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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 1: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Updated: Jan 31

Chapter 1: Loomings


Musing: Three words begin a mighty book. Three words parsed to death by scholars over the years. Three words seen in memes, cartoons, funny name tags at literary conferences: “Call me Ishmael.” This is how Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick, “Loomings,” begins.

In this, my sixth deep reading of Moby-Dick, I stopped, for the first time, to closely consider the opening three words. I was struck by how Melville uses these words as an immediate way to control the narrative. Whoever Ishmael is, he (the character/the author) wants the implied you/we/me to call him Ishmael. There is no question, “Will you call me Ishmael?” No kindness, “Please call me Ishmael.” It is forceful. “Call me Ishmael.” I had never read the start of the book as an example of narrative control before, but suddenly I can see nothing else. The next sentence “Some years ago – never mind how long precisely . . ..” also acts as a control mechanism. The narrator/author might not tell us everything and we should not bother to worry about facts, or precision or, even, truth?

Each time I've read Moby-Dick brings a new journey. So here we go. And I shall call him Ishmael.

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