“Call me Ishmael”
“Call me Ishmael”.
The name Ishmael is not common in the Christian world. It seems to be treated as a rather odious name.
It seems to be treated as the name of an Old Testament character, but in Herman Melville’s The White Whale, the narrator, who seems to be the protagonist, says
“Call me Ishmael”, begins with “Let my name be Ishmael”.
The White Whale seems to be very important for Nobel Prize winners in literature and international writers, many of whom try to analyse this difficult novel. Even if you are not a literary person, the origin of Starbucks is partly based on the name of this white whale character. (XO Starbuck, 1st class)
In the Old Testament, Abraham’s (Abram’s) wife, who was 75 years old and therefore unable to bear children, brought a young slave woman, Hagar, to her husband and impregnated her with a child.
Sarah ran away when Hagar became an obstacle and was treated harshly. However, she met an angel of the Lord at a spring in the wilderness and was told to return to her master. He told her to name her unborn child Ishmael and that he would be her brother’s enemy. (Genesis: Chapter 16)
An older Sarah, whose moon thing is long gone, is pregnant (Genesis: chapter 18) The child Sarah carried safely through childbirth and was named Isaac (Genesis: chapter 21). Sarah tried again to drive out Hagar and Ishmael, claiming that Ishmael was making fun of her son Isaac. This was told to Abraham and the angel of the Lord told him to do as Sarah said. Abraham gave Hagar a leather water pouch and Hagar and Ishmael were left to wander in the wilderness (desert). When the water runs out, Ishmael cries out before his death and is saved by the angel of the Lord.
As the son of iniquity and the enemy of his brothers, a name that has never made a good impression throughout its long history.
It has spread mainly in the Christian world, with the exception of the Muslim world.
In White Whale, as in the Old Testament, the protagonist Ishmael (we don’t know if that’s really his name) miraculously survives, and the divine trials and blessings he undergoes are cast in a light that is unimaginable to those who know what the Bible means.
The white whale (Moby-Dick), called the devil by the sailors, is found off the coast of Japan, a white whale that has been there for a long time but has never shown itself. A terrible battle to the death ensues. Captain Ahab and the entire crew are pulled into the white whale. In an epilogue, we are told that Ishmael miraculously survived, changing from first-person to third-person perspective. In ancient times, whales and fish were thought to be monosexual animals with only one sex. Even Aristotle thought so. According to ancient Babylonian legend, in the first year of the earth’s creation, Oannes, the god of wisdom, appeared on land in the form of a fish and gave knowledge to mankind. The Indian god Vishnu is said to have incarnated as a fish and saved the founders of modern mankind from a flood. A fish sacrament existed in Syrian goddess rituals. This custom derives from the idea that salvation is seen in fish as a symbol of resurrection.
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah is famous for rebelling against God. This is because God tells him to love his enemies.
In the book of Jonah, the prophet is portrayed as a criminal and the pagan sailor as a humble being. Jonah refused to go to Nineveh, which he hated, and fled to the boat of the pagans. The storm was so bad that when the sailors tried to find the cause of it, they thought it was Jonah. Jonah said he could throw himself into the sea under the guise of self-sacrifice. This was because he did not want to go to Nineveh. So the sailors threw Jonah into the sea and apologised to God. There was a big fish waiting for him as a grave that God had made possible. The fish swallowed Jonah and he lived in it, not in the grave. When Jonah apologised to God, God made him spit out of the fish. Jonah went to Nineveh as God had commanded, saying that after 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed. Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh?
Because God loves Nineveh, his enemy. God asked. You are angry, but is this right?” (Jonah 4:4).
God healed Jonah by stretching out a ‘sesame tree’ for shade. Jonah was happy with this for a time, but what did God think the next time he let insects crawl up the tree and kill it? Jonah became angry again. So God said. You have not even bothered to take care of the tree or to work at it, and when it withers you spare it. Why will I not spare this great city of Nineveh? (Jonah 4:4).
