Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: Moby-Dick

What if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Herman Melville’s magnum opus Moby-Dick or The Whale, a highly symbolic, profound allegory wrapped around a simple whaling story. In the first paragraph, Melville introduces us to one of the most famous, but most enigmatic, narrators in literature: Ishmael. Ishmael, a highly intelligent, articulate, but humble, individual is the counter to the larger-than life captain of the Pequod, Ahab who represents the classic and modern hero with a tragic flaw: hubris. Ahab obsessively pursues his nemesis: the great white whale, Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is a potent multi-faceted symbol in the novel, transcending time and space; it represents evil; purity; the inscrutable; as well as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. Ishmael is our guide through this deeply spiritual, psychological, and philosophical journey highlighting man’s timeless struggles between good and evil, the known and the unknown, as well as man and God — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Call me Ishmael, my pronoun is “he,” my Twitter handle is #ishmael_i’m_still_standing. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse due to the economic collapse following the coronavirus pandemic, and nothing particular to interest me on shore after months of sheltering in place at the Spouter-Inn, I thought I would sail about a little, avoiding the perpetually virus-stricken cruise ships, and see the watery part of the world which is expanding exponentially due to the climate crisis. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself unhappy; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before respirator and PPE warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral — burying the latest pandemic victim — I meet; and especially whenever my feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically ripping people’s face masks off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for repeatedly touching my face after touching highly infected surfaces. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all my Facebook friends in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me, based on all their “likes.”

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President of Alexander Atkins Design, a leader in philanthropic graphic design for nonprofits & schools; author of Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf.

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