Orientalism in Moby Dick

This article aims to correct some of the basic errors in Melvillian Islamic criticism. One of the classics of Western literature is Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the allegorical story of one man’s pursuit of a great white whale. Like all great novelists, Melville was struggling with the great moral issues that transcend individuals and even civilizations. This contrasts with most of modern literature, which exhibits journalistic habits of mind and tends to deal in superficial analysis rather than with the reflective process that gives content to meditation and thought.

Modem literary criticism exhibits the same shallowness. George Orwell explained the problem perhaps when he observed that applying the same standards to such novelists as Dickens and Dostoyevsky and to most contemporary writers is like weighing a flea on a spring-balance intended for elephants.” Critics, he added, don’t do this, because it would mean having to throw out most of the books they get for review.

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