by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial colour the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; ...yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honourable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood. (42.3)
First, you should thank us for cutting out some of this sentence, which is 471 words long. Second, notice the way in which a standard expression of nineteenth-century racism, the idea that the white man has "ideal mastership over every dusky tribe," is employed here with great irony. As close readers of Melville, we’re supposed to realize by this point that it’s unlikely he’d buy completely into something like that. As a result, the entire passage, and all of Ishmael’s attempts to figure out what "whiteness" represents, are undercut.
[T]he sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the negro’s lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that. (48.28)
In this tableau, Flask standing on Daggoo’s shoulders becomes a physical reminder of the structure created by the three white mates and the three non-white harpooneers on board the Pequod. In each case, the non-white man (whether Native American, Pacific Islander, or African) becomes merely a tool in the hands – or even under the feet – of the white man.
A rumpled Chinese jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round and round upon his head. Less swart in aspect, the companions of this figure were of that vivid, tiger-yellow complexion peculiar to some of the aboriginal natives of the Manillas; – a race notorious for a certain diabolism of subtilty, and by some honest white mariners supposed to be the paid spies and secret confidential agents on the water of the devil, their lord, whose counting-room they suppose to be elsewhere. (48.1)
Perhaps the most disturbing racial stereotype in Moby-Dick is the presentation of Fedallah, the Persian fire-worshipper who becomes Ahab’s diabolical shadow. Although the novel shows the fraternal humanity of black men, Native American men, Pacific Island men, Irishmen, Italians, Nantucketers, Chinese men, Frenchmen and many others, it somehow can’t extend that fraternity to all men without restrictions. Someone always has to get left out and turned into the scary Other.