Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behooves me to approve myself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise; not overlooking the minutest seminal germs of his blood, and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of his bowels.
Ooooo-kay! In reading that line, I finally understand the long, rambling, un-plotted purpose for ALL THOSE LONG, loooong chapters about the anatomy of the whale!
Had the subject of Moby Dick been a mutinous, blood-thirsty minnow, the chapters to describe how to capture, dissect, and use the pieces of said minnow would take up the span of about three pages… maybe… if you went into painfully expansive detail!
But the great, the really great works of literature deal not with minnows, not with goldfish, not even with swordfish. Oh no, they have bigger fish to fry.
Normally, when I think of an epic, large theme worthy of the great works of fiction, I think of love, betrayal, faith… you know, those intangibles. But nature is a serious force to be reckoned with, and completely holds its own as a worthy topic to be undertaken by an author’s pen.
Moby Dick is not an anthropomorphized beast, or an allegory for some intangible reality of life; he is simply and monumentally a force of nature. A force that wipes away men without a second thought, destroys lives without consciousness, and grapples to remain alive without enmity or passion, but merely on instinct. Moby Dick is the chaos of nature personified, and he is a worthy topic of fiction.
In fact, according to Melville, writing of such a creature actually elevates the author, pulling him up by the bootstraps, forcing him to elevate his thoughts and face reality:
One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.