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fanuzzir
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Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae

Melville wrote larger than life characters in the manner of Shakespeare. The most memorable of them jump out of the novel's plot and present themselves as some flawed, gripping idea of humanity. Here' a chance to discuss some of literature's most memorable characters.
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leakybucket
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

This is my first reading of Moby Dick and I only just started it. The first sentence of the book is very famous: "Call me Ishmael." So right off I wondered about the significance of the name Ishmael in reference to the narrator and the story. I looked it up and it appears to be a Biblical name. Interesting enough Ishmael seems to be more significant in the Islamic tradition where he is considered a major prophet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael

Does anyone have some thoughts on this? Is there some significance in the name?

I started Moby Dick with some reluctance as I thought it was a "difficult to read" book. So far I am finding it very readable, interesting and actually very current. In fact I had to chuckle a bit on Ishmael's "headliners:"

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States"
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affaghanistan"

I guess some things never change and come around again!

Bucky
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Laurel
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

Ishmael, Abraham's son with his wife Sarah's maid servant, was the beginning of the troubles between the Arabs and the Jews. God promised that Abraham would be the father of a great nation, and Sarah, who was old (in her seventies or eighties, I think) and childless, suggested that Abraham have the child with her slave, Hagar. Thirteen years later, Ishmael made fun of little Isaac, who was the surprise son of Abraham and Sarah, and Sarah made Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. God saved them from death and told Hagar that Ishmael, too, would be the father of a great nation. He would be a nomad, as were his descendants, the Bedouins. The name Ishmael means "God hears."

"The sons of Ishmael peopled the north and west of the Arabian peninsula, and eventually formed the chief element of the Arab nation, the wandering Bedouin tribes. They are now mostly Mohammedans who look to him as their spiritual father, as the Jews look to Abraham." (Smith's Bible Dictionary)

I think our narrator was thinking mostly of the wandering vagabond aspect of Ishmael when he took his name., but he could also have been thinking of himself as something of an outcast and misfit. There's a lot in the New Testament contrasting Isaac and Ishmael as types. Melville could possibly have been thinking of that, but I think being a nomad is enough.



leakybucket wrote:
This is my first reading of Moby Dick and I only just started it. The first sentence of the book is very famous: "Call me Ishmael." So right off I wondered about the significance of the name Ishmael in reference to the narrator and the story. I looked it up and it appears to be a Biblical name. Interesting enough Ishmael seems to be more significant in the Islamic tradition where he is considered a major prophet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael

Does anyone have some thoughts on this? Is there some significance in the name?

I started Moby Dick with some reluctance as I thought it was a "difficult to read" book. So far I am finding it very readable, interesting and actually very current. In fact I had to chuckle a bit on Ishmael's "headliners:"

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States"
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affaghanistan"

I guess some things never change and come around again!

Bucky

"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Laurel
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States"
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affaghanistan"

I liked those headlines, too, Bucky.
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Choisya
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

[ Edited ]
Ishmael is a name used by Jews, Christians and Muslims; he was a Prophet to all of them and mentioned in their holy books. I know I will upset believers (and am sorry for that) when I say that the biblical story is a fictional one passed down by the Hebrews - Muslims have an altogether different understanding of it and certainly do not accept the 'great nation' interpretation'. This is what it says in the Koran, but this too is fictional:-

http://web.uvic.ca/~rpn/files/ishmael.html

(I can't get the above link to work! Please cut and paste into your browser.)

Muslims also believe that Ishmael was Abraham's 'supreme sacrifice' and not Isaac. To this end they have the Feast of Il Adha each year and sacrifice lambs to 'recall the courage and patience of Ishmael and the unwavering devotion of Abraham' (Islamic Voice). As Melville travelled amongst and lived with Muslims, he may have been thinking of these beliefs when drawing the character of Ishmael.

Genealogically speaking I do not think we yet know why there are separate races in the world and it is a subject mired in controversy. Here is the Wikipedia definition of race which may be helpful:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race




Laurel wrote:
Ishmael, Abraham's son with his wife Sarah's maid servant, was the beginning of the troubles between the Arabs and the Jews. God promised that Abraham would be the father of a great nation, and Sarah, who was old (in her seventies or eighties, I think) and childless, suggested that Abraham have the child with her slave, Hagar. Thirteen years later, Ishmael made fun of little Isaac, who was the surprise son of Abraham and Sarah, and Sarah made Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. God saved them from death and told Hagar that Ishmael, too, would be the father of a great nation. He would be a nomad, as were his descendants, the Bedouins. The name Ishmael means "God hears."

"The sons of Ishmael peopled the north and west of the Arabian peninsula, and eventually formed the chief element of the Arab nation, the wandering Bedouin tribes. They are now mostly Mohammedans who look to him as their spiritual father, as the Jews look to Abraham." (Smith's Bible Dictionary)

I think our narrator was thinking mostly of the wandering vagabond aspect of Ishmael when he took his name., but he could also have been thinking of himself as something of an outcast and misfit. There's a lot in the New Testament contrasting Isaac and Ishmael as types. Melville could possibly have been thinking of that, but I think being a nomad is enough.



leakybucket wrote:
This is my first reading of Moby Dick and I only just started it. The first sentence of the book is very famous: "Call me Ishmael." So right off I wondered about the significance of the name Ishmael in reference to the narrator and the story. I looked it up and it appears to be a Biblical name. Interesting enough Ishmael seems to be more significant in the Islamic tradition where he is considered a major prophet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael

Does anyone have some thoughts on this? Is there some significance in the name?

