Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Ocean or The Mills?

Journal No. 17
English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Authors I chose: Herman Melville and Rebecca Harding Davis

In Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," Ishmael is a lonely figure. The only passion which he discloses to his readers is his obsession for the sea. Though he has great passion for the sea, we don't learn much more about his feelings. Ishmael requires the sea to live but despises the fact that he needs it. He seems to justify this necessity by turning around and explaining how all man-kind needs it just as much.

Contrastly, in Rebecca Harding Davis' "Life in the Iron Mills," Wolfe's feelings are exposed at great length towards the end of the story. In his life, he had not desired much until the obvious moment where his world changed. He suddenly realized that his life was crap and that he needed to do something to get away from it. Of course, the opportunity that he was given was a curse in the end, but he did not have the ability to see the potential bad outcome. We learn a lot about the shift from accepting without understanding to desiring without achieving. Wolfe's tragic character is doomed to a sad existence, no matter which way you look at it.

So what do these two stories have in common? I believe that they have a strong connection. To me, they both seem driven either by their passion for something or by their hatred for something. Either way, they both are married to their professions. Of course, Ishmael chose his profession because of his love of the sea and Wolfe did not have a choice in his profession. However, it is clear that these two men - who are often solitary figures - ended their lives because of their jobs.

Wolfe saw that being a mill-worker was a requirement to just barely survive. He paid his measely little bills and drank at the bar. Other than that, his work was all that he had to belong to. Yes, there was Old Wolfe, Janey, and Deborah who were part of his family and his circle. But these were trepidatious relationships at the least. He simply felt sorry for Deborah (since that was his personality), his old man was a drunk and he never interacted with him, and Janey was just a poor kid who had become friends with the wrong person. She deserved more in life! So Wolfe needed something to belong to. To truly belong to. He put all of his time into his job and wanted nothing more than to exist in it without any troubles. He loved to sculpt but didn't see that as something that he could do all of the time. Perhaps he would have found that to be his passion at some point in his life if he had continued to work there without the interruption of the "businessmen." Who knows?

In Moby Dick, Ishmael's character was a man who loved his profession. He simply wanted to find ways to pass the time until the next chance that he got to go on a whaling expedition. He felt that the sea was an extension of his own body, in a way. He loved what he did and he loved to share it with the good people around him. Other than that, we don't know very much about his feelings. We never really learn much about his feelings for Captain Ahab. Yes, he observes that he has mood-swings and that the rest of the crew respects him, but we never learn what it is about him that Ishmael admires (or is repulsed by). He simply tells their stories.

In both of these instances, their jobs are the things that they live for - either out of necessity or want. In both, however, they are connected to their profession because it is their identity. Having your identity taken away from you can be one of the most devastating and lonely events in your life. You think that you know who you are and what you stand for until you realize one day that it no longer defines you. This can be a hard event for anyone, no matter what their chosen (or not) profession. I think that Ishmael and Wolfe both had struggles with this fear frequently in each story. This seems to be a strong connection between the two.


drscottie said...

20/20 Excellent answer, Chelsea :)