Comparing Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville\'s Writings



Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville focused their writings on how
man was affected by nature. They translated their philosophies though both the
portrayal of their protagonist and their own self exploration. In Moby Dick,
Melville writes about Ahab\'s physical and metaphysical struggle over the great
white whale, Moby Dick, symbolic of man\'s struggle against the overwhelming
forces of nature. Ahab\'s quest is reported and experienced through the eyes of
Ishmael. Melville\'s use of the third person\'s biographical standpoint exposes
conflicting viewpoints that were both in agreement and disagreement with Ahab\'s
quest, creatively allowing Melville to transcend the story line and expostulate
his own philosophies. In contrast, Thoreau, wrote from an autobiographical
standpoint revealing his own internal conflicts with mans struggle against
nature. In, Walden - A life in the Woods, Thoreau reveals his mental and
spiritual beliefs through a personal journey in which he strives to become in
tune with n ature, working not to be victorious over these universal forces, but
rather to participate in harmony with nature, in tern exposing love and truth.
Both authors attempt to analyze all aspects of nature and its relevance
to human life. They explore the powers and influences of nature over mankind.
However, Melville centers his point of view upon mankind in conflict with
nature\'s forces, while Thoreau believes that if mankind experiences nature, we
will envelope ideas which will teach mankind to live harmoniously in our natural
environment; in turn, allowing individuals to reach the highest levels of
achievement synergistically with nature.
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville illustrates man\'s quest to attain the
supreme power of God through the monomaniacal Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab is
obsessed with the desire to destroy Moby Dick, his nemesis, which is truly
symbolic of man\'s overwhelming quest to control and conquer nature. Melville
depicts Ahab as an evil, egotistical human whose willingness to combat the
forces of nature represents man\'s failure to understand his place in the
universe. Melville uses Ishmael to voice his philosophies which portray Ahab as
a crazy captain who fails to realize that he\'s up an unconquerable force.
Melville utilizes Ishmael further voice his life philosophies through grossly
symbolic statements like, "No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor… I have
the satisfaction that all is right; that everybody else is one way or other
served in much the same way - either in a physical or metaphysical point of
view." (pg. 14 - 15). Through, Ishmael, Melville expresses his longing, for
beauty and nature, and a t the same time he contrasts his desires against
mankind\'s/Ahab\'s tendencies for the controlling darkside of human nature which
can\'t and won\'t interact with nature and consequently leads to its own ultimate
destruction. "Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great
whale himself. Such a pretentious and mysterious monster caused all my
curiosity… the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale."(pg. 16).
Ishmael sees Ahab as a man possessed, almost demonic in a belief that he
could overcome death and evil. For example, Ishmael sees Ahab for the first
time: "He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has over
runningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them… His whole thigh, broad
from seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mold, like
Celoni\'s cast Perseus." (Pg. 111 - 112). Thus, we see a formidable figure
affected by a plague on his soul venturing through the water\'s of hell to reach
a deadly quest. Ishmael even finds him almost as crucified as the God Ahab
thinks he could become as stated here: "And no only that, but Moby stricken
Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal
overbearing dignity of some mighty woe. "(Pg 111). Consequently, Melville\'s Ahab
will attempt to transcend his crew and himself into a conflict with nature.
This conflict becomes the warped and demonic idea of a man willing to take on
the power s of Moby Dick which is the epitome of the greatest force in nature.
Regardless of the onslaught, predestined for Ahab, he will be doomed to failure
because of his monomaniacal spirited quest; "As he shouted with a terrific, land,
animal sob, like that of a heart stricken moose; "Aye, aye! It was that accused
white whale that raged me; made a pon pegging lumber of me forever and a day!…
"Aye, aye! And I\'ll chase him normal Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round
the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition\'s flames before I give