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  • From The Chapel

The Daily Dick: Musings on the Relevance of Moby-Dick Today

"But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope."


I mean, come on. This writing!

In this passage, Ishmael is in the Chapel in New Bedford. The parishioners, he imagines, have lost sons and husbands and brothers to the sea. Names of the dead are on plaques on the walls. Still, one tends to believe that coming to church helps us rise above sorrow and find comfort in the knowledge that our loved ones are in a 'better place.' Surprisingly, Melville doesn't go there. He aligns faith with a jackal. Anubis, Greek god of the dead and lost souls, has the head of a jackal. Jackals feed on leftovers and scraps. They are often associated with isolation, loneliness, and abandonment. And where we should find faith in stories of heavenly glory, Melville writes of how we actually find faith in the opposite - in death and despair and loneliness. He writes it like it's not a bad thing. From doubt perhaps faith can grow? This had a curious political undertone for me.

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