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Moby Dick: Chapter 58 Essay

It is in human nature to hold in contempt and fear things unknown to them, on the other hand many people hold the pursuit of knowledge as the one true path to fulfillment in life. The dangers of the pursuit of knowledge are an underlying topic in Ishmael’s discussion of brit. Ishmael describes the sea as enigmatic and immensely more dangerous than the land; in doing so reveals how attempting to study the unknown in the pursuit of knowledge is far more dangerous than remaining ignorant. In Ishmael’s discussion about brit he quickly drifts off the subject of the actual brit and begins to make comparisons between the land and the sea. He states that even “though some old naturalists have maintained that all creatures if the land are of kind in the sea”(Melville 272), he has yet to see any creatures of the sea that have the same charm and kindness as domesticated pets.

He reveals the inherent lack of kindness or hospitability in oceanic creatures by making this statement. He goes on to say that,”however baby man may brag if his science and skill, and however much in a fluttering future that science and skill may augment; yet forever and ever to the crack of dawn, the sea will continue to insult and murder him… man has lost that sense of the awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.”(Melville 273). This passage illustrates the core of what Ishmael is trying to describe in his argument. It reveals the horror and indomitable terror of the sea, which according to Ishmael people seem to have forgotten about and take for granted.

He also belittles human’s in the passage calling them “baby man” showing how powerless he believes people are compared to the sea and how no matter how much people advance they cannot compare to the sea’s power. He goes on to expand on this idea stating the many ways in which the ocean’s horrors hold supremacy over all others such as the sea’s lack of mercy and control as well as its deceiving beauty and how “its most dreaded creatures glide under water unapparent for the most part and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest azure”(Melville 274)

Underlying this description of the terror of the ocean is a warning; Ishmael attempts to show how trying to study the unknown in pursuit of knowledge is far more dangerous than remaining in a state of ignorance. Ishmael uses detailed description to over emphasize how terrifying the ocean is. This shows the use of storytelling and redefinition in order to get the audience picture the terrors of the ocean and in doing so empathize with Ishmael’s beliefs. This indicates Ishmael’s use of pathos in his argument.

Ishmael besides describing the ocean as a perilous place he describes it as “an everlasting terra incognita” (Melville 273), this declaration of the incapableness of man to unravel the mysteries of the ocean shows the, almost fearful, reverence he holds towards the ocean and its mysteries. A reverence he attempts to impart upon the audience through the aforementioned use of hyperbole and redefinition, showing a use of pathos to make the audience sympathize with these feelings.

It seems that Ishmael would rather people not attempt to learn about the unknown rather than expose themselves to its dangers. This is apparent when this extract, “For as thy appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of a man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”(Melville 274). This is the conclusion to Ishmael’s discussion and reveals the reasoning for his statements.

The “horrors of the half known life” encompassing the “insular Tahiti” are the things people attempt to learn about the world and themselves. Ishmael believes that by venturing out into the sea of one’s soul man exposes himself to all the dangers of the world. This shows how he believes that it is better to remain on a peninsula of ignorance and comfort than venture out into the sea of knowledge.

Ishmael urges people to remain in their small insular world threatened by what lies beyond. He believes that one will find less comfort in discoveries than in ignorance and as such people should stay clear of the mysteries of the world.


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