How does the portrayal of Ahab reinforce or illustrate the ideas of anti-transcendentalism?

Moby-Dick Essay Assignment
WIT English II, Sections 24 and 26, spring 2017

Due: Thursday, March 23, 2017 and Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Length: 1000-1200 words, which includes quotations. This works out to 4-5 pages, typed double-space, Times New Roman 12, 1 inch margins all around. The last numbered page of your paper is the Works Cited page, which will be page 5 or 6 depending on length of your text.
MLA Format: Typed double space, no extra space between paragraphs, 1” margins all around, Times New Roman 12. After date, indicate number of topic, for example: Moby-Dick 2
You must have a title for your essay. Your title should tell us something about your essay. Your title should not be bold, bigger, underlined, or in italics. You must center your title.
Content: Your own analysis, with integration of quotations from the novel and at least one quotation from an article of literary criticism. Synthesize. You must find this article through our databases, and/or we may possibly use something from our text. You must use one article – you can use two. All quotations in your essay must be cited parenthetically. You must have a Works Cited page. You must cite from the edition of the novel you are using and put that edition information on your Works Cited page.
Style: Coherent, developed introduction with splendid thesis – superior organization for the entire essay. Develop three-four examples. Discuss the novel in present tense. Refer to last name of author(s). Italicize the title of the book: Moby-Dick. If you refer to a chapter title, put it in quotation marks: “Loomings” Put the article title in quotation marks.
NO! “In this essay I will talk about . . .” or “in conclusion, etc.” Do not use first person.
Avoid beginning sentences vaguely, with “they, there are, it, it is”, etc. Refer to people by “who” or “whom” – not “that.” (the person who . . . ) Use strong verbs – not just forms of the verb to be. Do not qualify/weaken your insight and analysis with “pretty much”, “basically.” Do not say “the book is saying . . . “ or “the article is saying . . . “ – these things do not speak. Their authors and/or narrators do. Example: Ishmael comments on Ahab’s monomania. Or Carson Reilly notes that “skfjksjfkfjlksjflksjflksjf” (389). Avoid comma splices and split infinitives. Use active voice. Avoid fragments. After each punctuation, type one space, not two. Avoid “a lot.” Find a different way to say this.
Topics – Choose One.

1. Discuss sermon structure in the novel – does Ahab preach? How? Does Queequeg preach (by parable) to Ishmael about respect for cultural differences? (wheelbarrow and the punchbowl) Compare Father Mapple’s sermon and Fleece’s sermon. Why does Melville use sermons? What purpose do they serve?

2. What is the role of religion in the novel? Do you think religious conventions are replaced or subverted in some way? Discuss. (Sermons could be included in this, but this topic is broader. You could follow a train of thought about “traditional Christian” religion of the fire and brimstone style, as presented in every aspect of the scene with Father Mapple, through Ishmael’s meeting of Queequeg, etc.)

3. Melville explores the divide between evil and virtue, justice and vengeance throughout the novel. Discuss the significance of these themes.
4. Comment on views of the presence of Queequeg, particularly his status as a “savage.” How does Melville depict this cultural clash? Why?

5. Ahab shows great determination and inner conflict as he struggles to understand the role of nature. Ultimately, his obsession with nature is destructive. Contrast Ahab’s views about nature with Starbuck’s views about nature (specifically the whale). Conclude with the point you think Melville was trying to make about nature and the toll it takes on human nature.

6. How does the portrayal of Ahab reinforce or illustrate the ideas of anti-transcendentalism? Be sure you define what anti-transcendentalism is in your essay, through examples in the novel. Contrast, at least in the the transcendentalist aspects of the novel (Ishmael’s thoughts on mastheads, for example.)

7. Is this Ishmael’s book entirely? What is the point of Ishmael’s journey, both literal and metaphorical (a philosophical purpose)? What is Melville’s purpose in writing this book? How much does Melville talk through Ishmael? (in other words, in what ways is Melville commenting on life, the universe, mankind, etc. through Ishmael – sometimes, it seems like Melville is talking, rather than his narrator). Discuss the novel’s philosophical subtext. How do you characterize it? How does this contribute to the basic plot involving Ahab’s search for the whale?

8. Discuss one theme, and using characters, plot, and symbol, make it clear how that theme develops and why. Good vs. evil; man vs. nature; nature/instinct vs. reason; light vs. dark; fate vs. free will. Other themes are isolation, power, tolerance, monomania.
Monomania: Ahab is a man obsessed. Nothing can stop him in his quest for Moby Dick. He even refuses to help the captain of the Rachel search for his son.
Blasphemy: As a mysterious and inscrutable thing, Moby Dick represents divine power. Starbuck apparently understands what the whale stands for when he tells Ahab, “Vengeance on a dumb brute . . . that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.” It is also worth noting that Ahab invokes the devil when he “baptizes” a harpoon in blood.
Man against Nature: In Moby Dick, the crew of the Pequod battles the sea and its largest and most fearsome creature.
Tolerance: Ishmael is a Christian and Queequeg a pagan. Yet they tolerate each other’s beliefs and become good friends. Other members of the crew also generally accept one another and tolerate one another’s beliefs even though they come from countries with sharply contrasting cultural and religious backgrounds. Among these countries are China, Iceland, France, India, Chile, Denmark, and Spain.
Isolation: Ahab generally keeps to himself aboard ship, save when he speaks to his crew to rally them in the quest for Moby Dick. In the pursuit of the whale, he leaves home and family and even renounces his humanity, in a manner of speaking, when he refuses to help the captain of the Rachel find his son.

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