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  • From The Quarter-Deck

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

"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond."


This passage seems to be the heart of Moby-Dick and the one Chapter I wrestle with each time I read the book. My take this time around - behind each mask, masks that are either artificially created or products of nature, is something we often can't predict. And that is scary. A beautiful plant can be poisonous, a lovely neighbor can be a killer. Ahab wants to find the truth behind these masks primarily because he wants to know the truth about himself. Was he 'marked' by the white whale? Or by God? Or was the violence to him random? Who runs this whole thing anyway?

Whenever something happens, like a shooting in a place like Virginia Beach, we want to tear through the mask and figure out what caused this to happen? Who was behind the mask? Do we feel better once we know the truth, or a version of the truth, or the truth that is, perhaps, hidden behind a different, even tougher mask? For anyone who asks me why I continue to read and reread Moby-Dick, this is it.

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