Close Reading American Literature

Nature, Perspective & Queequeg

Hi class,

Below is an excerpt from the first draft of my final paper. I’ve decided to share this peice with you because I am uncertain if it works. I appreciate any feedback you may have. I’ve included my title and introductory paragraph to give you a sense of my general thesis. Thanks in advance!

The Blank Canvas and Colorful Meanings of the American  Environment

American literature is saturated with images and musings about the American environment. Once viewed as a wild temptress in the company of unruly savages, American writers eventually wrote of America’s wilderness as a source for comfort, adventure, pride and personal enlightenment. As nature is an inherently emotionless force, it is clear that the only change was in the perspective of its observers. American writers in the pre Civil War era transposed their perspectives, desires and fears onto nature, whose indifference worked as a blank canvas to assign a deeper meaning. This argument can be exemplified by Ishmael’s perspective of his shipmate in Moby Dick, as well as the great whale’s blank white skin. Perspectivisim placed upon nature can also be found in Thoreau’s Walden and Emerson’s “eyeball” in Nature.

Based upon the perceptions of pre-Civil War Americans, some humans were also considered a part of nature. European American writers have a history of “othering” different races. This noble savage trope is characterized by “the man of nature” who “desired nothing beyond the necessities of life.” Therefore, Queequeg of Moby Dick can be considered an aspect of nature. He is described as large and speaking a peculiar language, similar to the way John Smith describes the Susquehanna Native Americans as “giants to the English…as for their speech, it is the strangest…” Also, Queequeg only feels the desire for base necessities, like his dilapidated leather boots.

Perhaps Ishmael transposes his desires onto Queequeg, an object of nature. It becomes evident that Ishmael desires love and companionship among his shipmates. In the spermicilli scene Ishmael describes an epiphanic, possibly romantic connection with his fellow workers: “I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally.. let us all squeeze ourselves into each other…” Therefore, it is plausible that when he met Queequeg, he perceived his actions as amourous. While it’s difficult to ignore the homoerotic descriptions of their relationship, readers should also keep in mind that the novel is a first person narrative, and we are not allowed inside the mind of Queequeg to compare his perspective to that of Ishmael.

It is also diligent to consider that Queequeg is from a remote (fictional) island in the South Pacific, which very well may have different customs. It would be unknown to Ishmael if Queequeg’s actions, like cuddling or sharing his money is an act of romance, or simply a display of fraternity in his native Kokovoko. Nonetheless, Ishmael places his own perspective on the situation, perhaps allowing Queequeg to become a surrogate for his own desire for intimacy.

So, class: does it make sense? Understand that this is a first draft and some ideas will be fleshed out; I am most concerned about whether the argument that Queequeg can be read as an element of nature for Ishmael to transpose his perspective onto is plausible.

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3 thoughts on “Nature, Perspective & Queequeg

  1. Hey, while I do think the argument about Queequeg and Ishmael is plausible, I felt like I was a little lost transitioning to the body paragraphs. I understand that I’m only looking at just a fragment of your early draft, but perhaps introducing the topics of what you’re going to write about more subtly will smooth out the transition? It also felt like you introduced Queequeg as an aspect of nature, stated Ishmael’s transposing of Queequeg, and then went back to describing him again. I would personally reconsider the order of the paragraphs. Just my personal opinion. Anyways, it’s a very interesting perspective and I cannot wait to read more of it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think you may be taking on too much in your introduction and argument. These three texts are massive undertakings and deeply philosophical, each warranting a 25-page length study in itself. Limit yourself to one author and one argument with a clearly outlined plan for three topics of discussion. Just make sure the literature you choose becomes your main source of evidence to support your argument. If you do choose to pursue your argument with Melville’s Moby-Dick, note that the title is hyphenated. In general, avoid speaking in broad, sweeping generalizations that lead to vague conclusions that aren’t ultimately earned.

    Liked by 1 person

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