Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 76-90: Whale Parts

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

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So while reviewing this section I keep thinking about the song “Doll Parts” by Hole. There is actually some logic to this, I’m not just stuck in the 90s. I mean, *am* stuck in the 90s, but there’s more to it than that. 

livethroughthisWhale Parts: Taking the title literally, this section is largely about whale parts; breaking this massive thing down into smaller and smaller parts until you’re left with an empty shell, which is kind of the vibe I get from Doll Parts. I also interpreted Doll Parts as a revenge fantasy (“one day you will ache like I ache”) which fits in with Ahab’s quest. So that’s where I started, but then I started to think about it more…

Wait, that lyric is “dog beg?” The hell?: Information access, storage, and sharing all sound like modern concepts but they’re pretty well covered in Moby Dick. Ishmael is constantly giving us interesting tidbits about whaling, or going on tangents about, say, a whale’s skull. He likes to come up with ways to sort and categorize information and seems to delight in instructing the masses. Melville’s audience in the 1850s would have had to decide for themselves whether to trust him or not, and whether the information was presented as fact or as entertainment. Today, not only can I have Sparknotes open in another tab as I write up my thoughts (…not that I do that,) but I can check the definition or words on my Kobo and Google just about anything Ishmael states to see if it’s true.

I was reminded of this when I sort of idly Googled “Doll Parts” and found out some of the lyrics I thought I knew were wrong, AND the meaning I gave the song wasn’t what Courtney Love intended. It’s actually about the beginning of a relationship and feeling rejected because he seemed interested in someone else. Whoa. This is a song I listened to hundreds of times as a teenager, so it’s odd to have all this “corrected” years later. It made me think about the hours upon hours I spent listening to songs and trying to write down their lyrics – you know, the ones where the lyrics weren’t in the liner notes – and how today, we can look up lyrics AND in-depth analysis of the songs meanings. I distinctly remember hitting play – rewind – play over and over again trying to hear the lyrics to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Yup, on cassette!

Anyway, I don’t have  a clever way to sum this up, but having my beliefs about a song from the 90s exploded did make me think about how people in the 1850s would have received all this information Melville is laying down.

Feminism: Hole wasn’t exactly a feminist band, but they were the first female-fronted band I got into that wasn’t, like, Ace of Base, so I associate them with my own awakening as a feminist. Women can be loud and messy and crazy and it’s okay? Who knew? This section of Moby Dick triggered a bit of righteous feminist anger. In case it wasn’t obvious due to the fact that there are zero female characters (Bechdel Test fail,) Melville didn’t write this book for women. OF COURSE I can’t find the link now, but I swear I saw a quote to the effect that he didn’t even think women should read Moby Dick. Ugh.

What set me off in this section was Melville’s celebration of male archetypes. We’ve got the the pack of young lads, having fun and causing trouble:

Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness…

the player with his “harem” of females;

In truth, this gentleman is an luxurious Ottoman, swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces and endearments of his harem.

and my favourite, the lone wolf, who’s outgrown these simple pleasures and is now, like, the most interesting whale in the world, I guess? And gee, even Mother Nature herself is moody! Women!

Like a venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives is she, though she keeps so many moody secrets.

Meanwhile, female whales are – duh- having and caring for babies. Now, perhaps that’s they way whales roll, but Melville is obviously making a comment on humans here, and maybe I’m missing the satire (probably) but I was just kind of rolling my eyes through all this.

I’ve got a whole other blog post brewing in my head about the exclusion of women from great works of literature (see Jest, Infinite) but for the time being, I wish I could find my old Riot Grrrl t-shirt and wear it while I finish Moby Dick because these female whales need to start a revolution, stat.

Tune in Next Week: My favourite chapter so far, The Try-Works. Also, more fun with sperm!

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Pretty quiet this week… check in with me, read-a-longers!

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.

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11 comments

  1. Pingback: Moby Dick Read-A-Long: Sign Up! | Reading in Bed
  2. ebookclassics

    An annoying thing called work kept me away last week, but I’m still with you! The “whale parts” and all of these side chapters away from the main story are fast becoming the reason why I think this book is brilliant. It’s not only a thematic icon, but structurally unique from anything else I’ve ever read. I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes: how does it work, what is the context, what is the process, how is it organized, etc. Yes, Melville borders on too much (gross) information. But I’m beginning to like these diversions overall … gosh, more than the story?

    I definitely can see a revenge theme in “Doll Parts”. The song makes me think about a girl completely filled with self-hatred because the guy she likes has used and then rejected her. She feels worthless, she’s just meat and made up of “Doll Parts”. Then she turns that hatred towards him. It’s possible that girl was me but I’ll just deny it. However, without a doubt, I still want to be the girl with the most cake.

    • lauratfrey

      I need a “like” button for comments, because I like and agree with everything you said here 🙂

      My favourite line was “I love him so much it just turns to hate.” Oh, teenage angst.

      I liked the weird, whaley chapters better than the story at times too – though, having just finished the book, the story comes back with a vengeance at the end, and it’s great.

      • ebookclassics

        I can’t wait to get to the end. I was chugging away, but I have slowed down. I think my brain is going into summer mode. Looking forward to your book review. Your Goodreads comments were hilarious!

  3. Heather

    It made me chuckle to see that the whale farts showed up in this section after the conversation we had last week. Heh.

    This section is…blah. Yay for whale anatomy? The misinformation mixed in cracks me up, though. He was SO SURE of himself. I actually enjoy seeing how science and information has evolved since then, though.

    Oh, and there will be no Infinite Jest slander. There are lots of women in the book. Pffft.

    • lauratfrey

      I think I missed the whale farts?!

      And IJ…yeah, but I seriously don’t know if it would pass the Bechdel test… unless Moms and Joelle have any lengthy conversations? I Googled it, and nothing came up, except someone else wondering the same thing.

      • Heather

        I’ll let you know since I’m reading it again right now.

        But because I’m all googly over DFW, even if it doesn’t pass, it still gets a pass. Hahaha!

  4. jaynesbooks

    I am still working at the book and am determined to get it done, no matter what. That being said, I felt like I could have slept through this section and not really missed much. While there were a few chapters about the story and some other interesting chapters here and there, I really felt it was a bit of a bore. It was while I was reading the book this afternoon that I could have just turned to Wikipedia to read about this sort of thing and came to the conclusion that not many readers that would have read this book when it was originally published would have access to Wikipedia, or something similar. While I do understand what Melville’s intent for this section was, I honestly just want to get back to the story, which we seem to be getting in fits and spurts here and while can get frustrating with the format that Melville has employed here, I realize that obviously there is a point to all this information about whales and that at some point the story will take over.

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