Identity discourses across Melville’s Moby Dick

Proceedings of The 8th International Academic Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences

Year: 2023



Identity discourses across Melville’s Moby Dick

Giuseppe Natale




“Call me Ishmael”. Thus begins Moby-Dick, with the narrator’s purported identity – Abraham’s outcast son, the exile par excellence. Interpreting the novel’s incipit as a form of self-baptism, early critics identified Ishmael as the fictional manifestation of the author, the seafarer Melville. Later critics came to distinguish Ishmael from Melville and identified him with Ahab instead. The captain’s impious hunt of the White Whale was likened to the writer’s impious quest to capture the mystery of the universe, to comprehend it, in the dual sense of the word of understanding and containing it. In my presentation I argue that the two hypothetical identities, Ishmael and Ahab, are not mutually exclusive, in that one is the refracted identity of the other, the narrating I and the co-narrator. Within the book of Ishmael is the book of Captain Ahab, a dramatic, blasphemous, Promethean character, who faces the demonic, unmasks the irrational, and penetrates the unknown. Within the book of Ishmael is also the book of the Pequod’s officers and crew, who with their monologues break Ishmael’s dominion as narrator. They are a federation of individual narrators — “isolatoes,” to use Melville’s term — projections of different races and personal experiences. Within the novel, they embody a plurality of identities of the knowingly arch-narrator, Melville. “Do not call me Ishmael,” he seems to say, “Call me Mankind.”

keywords: literary identity, Melville, Moby-Dick, mimesis,self