Such a dialogue would moreover shape the rest of his career as a writer.
In his novel Moby-Dick, Melville crafts a narrative that serves as a call for action, creating in Ahab a character that is representative of the failures of transcendentalism and in Ishmael a martyr for democratic ideals who oscillates between the part of observer and interpreter in a way that intends to revolutionize not just the text, but also the roles of the reader and the American novelist.
Melville portrays both Ishmael and Ahab as transcendentalists, but goes on to show that such an ideology cannot sustain them.
The two seek an absolute truth: Ishmael tries to unravel the mysteries of Ahab, whom he can never truly know, and Ahab pursues a whale he can never catch.
Ishmael may try to justify his fascination with facts, but he can never reconcile these figures with the supernatural.
Melville pits man against nature in Moby-Dick, and in such an environment, there can be no creation, only destruction.
With Ahab, Melville shows that destruction is inherent not only in nature, but also in mankind. It is not until the epilogue that the focus of the cyclical symbolism shifts from Ahab to Ishmael, if only for a brief moment as the novel comes to an end.
A choice was made not to rebel, and so consequently Ahab and the crew of the Pequod had to face destruction, yet Ishmael was spared.
In doing so, however, Ahab attempts to remove any responsibility for his own fate and for the fate of his crew from himself, choosing to ignore all the warnings and bad omens he receives in his final days aboard the Pequod.
However, it is in this way that Ishmael differs from Ahab at the end of the novel; he, too, could choose to try to attribute some sort of meaning to his life by chasing after his own death, but instead, he breaks the cycle by not taking the path that is set up for him—that is, the cycle of the rise and fall of power within a supposed democracy.
Unlike Ahab, Ishmael does take responsibility and is therefore able to change his fate; he does not become self-aggrandizing as Ahab does, but instead goes on to document the events of Moby-Dick—as though it is his duty to tell the story—and in doing so becomes a vessel for the anti-transcendentalist cautionary tale.
Either way, Ishmael is shown to have evolved in some manner from his initial transcendentalist standpoint, no longer searching for a universal truth in Ahab or in Moby Dick, but rather writing something of an anti-transcendentalist work of his own.
While Melville still holds the strings here in that he is the one to have constructed Ishmael, Ahab, and their ultimately failed transcendentalist beliefs, the structure of the narrative, can be attributed wholly to Ishmael in the context of the universe of Moby-Dick. This pattern breaks down, however, in the final portion of the novel when Ishmael, both as a character and as a narrator, recedes into the background almost entirely.
He acts as an omniscient third-person observer, and so the break of the repetitive cycle of the narrative comes at the price of his own disappearance from the story. After the epilogue, Ishmael must fade into obscurity again in order to break another, more chaotic cycle in which revolution and destruction—both of which will result in a continuation of the cycle—are the only two options should it be allowed to reach its conclusion.
By means of Ishmael, Melville does not deny the necessity of individuality to a democracy, but rather warns against allowing any one person to have so much faith in his own willfulness that it grants him enough control to overshadow the identities of his subordinates, as Ahab does with his crew.
Perhaps, then, Melville pens a cautionary tale as a response to the transcendentalist ideas that were prevalent among American thinkers and writers in the first half of the nineteenth century and which he may have perceived as a threat to democratic ideals.
Instead, Melville seems to use Ishmael to show that man should record the failures of history and interpret them from a perspective that differs from the one which brought them about in the first place—in the case of Ishmael, his zealous transcendentalism.
Works Cited Bryant, John. Nature and Selected Essays. Letter to Evert A. From Family Correspondence of Herman Melville.Books.
and prose presented in contexts he calls environments Start studying APUSH Ch 12 Learn vocabulary. you journey from the ancient world to the 20th century and investigate the literary and historical significance of works If you are was herman melville an anti transcendentalist a teacher searching for educational material.
Herman Melville emerged as a scathing critic of transcendentalism. Melville wrote Moby Dick, a story about whaling. Although Moby Dick is a classic today, when .
Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, – was herman melville an anti transcendentalist April 27, ) was an American was herman melville an anti transcendentalist essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the midth century World Views.
Herman Melville: An Anti- Transcendentalist or Not? Melville, Herman (), American novelist, a major literary figure whose exploration of psychological and metaphysical themes foreshadowed 20th-century literary concerns but whose works remained in obscurity until the s, when his genius was finally recognized.
Edgar Allen Poe. Herman Melville. Other Authors. Melville, on the other hand, could be said to be an anti-transcendentalist, especially in Moby Dick, because he depicts nature not as uplifting and benevolent but as cruel and frightening.