Friday 3 May 2013

Call me Ishmael.

I know, I already used the first sentence of Moby Dick for the title of a post. All the same, I am using it here, because I don't think I gave it proper thought on this blog. I wrote it on my Facebook wall, my old friends from cégep all liked it (I am barely exaggerating). We read it in second year, although I had already read it at... 12. In French of course, but still.  Moby Dick (or Moby-Dick or The Whale as it was originally titled), may be the greatest novel in English language. It might also have the greatest first sentence in English literature history. I am serious. It is an intriguing one. "Call me Ishmael". Not "My name is Ishmael". From the first sentence (although it is not quite the first sentence of the novel), you know the narrator is giving you an alias. He is telling you it is an alias. One asks himself: why is he not giving me his real name? Why is he saying his name is not his real one? Is Ishmael hiding something with this pseudonym, or is it an alias that reveals something about him? I think his real name is unimportant, even to himself. But what his name means, and why Ishmael, I am still wondering about it.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, Ishmael is clearly an alias. I always imagine the opening line has a pause in it to emphasize that fact: "Call me . . . Ishmael."

In the Bible, Ishmael was the bastard child of Abraham who was driven out into the desert with his mother because Abraham's wife was jealous. The myth is that the Jews are descended from Isaac (Abraham's legit son with Sarah) and Arabs are descended from Ishmael. So I think the narrator uses "Ishmael" as his alias in order to say he is a wandering outcast of society.

Gwen Buchanan said...

One of my favourite books... Debra gives a good explanation and it does sound logical.

Mantan Calaveras said...

I've never thought of it that way. Makes me intrigued to read the book.

I haven't read Moby Dick, just Bartleby the Scrivener, heh heh.