Talk:Moby-Dick

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Former good article nominee Moby-Dick was a Language and literature good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
October 28, 2008 Good article nominee Not listed
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Combine sections Structure and Themes?[edit]

I've tightened up the section "Structure," and see how it could be usefully combined into one section, "Themes." Does anyone else think this would be useful? Is anyone planning to expand "Themes"? If so, I can move quickly so that they will have a stable target. ch (talk) 06:25, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

The Themes section should be expanded, because this should be one of the most essential section of any article about books. The Manual of Style even says this section contains "the meat" of the book. If any sections should be combined, then perhaps Structure and Style can make a sensible combination.MackyBeth (talk) 14:53, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

Having giving this some thought, however: The proposal to combine some of the sections is worth careful consideration, and what is more important, it is worth to see how other articles about fiction are organized. Here is a list of FA

And here is a list of GA: Wikipedia:Good_articles/Language_and_literature

The section on Style is far from fully developed, and when it encompasses the influence of the Bible and, especially important to MD, Shakespeare, it might be too long to be combined with another section. The same goes for the section of Themes.MackyBeth (talk) 17:16, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

Call me Ishmael[edit]

Yesterday I had to remove the mention of the opening sentence from the lead repeatedly because it was unsourced. Today it is back without a note attached to it. This can only stand if it is accounted for in the body of the article. So can the editor tell me where in the article I can find this information with a source? Thanks.MackyBeth (talk) 14:55, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

  • It only needs sourcing if it's a controversial claim. It's not, so it doesn't. With that said, it would be niced if that phrase were also discussed in the body of the article, though. LHMask me a question 19:40, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
    • As I said in the discussion on the same topic a few discussions above, it needs sourcing more than anything else in the lead, because a claim to reputation is vulnerable of being challenged. So please anyone who wants to retain this in the lead, please source this!!! It is beyond me why people who claim this is a well-known piece of information refuse to add a source.MackyBeth (talk) 19:56, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
      • Done ch (talk) 20:19, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
        • Not done. Citation needed. MackyBeth (talk) 20:23, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
          • Sorry, sorry, sorry, I'm not following your point. Is the Buell citation not enough? Do you object to "famous" rather than "most famous"? Why does it "need sourcing more than anything else in the lead"? I'm trying to make you happy. Help me out! ch (talk) 20:32, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
            • We have a misunderstanding here. Where did you source it then? I don't see it.MackyBeth (talk) 20:34, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
              • "The narrative opens with the famous line, “Call me Ishmael,” Buell p. 367. ch (talk) 20:40, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
                • Yes I know what Buell says, but where did you put that in the article? Because there is still no citation.MackyBeth (talk) 20:49, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
                • Again, I am sorry to seem so thick, but Buell p. 367 is a citation, and the quote is under Structure. My browser has a "Find" function, which I assume yours does as well. If you want me to keep working on this page, please show Good Faith and accept that the two sources and Google search which I gave above establish the point. If you have an objection which I can meet, please tell me what it is. 21:12, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
                • Apologies, I should have added that it is note 17 and is actually p. 362ch (talk) 21:21, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
                  • Thanks for pointing out where it is sourced, because that was all that bothered me. So this is done indeed. My apologies if I gave you the impression that I doubted your Good Faith: LHM's remark above that a claim "only needs sourcing if it's a controversial claim. It's not, so it doesn't." logically gave me the impression that no source would be included unless the claim became the target of a Citation Needed tag, which can best be avoided. But it seems that I was misguided at this point, since Lithisman has assisted in getting this into the text. My browser may have a "Find" function as well, but I just looked at the References for notes to Buell and then looked them up in the text. The reference to the opening line hadn't been added at the time.MackyBeth (talk) 15:14, 5 September 2014 (UTC)

No Gams[edit]

