“Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?” Melville’s use of Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Christopher Morrison Shore (Creator)
Institution
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: http://www.library.appstate.edu/
Advisor
Grace McEntee

Abstract: One source extensively used by Melville for this information in Moby Dick was Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale.The role of Beale’s work in Melville’s novel appears limited to scientific information, but Beale’s text was used to enhance thematic elements as well. By examining how Melville uses Beale’s information in specific sections, such as Chapter 32, “Cetology,” and in other areas focused on thematic metaphors such as Chapter 80, “The Nut,” it becomes clear Melville relied on Beale for more than scientific research. In addition to research, Melville also presented information structured in a way similar to Beale’s. Melville took information Beale identified as myth and used it to increase the physical, philosophical, and spiritual magnitude of whales and Moby Dick. However, he also used the scientific information to identify the limits of science. Through Ishmael, he portrays the preference of wondering about the unknown to the objective answers given by science. Recognizing the importance of Melville’s use of Beale’s Natural History enhances the meaning of the frequently overlooked cetology chapters in Moby Dick.

Additional Information

Publication
Thesis
Shore, C.M. (2012). “Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?” Melville’s use of Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale. Unpublished master’s thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2012
Keywords
Moby Dick, cetology, Herman Melville, Thomas Beale, science in literature