unigo_skin
© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

Themes

In Moby-Dick sexuality is expressed in the social and homoerotic bonds between men. Frequently, it’s difficult to say where exactly the line between friendship and romance is drawn. There are men who describe their relationships with one another as marriages, and who show so much mutual affection that people stare at them in public. Hunting and harvesting whales even takes on homoerotic connotations on several occasions, such as when the narrator and the characters wallow in the whale's squishy sperm oil.

Questions About Sexuality and Sexual Identity

  1. Would you call Ishmael’s feelings for Queequeg friendship, romantic love, a man-crush, or some mix of all of these?
  2. At what points in the novel does Ishmael express physical or emotional admiration of Queequeg, and do these moments mean anything to the trajectory of the story? Why might Melville go to so much trouble to establish the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg right at the beginning of the book?
  3. Can we read that giant white Squid (Chapter 59) and the White Whale as sexual symbols? What might they represent?
  4. What’s with all the erotic puns on the word "sperm" in this novel? We’ve got a "sperm whale," barrels full of "sperm oil," and dozens of men with their hands in buckets of "spermaceti," squeezing.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Pequod has the potential to become a fraternal paradise in which masculine sexual energy, symbolized by "sperm," is directed harmoniously, providing a positive foil to Captain Ahab’s desire to harness his crew for diabolical purposes.

Advertisement
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement
back to top