I started Moby Dick with some reluctance as I thought it was a "difficult to read" book. So far I am finding it very readable, interesting and actually very current. In fact I had to chuckle a bit on Ishmael's "headliners:"

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States"
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affaghanistan"

I guess some things never change and come around again!

Bucky



Message Edited by Choisya on 12-10-200608:08 AM

Message Edited by Choisya on 12-10-200608:09 AM

Message Edited by Choisya on 12-10-200608:27 AM

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fanuzzir
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

This is a fascinating link you are drawing between Muslim variants of the Ishmael story. I also need to learn more about Melville's contact with Muslims, which I assume happened on board ship. Moby Dick then becomes a much more cosmopolitan book and also a more forthright criticism of the pretensions of the US to a Judeo-Christian-like legitimacy in the world.
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Choisya
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael, Queequeg & Islam

Melville spent some time in French Polynesia where the dominant religion is Islam. There is, I think, another Muslim reference in Chapter 4 'The Counterpane' when Queequeg is washing himself before breakfast: 'At that time in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg, to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his chest, arms and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a piece of hard soap...dipped it into the water and commenced lathering his face.' Sura 5, Al Maida, Ayah 6, The Qu'ran, says 'O you who believe! When you intend to offer As-Salaat (the prayer) wash your faces and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing your wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to your ankles...'. This is a ritual performed before meals because prayers are said at mealtimes, and at the mosque whenever Muslims go to pray. Like Queequeg, my Muslim lodger omitted washing his feet when it wasn't convenient but told me that all mosques have water taps for the purpose of performing these full ablutions, which are required practice before you enter a mosque. His own house had a small sink and water tap adjacent to the dining area, where his family washed their faces and hands 'up to the elbows' before eating. That and taking your shoes off when you enter a house, are excellent customs I think.

I will point out any more Muslim customs I come across as I am familiar with them due to having a Muslim lodger here for 6 years who, though not particularly observant, taught me a lot about Islam.




fanuzzir wrote:
This is a fascinating link you are drawing between Muslim variants of the Ishmael story. I also need to learn more about Melville's contact with Muslims, which I assume happened on board ship. Moby Dick then becomes a much more cosmopolitan book and also a more forthright criticism of the pretensions of the US to a Judeo-Christian-like legitimacy in the world.


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fanuzzir
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael, Queequeg & Islam

I'm very very grateful for that insight, as I'm doing some scholarship on the flection of Islam in nineteenth century American culture. There really were two encounters Melville had there: with the indigenous people of the East and with a non-Christian world view.
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael



leakybucket wrote:
This is my first reading of Moby Dick and I only just started it. The first sentence of the book is very famous: "Call me Ishmael." So right off I wondered about the significance of the name Ishmael in reference to the narrator and the story. I looked it up and it appears to be a Biblical name. Interesting enough Ishmael seems to be more significant in the Islamic tradition where he is considered a major prophet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael

Does anyone have some thoughts on this? Is there some significance in the name?

I started Moby Dick with some reluctance as I thought it was a "difficult to read" book. So far I am finding it very readable, interesting and actually very current. In fact I had to chuckle a bit on Ishmael's "headliners:"

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States"
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affaghanistan"

I guess some things never change and come around again!

Bucky




I think the consensus of the critical material I've read on the subject of your question identifies the name Ishmael to stand for an exile or wanderer. This meaning comes from the biblical material posted in this thread, when Ishmael and his mother were exiled by Abraham.
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chad
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael- the whale

[ Edited ]
Hi all:

Whales seem to connect all religions and races, whatever they may be. Melville was cool beans, man. So let's pay attention to the whale- we have a few problems in the middle east, I think.

Chad

Message Edited by chad on 12-17-200602:43 PM

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Ahab

I'm not quite up to Ahab yet so I am not ready to comment on him. But there is something I wondered about when, I think it was Peleg brought up the point that Ahab didn't name himself and was not responsible for his evil name. Ahab was a given name then. I notice things are pretty informal on whaling ships but does the crew refer to their captain by his first name. Especially since the First Mate is called by his last Starbuck?

Bucky
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Re: Ahab

Good question! I guess it wouldn't have to be a first name--a man doesn't choose his last name, either. I think it probably is his first name, though. Perhaps because we're in Quaker territory (Bildad and Peleg are also first names from the Bible), or perhaps because a captain is like a king. We don't have King Plantagenet or Czar Romanov; we have King Henry and Czar Nicholas.



leakybucket wrote:
I'm not quite up to Ahab yet so I am not ready to comment on him. But there is something I wondered about when, I think it was Peleg brought up the point that Ahab didn't name himself and was not responsible for his evil name. Ahab was a given name then. I notice things are pretty informal on whaling ships but does the crew refer to their captain by his first name. Especially since the First Mate is called by his last Starbuck?

