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

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

by Tony Hoagland

Man and the Natural World Theme

A big distinction between the life our speaker leads and the one he imagines when "Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet" seems to be a connection to the natural world. In his passive position reclining on an airplane, our speaker's about as far from the world as he can get. Out on the open sea, the crew of a whaling boat feels the sea spray, the deck rolling on the waves beneath them.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Is there a connection between the wildness of the natural world and the wildness of people? Does our speaker feel that it's impossible to be active and wild in the controlled world of 747s and checkerboard fields? 
  2. Why does our speaker say that the whale is probably better than the whale hunters, and then go on to make whale hunting sound like such a better, more exciting way to live than his current life, in which (we assume) he doesn't kill any whales?
  3. Do you think the whalers in Moby-Dick would agree with our speaker? Or do you think that if they were offered bigger, safer, more comfortable boats and easier ways of hunting that they would take them without reservation?

Chew on This

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

The sense of adventure our speaker desires requires facing elements of the natural world that are not controlled—the whale and the ocean. The relationship is at once one of enemies, fighting against wind and waves to stay afloat, and trying to kill the whale, and also a symbiotic relationship, since you can't be a whaler without an ocean and whales.

Riding in an airplane is just like a modern-day version of being on a whaling boat. They're both about conquering nature to serve human needs.

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