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Otherness in Moby Dick - Essay Example

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The capacity to reveal human nature within fiction is especially true when demonstrating various ways of life, or aspects of social culture. Quality fiction, regardless of when it was written or the length of the written text, can reveal significant aspects of human nature and thus reveal us to ourselves as we identify various elements of the story with our everyday lives. Literature such as Melville's novel Moby Dick or The Whale remind us that even when we feel we belong within a society, there are often elements of otherness that keep us separate. One of the first examples of Otherness found within the book is Ishmael's enforced relationship with Queequeg. Otherness is established when Ishmael checks into a very crowded whalers' inn, the Spouter Inn, at which the only accommodation to be had is a shared bed with a harpooneer. Although he agrees to the necessity easily enough, Ishmael begins to have strong misgivings about the idea as the night draws forward and he has yet to meet the man, "the more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I abominated the thought of sleeping with him" (18). His feelings are not eased by hearing the strange stories that are told of this man selling heads that he picked up in New Zealand. Given the opportunity to look around the room before Queequag's arrival, Ishmael is also surprised by the strange things the harpooneer has in his possession such as "a parcel of outlandish bone fish hooks on the shelf over the fire-place" (22) and a strange object draped over a chest. Queequag's appearance does nothing to help him blend in either, described as "a dark, purplish, yellow color, here and there stuck over with large blackish looking squares" (23), which gives Ishmael cause for brief alarm. This alarm is only heightened by Queequag's strange bedtime ritual with the idol. Like many individuals, Ishmael's first reaction to Otherness is not an attempt to understand as much as it is an instinct to fear and flee. In spite of his misgivings regarding the Otherness of his mysterious roommate, though, Ishmael is willing to work through them to discover more. This becomes clear as he tries on Queequag's poncho, which Ishmael describes as a doormat with a hole or slit in the middle, "I put it on, to try it, and it weighed me down like a hamper, being uncomfortably shaggy and thick" (22). This willingness to try on the unknown persona of another is what enables Ishmael to overcome his original aversion to the man himself once he finally appears. Because of this earlier willingness to think through the strangeness, Ishmael is quickly able to overcome his initial reaction to Queequag's appearance, "what is it, thought I, after all! It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin" (23). Although he has numerous misgivings at first, Ishmael is able to recognize that Queequag's manner is gentle and kind. "For all his tatooings he was on the whole a clean, comely-looking cannibal" (26). Not only that, but Ishmael realizes Queequag is as much human as Ishmael himself and thus susceptible to all the same fears and misgivings Ishmael himself has been experiencing. Although he has come to accept Queequag's humanity by the next morning, when he wakes to find the savage's arm draped around him as ...Show more
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Instructor name Date Otherness in Moby Dick Fiction is often mistaken as being synonymous with fantasy with some reason. It is defined as “an imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented” or “a literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact” (“Fiction”, 2000)…
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