“That Unfailing Comfort Is, It’s All Predestinated”: Ishmael’s Calvinist Journey in Moby-Dick
AbstractThis study examines Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick through the lens of Calvinism, analyzing Ishmael’s journey through the narrative in light of this particular theology. The text itself, through specific words that continue to surface, demonstrates the need for a Calvinist lens, bringing new illumination to the narrative, to Ishmael’s journey, and to Moby Dick. There is already much scholarship on the religious and biblical influences in the text, and many scholars mention the Calvinistic influences in their work; two scholars in particular have embarked upon looking at part of the text through a Calvinist lens. But this study gives Ishmael’s spiritual journey a full treatment from beginning to end in light of Calvinist theology. One can pinpoint specific doctrines of Calvinism that show Ishmael’s journey to be one of salvation: Ishmael’s total depravity in the opening chapters; his being drawn by Providence – the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace – towards the journey; his loss of free will, a positive thing under an ultimately sovereign God, in “The Mat-Maker”; his conversion moment in “The Hyena”; the endurance of his faith – the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints – in “The Try-Works”; his ultimate survival – the Doctrine of Unconditional Election – at the discretion of the “predestinating head” of Moby Dick; and how his spiritual journey as one of the elect counters the journey of Ahab, a reprobate. Thus, this study traces Ishmael’s journey, bringing light and depth to the elements of his narrative through this specific theological lens.
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