The Lord makes man like a fish in the sea (Habakkuk 1:14), and the prophet Habakkuk also laments his dissatisfaction with God, but in the biblical world the fish is deeply connected to God, and the belly of the fish is the abyss, the space between life and death.
The sequence of letters in Ichthys, representing the fish, is.Ichthys by joining the initials Jesus (Iesous) Christos Theou Hyios Soter. The symbolism took on more meaning: ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Redeemer.’
The writer Herman Melville was born into a wealthy family, but from the age of 11 his family fell apart and his father died. He was poor and got a job on a whaling ship. This is the model for The White Whale.
The work, which was suppressed by Puritan public opinion and not appreciated at the time because it was named after a child of iniquity, was eventually appreciated.
The story of the white whale itself is simple, but getting into the biology of the whale and the structure of the story is not. This is also reflected in the fact that the whales are only encountered a few times, which is tedious.
Which brings us back to the white whale.
While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what name a whale-fish is to be called in our tongue leaving out, through ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true.”
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (AmazonClassics Edition) . Amazon Classics. kindle edition.
The importance of the letter ‘H’ is conveyed at the beginning of the book: “While you take it in hand to educate others and try to tell them what the whale (whale-fish) is called, we, in our ignorance, omit the important letter H, and you deliver what is not true”. It is not clear at this point whether this is a map or a code in the life-and-death, or rather divine, destiny of the future. Different races share the vengeance and destiny of a captain. The whale, which becomes a great sea monster, is created by God, as in Genesis 1:21. It may be a novel with everything symbolic, like an order in a bible, but it’s also an everyday life of a working man, challenging himself but engulfed by a stormy sea. There are chapters and chapters of daily life that bore the reader, but the people themselves are always exhausted just trying to survive the day. In the epilogue, the Old Testament’s Job,
“And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”-Job.
（Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (AmazonClassics Edition) . Amazon Classics. kindle edition）
And I only escaped alone to tell you, quoted. What scene was this?
In the first chapter of the Book of Job, Job’s servant tells him that his territory has suddenly been attacked and he has fled to tell Job. All this in one quotation.
Does it not sum up the state of mind of Ishmael, the hero of Melvilu? Even if we fight to the death in the great sea, what remains is no different from what we fought for on land. What God has given and created strikes you like a demon. That is the daily toil. It is the scholars and drinkers who enjoy the cryptanalysis of the letter “H”, who try to make it more beautiful than it is. No matter how much we try to explain it in biology, in the end it cannot be fully explained.
How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for a timid untravelled man to try to comprehend this wondrous whale, by merely poring over his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (AmazonClassics Edition).Chapter103
My interpretation is that the meaning of the acronym ‘H’ can be summed up here. We don’t try to understand what seafarers go through.
Of course, we write that it hurts, but unless we have experienced it, we cannot feel the pain. The further away we get from a working environment like a whaling ship, the more the pain becomes a fairy tale. But fiction is not non-fiction, so there is absolutely no need to convey pain. Melville’s experience is now a story.
When a similar situation arises, some scholar or influencer will again tell us to learn from the white whale, as if they know what they’re talking about.
It is still the white whale, swimming without its stupidity and ridiculousness. A fate that is unknowable, it has existed like man since the creation of God, but under the surface, spinning knowledge with words, the whale has sometimes been responsible for its fate. Whales are not like natural disasters.
Man challenges and attacks them. We too as perpetrators, apart from natural disasters, have challenged （or People still challenge them.) such beings with an emotional one, such as revenge.
It would be a symbol of that.
It is true that when we miraculously come back alive from the rough seas of fate, we sometimes rejoice as if we were turning over our palms to God’s grace, but we cannot understand the ‘white whale’ with that emotion. You can’t grasp it, and that’s the point. Grace, coming back alive, it is indeed important to rejoice, but it is also important not to forget the storm.