Bucky


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Ahab

I would think that his first name is "Captain," if you get my drift, and that he exists in a completely ceremonial role apart from human beings. Ahab as a surname would then be a "curse" handed down from a similarly doomed father. That's Old Testament fatalism for you, something critics have always ascribed to Melville.

On the subject of nicknames, Melville was always fascinated about the plethora of nicknames in the most inhumane, regimented settings. Readers of "Bartelby the Scrivener" will notice that the drones that worked in that office nonetheless earned endearing nicknames that only heightened the contrast between intimate friendship and the utilitarian roles they all played. I suspect the same dynamic is at work here.
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Re: Moby Dick: Dramatic Personae - Ishmael

I was doing a bit of research and discovered that the name Ishmael in Hebrew means "may God hear." I don't know if that sheds any light on why Melville named his narrator Ishmael.

http://mb-soft.com/believe/txw/ishmael.htm

For more trivia, I read somewhere that Muslim boys are circumcised when they are 13 years old. Maybe because that is when their blood line to Abraham, Ishmael, was circumcised, whereas Isaac, who is the bloodline of the Jews, was circumcised at 8 days and that is when Jewish boys are circumcised.

----------------
Ismael was not the destined heir of the covenant; yet, as he belonged to Abraham's family, he was submitted to the rite of circumcision when the patriarch circumcised all the male members of his household. He was then a lad of thirteen (xvii).
---------------------
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Re: Moby Dick: Muslim Circumcision

Although circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran it is in the Hadiths and has been customary since Mohammed's time, following the practice of the Jews in the area then. Many Muslim families have a boy child circumcised after 7 days, as Jews do, both because they feel it lessens the trauma and because it is customary in their region but in more traditional societies it is customary to circumcise children between the ages of 7 -11, when they can recite the whole Koran, something they go to a religious school for from the age of around 4.




leakybucket wrote:
I was doing a bit of research and discovered that the name Ishmael in Hebrew means "may God hear." I don't know if that sheds any light on why Melville named his narrator Ishmael.

http://mb-soft.com/believe/txw/ishmael.htm

For more trivia, I read somewhere that Muslim boys are circumcised when they are 13 years old. Maybe because that is when their blood line to Abraham, Ishmael, was circumcised, whereas Isaac, who is the bloodline of the Jews, was circumcised at 8 days and that is when Jewish boys are circumcised.

----------------
Ismael was not the destined heir of the covenant; yet, as he belonged to Abraham's family, he was submitted to the rite of circumcision when the patriarch circumcised all the male members of his household. He was then a lad of thirteen (xvii).
---------------------


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Captain Ahab

From Choisya in a different thread:



I feel that each time Ahab appears the reader is having his/her brain battered by words, as a presage of what is to come with Moby Dick, whose skull is described in Chapter 76 'The Battering Ram' as being 'paved with horses hooves'. This raining down of words and images is also in keeping with the erudite nature of the novel and its well read narrator, Ishmael.>

And here's one, from the end of ch. 34, that is not a battering ram but rather a slow screw:

"He lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old age, Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the sullen paws of its gloom!"
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Choisya
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Re: Captain Ahab

Thanks Laurel - you were reading my mind - I was just looking for this and was going to move it myself - great minds and all that!:smileyhappy::smileyhappy:




Laurel wrote:
From Choisya in a different thread:



I feel that each time Ahab appears the reader is having his/her brain battered by words, as a presage of what is to come with Moby Dick, whose skull is described in Chapter 76 'The Battering Ram' as being 'paved with horses hooves'. This raining down of words and images is also in keeping with the erudite nature of the novel and its well read narrator, Ishmael.>

And here's one, from the end of ch. 34, that is not a battering ram but rather a slow screw:

"He lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old age, Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the sullen paws of its gloom!"


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Laurel
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Re: Captain Ahab



Choisya wrote:
Thanks Laurel - you were reading my mind - I was just looking for this and was going to move it myself - great minds and all that!:smileyhappy::smileyhappy:






Now that's scary! :smileyvery-happy:
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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fanuzzir
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Re: Captain Ahab

Choisya and Laurel I really thank you both for moving those messages and getting our extemperaneous Ahab discussion in the right place. As far as the name "Ishmael" and "May God hear": surely this is the plea of the doubter, the unsaved supplicant. I see this part of Ishmael's character so clearly in his embarkation upon the Pequod when he gets the "blessing" of its owners, Bildad and Peleg.
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Choisya
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Re: Captain Ahab

Bob: I not that you are now directing us to Chapters 28-54 - does the Ahab/adjective post really need to be there?



fanuzzir wrote:
Choisya and Laurel I really thank you both for moving those messages and getting our extemperaneous Ahab discussion in the right place. As far as the name "Ishmael" and "May God hear": surely this is the plea of the doubter, the unsaved supplicant. I see this part of Ishmael's character so clearly in his embarkation upon the Pequod when he gets the "blessing" of its owners, Bildad and Peleg.


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