The Binding of Ishmael: Autobiographical Consciousness and Tragedy in Moby-Dick
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Since its publication in 1851, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick has been difficult to pin down in any formal sense. The book's experimental style, which seems to violate literary conventions through Ishmael's immediate presence and subsequent "disappearance" in the Ahab drama, constitutes a significant problem for generic classification. While many critics have noted that the dual-structure of the work is divided largely between personal narration and tragedy, little has been said of their interaction. This dissertation attempts to elucidate the narrative's continuity, and understand the effect achieved through the interaction of the novel's primary generic forms: autobiography and tragedy. Ishmael's recreation of Ahab's quest through the conventions of tragedy helps to clarify his peculiar relationship to Ahab. Though not at all a mere "narrative device," Ishmael is also not to be understood as a "narrator hero" either. The interaction between autobiography and tragedy illuminates Ishmael's function as a choric witness to Ahab above all.