Lecturer Alec Magnet
Due Date: November 27th, 2012
Moby Dick: Seamen that love semen
“I have written a wicked book; and I feel spotless as the lamb.”
Melville to Hawthorn, 1851
Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is a fanatical and temerarious adventure about seamen engaging in a hunt for whales. Within this glorious adventure, homosexual relationships and sexual references are disguised in Melville’s novel. This story is a vehicle for something entirely unrelated to the surface meanings in his novel. Also, it is full of sexual imagery. Melville uses symbolic themes, metaphors and double entendres to expose homosexuality. This seafaring voyage metaphorically symbolizes Ishmael’s sexual liberty for homoerotic bonds.
Ishmael’s sexuality is expressed in the social and homoerotic bonds between men. In chapter 94, “A Squeeze of the Hand”, the hunting and harvesting of whales promotes explicit homosexual connotations:
Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! All morning the morning long; I squeezed the sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such abounding, affectionate, friendly, lovely feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much to say—Oh! my dear fellows why should we longer cherish any acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor envy! (322-323)
The language used here is symbolic: sperm is the representation of masculinity. In this context, the sperm represents the men engaging in an intimate act. Ishmael’s mind is in the gutter. He is fervently excited from the idea of wallowing in the whale’s sperm. More importantly, he feels an erotic brotherhood with the other seamen around him. These men are participating in a physical act which suggests a sexual performance. We are not sure if the seamen are masturbating themselves or one another. Still, this is an ecstatic experience for Ishmael from the lusty and pleasurable tone.
However, Ishmael knows that he can not live in his fantasy of felicity—“squeezing … sperm forever”. He goes on to say:
Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In the thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti (323).
Ishmael realizes that if he were to be a countryman then he must dispel his true felicity. He must get married to a woman, own property and attain to “manly” things. This would not allow him to continue or entertain homosexual relationships. Being a countryman isn’t something he wants to become. He disregards the idea of being a countryman because he states he is ready to “squeeze eternally”. He is ready to live in fulfillment of his true felicities. Undoubtedly, Ishmael wants this to be a never ending reality for him. Therefore, the sea is a place which he feels free to be himself and being able to do what makes him happy- which is engaging in homosexual activities. This can be done without any consequences or judgment from the other seamen. It is evident that Melville is questioning the essence of happiness or “felicities”. He plays on the reasoning of whether or not it is worth it to settle for what makes the individual truly happy considering the different factors which can cause opposition in order for you to do so. Queequeg and Ishmael’s relationship evolves to an increasingly erotic, sensual and passionate