When I made the plot summary and the Structure, I took care not to refer to the meetings of the Pequod as "Gams," because to be called a gam crewmembers should be exchanged. Walter Bezanson (1986) points out that the meetings may not be refereed to as gams, and in the years that Hershel Parker reviewed Melville scholarship for the annual survey American Literary Scholarship he once asked in despair: "Is it hopeless to keep pointing out there was only one true gam during the Pequod's last voyage?" As you see from this outcry, many critics make the same mistake. But when we encounter this term in the sources we use, let's try to avoid it for as long as we can.MackyBeth (talk) 18:19, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

Writing style and Father Mapple[edit]

The coming week I will probably not have the opportunity to contribute anything, and after that week my time is more limited than in the last weeks. As you can see at the Herman Melville page, lately I've been working on the Writing style-section there. The idea is that that section should provide a general description of his style, and that when I find information specific to Moby-Dick, that information will be added here as well. So far it looks like Nathalia Wright's book focuses on the style of Father Mapple's sermon, and I wonder if that should be included, because it seems limited. But his sermon is an important part of the prophetic strain in the book and therefore may be better discussed in Themes, especially since the Style-section for MD is not complete without a description of Shakespeare's influence and that takes some space as well. It is probably easier to shape up the section about the Reception of the book than to develop this one, but my reasoning is that if you compare how long this article is now to how little information there still is about the literary aspects of the book, it may be a good idea to develop that first. MackyBeth (talk) 15:38, 5 September 2014 (UTC)

Great that you should mention it! I've been drafting a page on Father Mapple, which I moved to mainspace as a stub. It turns out that there was a lot more material than I thought! I have more, but it's a perfectly good draft. ch (talk) 17:42, 5 September 2014 (UTC)
A coincidence indeed! As you noticed, this week I thought I might just as well remove the redlink from his name because nobody is making a page for him. If I remember it correctly, there does exist a publication the source for the hymn of his sermon, which is another source in addition to the familiar Psalm 18. Maybe reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of MD from 2001, but am not sure.MackyBeth (talk) 18:41, 5 September 2014 (UTC)
Your memory is right -- thanks. I'll add the reference, and eventually a few more, but I labelled it a "stub" to encourage others to pitch in. BTW, WP:REDLINK praises them as encouraging editors to create articles and says they shouldn't be removed unless you are "certain that there should not be an article." Hope that you can find time to look in at Wikipedia and keep everyone on their toes!ch (talk) 20:12, 5 September 2014 (UTC)
Ah, I see that the basis for the hymn is not the King James version of Psalm 18, but the Dutch Reformed Bible. It is perhaps a good idea to give some examples of parallel passages so that readers can see for themselves how Melville used his source. To get an idea what that would look like, see the two quoteboxes at Herman Melville that show how he used Matthew. I could make that edit this weekend. Oh, and the Talk Page at Father Mapple has a 10 September review of your DYK-nomination, pointing out that the article does not yet mention in which chapter the Father appears.MackyBeth (talk) 14:55, 11 September 2014 (UTC)
The note at the end of the sentence was to the chapter, so I assume that the call was to add the name of the book. Is there some way to get the quoteboxes to look better typographically?ch (talk) 15:48, 11 September 2014 (UTC)
As far as I know from comparing the quoteboxes I found in different articles, the only influence we have on how the quotebox looks is the choice of background color. The lighter the background, the better the letter can be read. Both Ernest Hemingway and Mary Shelley have blue quoteboxes, but not the same kind of blue. I've also come across articles that have them in yellow, though I do not remember which articles.MackyBeth (talk) 19:10, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

Lede needs a sentence on MD's place in world literature[edit]

The lead currently describes Moby-Dick's place in American lit, but has nothing to offer on its current standing in world literature. And an estimation of that should actually have a place in the internationally consulted Wikipedia in English. Since the first paragraph of the lead has been reorganized a lot this week, it is perhaps better to discuss ideas for this on Talk instead of directly adding material. The Glossary by M.H. Abrams which is still listed under Sources has a passage that I think can serve as a terrific basis for a sentence about this, because it enables us to put the book on a shelf somewhere between Dante and Joyce. The passage appears under his definition of Epic, so to give everybody an idea of the context I'll quote the first statement of that definition and then the passage in which MD appears. This information should enable any editor to draw up a reliable paraphrase of whatever seems essential here.

