Noble Savage: a Primitive Man Theme in Moby Dick

Among the numerous styles and ideas that author Herman Melville expresses in Moby Cock, one of the less examined is the supremacy of the primitive male to the contemporary man. As an undertone going through the entire book, one can see in Moby Dick the same admiration of the “worthy savage” that is so common in Melville’s earlier tales of the easy and idyllic life of the cannibals, although the focus has been shifted to the threats of seeing things from only one viewpoint and to the battle in between good and wicked.

Prior to proceeding to a conversation of how Melville glorifies “primitive guy” in Moby Dick, a working meaning for the term should be agreed upon. In her illuminating essay, “The Principle of the Primitive,” Ashley Montagu explains the fallacy of using the term “primitive” in a scientific context due to the fact that it is so ambiguous and has many various undertones attached to it. He shows that so-called “primitive” individuals are neither as undeveloped, uncivilized, or basic as the term suggests. Nevertheless, here I will use the term subjectively, with all its implications, due to the fact that when Melville idolized primitive guy, he did not have a particular, scientific meaning in mind. He had an ideal, the ideal of man before the damaging influences of civilization had taken their toll.

On one level of idea, Queequeg uses a prime example of the supremacy of a truly “primitive” man. This “native of Kokovo” is the glamorized picture of the peoples Melville encountered in his sojourns on the tropical isles, whose innocence and virtue so satisfied him. He displays his altruism and strength when he dives after and rescues from the icy water the young “bumpkin” who teased him a number of minutes prior to and when he releases the regrettable Tashtego, who was caught inside the “Heidelburgh tun.” Also, Queequeg paradoxically appears to be more civil than the allegedly “civilized” Ishmael: “I pay this particular compliment to Queequeg, because he treated me with so much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of terrific rudeness?” Quite apart from these qualities, which can be credited to numerous white men too, is his being constantly “material with his own friendship” and “equivalent to himself.” This is an outside manifestation of the essential purity and innocence of him and his race, which is additional stressed by his being made unsuited by the Christians he has encountered to ascend “the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings prior to him.” The parallel of this to his experiences with missionaries converting cannibals in the Pacific islands is apparent: he thought that missionaries destroyed the natural happiness, vitality, and innocence of native individuals. The supreme testimony to the goodness of Queequeg is the effect he has on Ishmael. “I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world.”

Lots of have said that a central theme of Moby Dick is that it is difficult to attach only one suggesting to anything, and that to try to do so, as Ahab does, is very unsafe. If one registers for this point of view, Queequeg is responsible for the truth that Ishmael is the only one among the whole team that is conserved, since, after the first meeting with him, Ishmael concerns see the world in a different way. Says Clark Davis, “Under the impact of the more naturalistic? savage,’ Ishmael learns to comprehend what he sees from more than one point of view.” Naturally, he likewise saves him actually, since it is his casket that Ishmael lastly uses as a life-buoy. Queequeg, owing to his primitiveness, is great in nearly every sense of the word, and gives civilized Ishmael a better point of view on life.

On a higher level of thought, it is possible to see an example in between the whale-men, the whaling ship, and whaling itself, and primitive man, his nomadic tribe, and the hunt that was his way of living. Ishmael states, “Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois” and describes Ahab contemplating the inspirations of his “savage team.” The extended lack of Christian civilization gradually changes the whale-men, until they are restored “to the condition in which God placed them, i.e. what is called savagery.” When a whaling ship leaves port, it leaves the civilized world and plunges into the world of the primitive, where the sea rolls “as it rolled five thousand years back” and wild, furious nature, unmodulated by the influence of man, holds total sway. (see Chapter 58: Brit) There, the ship shares numerous characteristics with a nomadic people, roving across the grassy fields looking for terrific beasts to hunt and kill. These ship-tribes are scarce, and when they satisfy, it is an opportunity to inform stories and to exchange any beneficial understanding they may have gathered. In addition, the whale hunt itself supplies a metaphor for the hunt that used up most of the primitive males’s time and offered them with their nourishment. When the harpooners all toss their harpoons at a whale, the image of cavemen hurling spears at a mammoth is clearly invoked. The virtues needed of the prehistoric mammoth-hunters are likewise observed in the whalemen; both must have courage, determination, and solidarity. So, when Melville dedicates several chapters to an exposition of the magnificences of whaling, trying “to enhance the whaling industry with a mythology befitting an essential activity of male in his battle to control nature,” he is not simply attempting to supply some credibility for the topic he has picked to write about. He is, maybe sub-consciously, also yearning for the by-gone magnificences of the hunt and revealing his appreciation of the now uncommon virtues of that stunning and romantic fictitious character, the “honorable savage.”

Finally, we pertain to Ishmael and his quest, the thread and glue that bind the book together. At the start of the book, Ishmael is upset at the world and, to “ward off the spleen,” goes on the whaling trip. States Ishmael, “a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard,” which is where he now goes to much better understand life. As all males initially came from the sea, so the sea calls them back – it is the fundamental longing, shared by all at one time or another, for the land of one’s birth. The sea where Ishmael embarks on his journeys has actually stayed the same because before the coming of man, making it “primitive” in the purest sense of the word. It is a sort of ancient tank of knowledge, and it exists that Ishmael has matured and where he has found out to comprehend everything he sees from more than one perspective. Ishmael has likewise learned not to end up being too connected to any one idea, and to value human friendship.

Like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville felt that modern-day society was ending up being corrupt and immoral, and he wanted to return to the “roots” of humankind. He recognized the threats inherent in the brand-new commercialism and, in one of the terrific styles of Moby Cock, he uses Ahab to warn us versus the consuming nationwide fascination of pursuing the American Dream too ardently. Throughout his tumultuous life, Melville felt the stresses of modern life in abundance, and the brief time he invested amongst savages that appeared to be devoid of those pressures must have used an option, however remote and unwise. So, in Typee and Omoo, he applauds the virtues of the savages and attacks the missionaries and their disturbance.

In Moby Dick, that feeling of respect and admiration towards male’s primitive starts is still there – in the noble personality of Queequeg, in the whalers and whaling that he glorifies to such a level, and in the primeval ocean itself, which teaches its knowledge to Ishmael.