will be accepted in only .doc format. • The papers are sent to......

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The Effect of Papers

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Paper Brigguetes

...How to Make Charcoal from Paper By Karren Doll Tolliver, eHow Contributor Homemade paper charcoal briquettes can be used in backyard grills.  Commercial charcoal for grilling food is expensive and can be harmful to the environment. However, industrious do-it-yourselves can make their own "charcoal" from newspaper. This reduces the amount of newspaper refuse as well as the amount of commercial charcoal consumed. In addition, no lighter fluid is needed with the homemade charcoal paper. Therefore, petroleum-based products are also conserved. Making your own charcoal takes only water and a washtub. The time spent forming the charcoal paper briquettes is negligible, although they need to dry for a couple of days in the sun. Things You'll Need • Washtub • Water • Old newspaper Instructions 1 Tear the old newspaper into pieces about the size of your hand or smaller. 2 Place all the torn newspaper pieces in the washtub. Cover with water and let sit for at least one hour. The newspaper will be ready when it is thoroughly saturated with water and is mushy to the touch. 3 Grab a large handful of the mushy newspaper. Form it into a ball about the size of a golf ball or ping pong ball, squeezing out as much water as you can. Repeat until all the mushy newspaper is in ball form. Discard the water. 4 Place the wet newspaper balls in the sun for at least two days. Do not let them get rained on. They must be completely dry and brittle. At this point they are ready for use in the......

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Analysis Paper

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