  • p. 76: In the strict sense the term epic or heroic poem is applied to a work that meets at least the following criteria: it is a long verse narrative on a serious subject...etcetera
  • p. 78: The term "epic" is often applied, by extension, to narratives which differ in many respects from this model but manifest the epic spirit and grandeur in the scale, the scope, and the profound human importance of their subjects. In this broad sense Dante's fourteenth-century Divine Comedy and Edmund Spenser's late-sixteenth-century The Faerie Queene (1590-96) are often called epics, as are conspicuously large-scale and wide-ranging works of prose fiction such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1863-69) and James Joyce's Ulysses (1922):...etcetera

I'd say give it a thought.MackyBeth (talk) 16:50, 5 September 2014 (UTC)

Gams reconsidered[edit]

Theoretical background

With all respect to Hershel Parker's exasperation (noted above in "No Gams," there is good evidence that "gam" can reasonably be used in a less stringent way:

  • Merriam-Webster Gam: “2) (by extension) A social gathering of whalers or other ships.”
  • Wiktionary [1] likewise.

I ran my index-finger up and down the columns of the dictionaries in my study:

  • American Heritage Dictionary, Webster’s Ninth, and Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2nd ed.), all gave definitions comparable to “a visit or friendly conversation at sea or ashore especially between whalers.” No mention of captains staying on board.

My HM books told the same story:

  • Bryant/Springer Longman Critical Edition (2007): Explanatory Notes gives HM’s Ch 53 definition, and says that “most of the Pequod’s encounters [are] too brief and unsocial to be called gams by this definition.” But they go on to say that “Melville uses them structurally and dramatically throughout the remaining eighty chapters," and specifies "For the nine gams see Chs 52, 54, 71, 81, 91, 100, 115, and 128, and 131.” (P. 527) Their Glossary gives: “A social meeting of two or more Whale-ships at sea,” which they quote from MD Ch 53, without adding the bit about the two captains remaining on board. (p. 654).
  • Hayford/ Parker Norton Critical MD calls HM’s definition in the text “stringent.” They add that “most of the encounters the Pequod has with other ships” do not fit this definition, though they do not say which of the other encounters do fit it. (p. 198 n. 4).
  • Walter E. Bezanson, "Moby-Dick: Work of Art": “the gams are the bones to the book’s flesh” (reprinted in Norton Critical MD p. 654)
  • Buell, Dream, p. 521 n. 6 “the Samuel Enderby ... with which the Pequod gams...” (Ch 101 The Decanter). HM does call this a gam. (Ch 100 Leg and Arm).

So it is reasonable to follow common usage and scholars, including Parker and Bezanson, in using “gam” to describe the Pequod's nine meetings with other ships. Other words are vague or confusing: the article now uses "meet," which doesn't convey the importance for the structural/ thematic use. “Encounter” seems strained, as demonstrated by Bryant/Springer first using “encounter” then the more natural “gam.” Buell follows suit.

Practical suggestion
We can tacitly introduce the analysis of Bryant/Springer and Bezanson, amply backed up in other works, that the gams are the "bones," that is, a structural and thematic element, while reminding readers of the "stringent" sense. I made a set of edits to try this out.

Cheers, ch (talk) 02:46, 30 September 2014 (UTC)

This sounds reasonable enough, provided that the description of the only real gam will identify it as such. Since these encounters are often referred to as "gams" in Melville scholarship, it would seem defensible to use the term in the article as well. For completeness' sake, let me pont out two things. Bezanson's piece in the NCE is from the 1950s. In the 1986 Companion to Melille Studies he corrected this by saying that these encounters are no gams unless crewmembers are exchanged. Second, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word "gam" by explaining that crewmembers should be exchanged.MackyBeth (talk) 16:43, 30 September 2014 (UTC)

Moby-Dick the novel; Moby Dick the whale[edit]

My face is red -- although the hyphenation issue is out of proportion for the lead sentence of the lead, the IP user's edits brought up a legitimate issue. Our previous discussion at [2] of the section Moby-Dick#Last minute change of title got it wrong. The IP user references Talk:Moby-Dick/Archive 1#Hyphenation of Moby-Dick of a few years ago, but that discussion does not give any Reliable Source, only opinions and sightings of half-remembered boooks.

