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Reading <em>Moby-Dick</em> at 30,000 Feet

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet


by Tony Hoagland

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet Theme of Exploration

What's the alternative to a passive, inactive life? Well, one option is to explore the open seas. Not only is there a lot to do physically, but it definitely stimulates you emotionally when you're on the hunt, and your prey is huge enough to smash your boat to bits. The speaker of "Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet" fantasizes about this idea of being able to explore the world without a fixed destination, without all the order and passivity that seems to make up his current, modern life.

Questions About Exploration

  1. What is the importance of those last lines—that quote where the crewman asks the captain where they are headed next? Is our speaker idealizing that they could go anywhere they pleased, as opposed to having to go on the established course of a passenger plane? Is there more to that final question?
  2. Our speaker idealizes being on the whaling vessel in Moby-Dick. Is that primal, violent urge to see blood spurt something we should feel is good? Do you think our speaker expects to shock us, or make us uncomfortable? What would be the purpose of that?
  3. This desire to be on a whaling vessel, to hold up a harpoon and try to kill whales, to explore the vast, turbulent ocean—do you think this is a predominantly male desire? We mean, do you think it would be something equally appealing to both sexes?

Chew on This

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

Our speaker admires the lives of whalers. He seems to think that basic human impulses and desires are stifled by our culture, and that we would be better off living in a way that allows for true exploration and adventure.

Our speaker is plenty satisfied merely exploring the corridors of his imagination.

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