by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha’s Vineyard. A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honour with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger from encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil. (27.4)
Flask responds to the dangers of the whaling voyage in a different manner than either of the other two mates, Starbuck and Stubb. For Flask, whaling is something he takes personally and gets "all het up" about on a regular basis.
Being driven by a violent grudge against whales keeps him on edge—but it also prevents him from really understanding how glorious and magnificent whales can be. Flask’s good at his job, but not very good at seeing what’s in front of him or relating himself to the natural world.
Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile. (28.7)
For the first time in Moby-Dick, but certainly not the last, Ahab’s harsh exterior is softened a little bit by the influence of something as basic as the weather. Even though he’s verging on completely crazy, he can still feel the subtle, beautiful powers of nature in simple things like the breeze and the sunlight.
This is what makes Ahab different from Flask: both of them are prone to take the whale-hunt personally and get a little obsessed with vengeance, but for Flask, this aggressive attitude dulls his other senses, while Ahab remains perceptive and alive to small details. Unfortunately, even though Ahab can perceive beauty in the natural world, he’ll eventually stop being able to take pleasure in it.
[L]ulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; like Wickliff’s sprinkled Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of every shore the round globe over. (35.10)
In this mystical scene, Ishmael feels himself dissolving into the natural world, losing track of the boundary between the self and the world in a very "Zen" way. The key word here, which Melville uses in the passage, is "Pantheistic." Pantheism is the belief that God and the world are the same thing. God’s not just in the world, but absolutely equivalent to it, and everything that exists is divine.
This means that the individual believer, who is also a part of the world, is a divine part of God, as well. It’s interesting to contrast the ways Ishmael feels himself to be united to all of creation and to God at this transcendent moment. It reminds us of the central tenets of American Romanticism and Transcendentalism in the mid-nineteenth century—especially of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It also reminds us how different Ishmael is from Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.