I have the physical copy of the Northwestern Newberry Moby-Dick (sic!) in front of me and online, and both clearly show the half-title of the London edition reads "The Whale; or, Moby Dick," that is, with no hyphen. Tanselle does not comment on the punctuation here, but repeats it in the next sentence explaining that Bentley (the London publisher) added it at this one spot to "accommodate" Melville. That is, it was Bentley's act; Melville did not see it in proof before it was published. The Editorial Appendix to the NN volume at pp. 810-812 has an extensive explanation for choosing the hyphen in the title, that is, for the novel, but no hyphen for the whale. The editors point out that in the mid-19th century these differences "may mean nothing more than consistency in such punctuation was not a matter of concern." (p. 812).

As a practical matter for this article, Wikipedia policy is to follow both the standard text and the overwhelming usage, which is "Moby-Dick" for the novel, "Moby Dick" for the whale (maybe people feel that it's bad enough to stick harpoons into him without sticking hyphens!). I will find a place in the article to mention this.

Cheersch (talk) 16:31, 8 October 2014 (UTC)

Or the White Whale[edit]

Speaking of editions and publication history, the article never mentions that a number of editions exist entitled "Moby Dick or, the White Whale" (including an Amazon Kindle version). It would be interesting to have a note about where and how this spurious title came about. Moongateclimber (talk) 10:57, 7 November 2014 (UTC)

Ishmael is not the main character[edit]

It is a good thing that Lithistman has undone the edit stating that Ishmael is the main character. The edit summary says that it is made undone because the explanation is unnecesary, but it is really much worse. Ishmael is only important for being the narrator, as a character he has no decision-making authority and is almost insignificant. Confusing his role as narrator and character is a staple of Moby-Dick criticism, but so are protests against the confusion.MackyBeth (talk) 16:23, 18 November 2014 (UTC)

