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3. Why Whaling and Whales?
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about why Melville might have wanted to write a novel about whaling, and what whales might signify in Moby-Dick. In particular, we think about the ecological impact of whaling, the almost literally incomprehensible size of whales themselves, and the significance of Moby Dick's whiteness – 'not so much a color as the visible absence of color … a dumb blankness full of meaning', as the narrator puts it.
In this course, Dr Kate McGettigan (Royal Holloway) explores Herman Melville's 1851 masterpiece, Moby-Dick. We begin by providing a broad introduction to Melville's life and career, including his experiences in the South Pacific and his brief but intense relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the second module, we think about what kind of book Moby-Dick actually is, before turning in the third module to the question of why Melville chose to write about whaling and whales – what do whales signify? In the fourth module, we think about who should be thought of as the central character of the novel – Ahab or Ishmael – and the implications of this choice for how we read Moby-Dick, before moving on in the fifth module to consider how the novel engages with issues of race and slavery. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about the presentation of labour and capitalism in Moby-Dick, focusing in particular on the kind of economic existence represented first by Ishmael, and then by Ahab.
Dr Katie McGettigan is Lecturer in American Literature. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century American and transatlantic literature and print culture. Her first book, Herman Melville: Modernity and the Material Text is forthcoming from the University Press of New England. In 2014, she was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship for a project exploring the publication of American Literature in Britain, 1830-1860. Her work has appeared in Symbiosis: A Journal of Transatlantic Literature and Cultural Relations and the Journal of Culture, Society and Masculinities.
Cite this Lecture
McGettigan, K. (2018, August 15). Melville: Moby-Dick - Why Whaling and Whales? [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/melville-moby-dick/why-whaling-and-whales
McGettigan, Katie. "Melville: Moby-Dick – Why Whaling and Whales?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018, https://www.massolit.io/courses/melville-moby-dick/why-whaling-and-whales