Huck Finn

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LRB | Call me Ahab, riflessioni su Moby Dick How we allow environmental issues to affect our reading of Moby-Dick depends on how we think of the Pequod, which usually depends on what we make of Ahab and Ishmael and their mostly invisible relationship. Are they revolutionary and moderate? Master and slave? Dictator and compliant intellectual? (This was how C.L.R. James saw them in Mariners, Renegades and Castaways, written during his detention on Ellis Island in 1952 and republished last year.) Or are they merely chalk and cheese? Would the debates of the 1930s and 1940s, which cast Ahab as a Hitler or a Stalin and Ishmael as a respectable liberal or even a respectable Communist, find an echo nowadays in the idea that Ahab is a compulsive violator of animal rights while Ishmael is ozone-friendly? Towards the end of Moby-Dick, in a chapter called 'The Try-Works', there is a prophetic piece of literary driftwood that seems to have found its way back into Melville from Zola, or forward from Blake: a shocking marine-industrial scene that shows how the venture of whaling itself, against which Ahab has turned so ruthlessly, is part of the madness that touches him and everyone else on the Pequod, including Ishmael. It will take a while to get to this moment, across many other moments and arguments that suggest otherwise, but it's the one (I find) that puts Ahab squarely in his place.