  • I agree with the thrust of your argument, but would take a bit of an issue with the characterization of Ishmael as "insignificant." Without him, the story is not told. LHMask me a question 20:54, 18 November 2014 (UTC)
    • Please do not misrepresent my point, which is not that Ishmael is insignificant overall, but only in his function as a character. With a rank of a sailor, he has no influence on the course of events. As a narrator he is of course far from insignificant, for indeed without him the story is not told.MackyBeth (talk) 21:34, 18 November 2014 (UTC)
The point could be made more clear that Moby-Dick is not "about" just plot, that is, the course of events. We should, of course, cite reliable sources: Walter Bezanson says the novel is not so much about Ahab or the White Whale as it is about Ishmael, who is “the real center of meaning and the defining force of the novel.” (Bezanson (1953) p. 644). John Bryant's "Moby-Dick as Revolution" sees a "flip-flop" between Ahab and Ishmael, and refers to Ishmael as "central character" in the first section of the book. The Ahab/ Ishmael push-me/ pull-you is put in other terms in much of the literature. What Ishmael does is thematically central, such as befriending Queequeg, and what he "narrates" goes far beyond the "story." For just one instance, isn't his talk of "attainable felicity" (Ch 94) as much part of the action on a thematic level as most events in the plot?
On looking at Ishmael (Moby-Dick), I found that several quotes had been truncated to diminish Ishmael's importance. I filled-out some of the quotes in an attempt to strike a balance, but others might want to check to see that all sides are reasonably represented.ch (talk) 06:37, 19 November 2014 (UTC)
I kind of suspected that there were a lot of guardians of this wiki page on a very fine novel! Is Ahab the main character? Maybe, but other than a brief early sighting, he doesn't make a real appearance until far into the novel. The whale only appears as a distant symbol until very late. But don't worry, I don't have strong feelings about this, and I'm happy to stand corrected. The discussion here is very interesting, however. Take care, Grandma (talk) 04:00, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
Ishmael is the main character of the first part of the book, the "shore chapters," but the main character of the book as a whole is Ahab. As for Grandma's comment, contrary to what you expected Wikipedia does not attract a lot of editors with an interest in literature. Many pages for famous books are not sufficiently developed yet.MackyBeth (talk) 16:02, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
@MackyBeth, I am noticing this now. And, also, not a lot of editors with an interest in fine art either. As for my edit of Moby Dick, I wasn't meaning to stir things up, but like I say, I found the discussion that followed to be interesting anyway. Taking care, Grandma (talk) 16:11, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
If you look at the last paragraph of the Plot as it stood before September 29, you will see that the plot summary includes, as it should, the transformation of Ishmael from character to narrator. The removal of this is one reason I gave up on editing here, the constant irritation of other people undoing what you had good reasons to add.MackyBeth (talk) 16:26, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
@MackyBeth, Honestly, it's been years since I read Moby Dick, but my recollection is that I perceived that the novel had many transitions, but at least a large part of it was experiential for Ishmael. And, indeed, I became so engrossed in it that it was experiential for me too! Thank you, yours, Grandma (talk) 16:31, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
One difficulty of the book is who is doing the talking in the more expository chapters, character-Ishmael or the older narrator-Ishmael. Bezanson is excellent on this, pointing out the sentences in the present tense such as quoted at the end of the pre-29 September plot summary. The point of view is sometimes with the character, sometimes with the narrator. And sometimes it is impossible to say.MackyBeth (talk) 16:45, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
@MackyBeth, And, at times, I thought that Melville should have given the novel another proof reading! I say that with all of the love in the world. Grandma (talk) 16:47, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
A books of such grand ambition can hardly come off with perfection. It would be nice if we had a copy with his annotations for improving future editions, but apparently Melville hardly ever looked back once a book was done.MackyBeth (talk) 17:21, 20 November 2014 (UTC)

Since I am the guilty party who removed the last paragraph of Plot which MackyBeth refers to above, I should apologize for not explaining more clearly that the problem was not the information, but rather adding it to the Plot section, where it 1) includes Original Research (not a big problem, but a matter of referencing) but 2) does not belong. Perhaps we could find someplace else to put it, so I will add it here for reference:

Some years after the adventure Ishmael tells his story, and now changes roles, becoming the narrator instead of a character. He defends whaling to the point of ascribing all his future achievements to the trade: "I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard" (Ch. 24, "The Advocate"). Ishmael approaches his task as narrator as deliberately unfinished: 'God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!' (Ch. 32, "Cetology"). Ishmael tells the story by way of attempt at clarification: 'But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught' (Ch. 42, "The Whiteness of the Whale"). Story-telling is less of a priority: 'So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book' (Ch. 45, "The Affidavit").

The Plot section is a problem for a novel where so much of the "action" is in the consciousness of Ishmael. Is he the Protagonist? Or does Ahab's agency make him the Big Cheese? That's a great question, but we should not draw our own conclusions but use our sources, which generally see the novel as an interaction between Ishmael's romantic meditations and Ahab's monomania. It's a draw. Maybe the lead could be sharpened a little on this question, presuming we can source it in the article. ch (talk) 20:09, 20 November 2014 (UTC) Cheers ch (talk) 20:09, 20 November 2014 (UTC)

Image of Melville as a crewmember[edit]

Here is an article about the list of the Acushnet crew with Melville's name on it.MackyBeth (talk) 17:53, 20 November 2014 (UTC) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2811188/Shipping-record-shows-Herman-Melville-joining-whaling-crew-Pacific-voyage-inspire-Moby-Dick.html

Very nice! I suggest putting in a link, to the autobiographical section which, I presume, you've helped write. Taking care, Grandma (talk) 18:01, 20 November 2014 (UTC)