May 12, 2021
Blog / book reviews / movie reviews / religion
To Herman Melville
Dear Mr. Melville,
Thank you for writing the novel, Moby Dick.
You were born over two hundred years ago and published your masterpiece, Moby-Dick, in 1851, when you were only 32 years old. What an accomplishment! Like the writings of Shakespeare, your words are eternal and have no expiration date.
I read your book in high school as required reading and at that time, I had no idea what it was about. I read it as a “monster” story, like Godzilla or King Kong, which I also consumed for their entertainment value alone. In college, I began to think more deeply about things, and now, I can see clearly through the lens of The Holy Spirit.
Yesterday, I watched the John Huston movie, Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck as Ahab. After watching, I read several movie reviews as well as some book analyses just to see how the people of the world interpreted your work. I had to laugh. Most of these commentaries could have been written by Sigmund Freud, given all the sexual innuendo and symbolism they found and exploited to support their own “causes.” The movie and the book are both rich with symbolism of course, and I think people of all persuasions can find their own meaning, seeking support for their own values, given the moral relativism that is popular in my day. For example, social justice warriors can find the environmental message of “save the whales.” They also find themes of racism and “white supremacy,” and even the celebration of sexual freedom. Did you anticipate this interpretation 200 years after your book was published? Probably not.
As a Catholic Christian, I find one primary message and recognize one overarching theme in your book that seems to trump the rest: the lesson about obedience to a God unknown, all-powerful, all-just, eternal; and the fatal consequences of challenging His authority.
To me, Captain Ahab represents man possessed by Satan. And like Satan, pride comes before his fall. Ahab is obsessed with killing Moby Dick because he blames the whale for maiming his body and soul. In fact, like Satan, Ahab thinks he himself is God. Moby Dick, the white whale, representing the Almighty, who is the all pure, all perfect, omnipotent God, is his rival. All the drama on the Pequod and among the crew members is a microcosm of the sins of the world. Satan so adeptly fools us into celebrating these sins as virtues, maybe in your time, certainly in mine. Hence the Freudian and social justice themes that abound in the current literary commentary.
In your book, as in the Bible, we see how the human attempt to become God plays out. God always wins and man is no match.
But the scariest part of the movie is the image of Ahab laying spreadeagle on the flank of the whale, trapped there by his own harpoon rope. He is clearly dead but one hand is free, which seemingly beckons to the remaining crew of the Pequod. Ahab’s lifeless arm flaps up and down with the rise and fall of the whale’s enormous girth, as Moby Dick dives triumphantly into the sea.
He is beckoning, as Satan does, for each of us to follow him into hell. And the crew follows.
Your book says: Beware!