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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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Now the full monty, as they say.  The whole thing.  The whole ball of wax.  Serve (step 1).  Return (step 2). Fielding the return (step 3.)

1)  Student F

Step 1 -- Student F's serve (hypothesizing): Death before Depth?

Ishmael initially becomes aware that the whale has taken on a far-fetched array of meanings.  Ishmael tries desperately to understand the true spirit of the whale.  However, all of his attempts fail at one very large thing and that is a true and overall big picture with every detail.  The curious mind is proven to be an no comparison to the mysterious ocean because even Ishmael quotes that “Men cannot see the depths of the ocean.”  This strongly proposes that human knowledge is always limited in contrast to what is unlimited and infinite.  Moby Dick is a great example of this as his ways are unknown and trying to decipher and truly understand them are impossible.  The book makes the purpose of stating that one will know death before one knows depth.

Step 2 -- Student P's return (building/disagreeing) to F's serve:

great point... but i also think that the book is glorifying the quest for "depth" as you put it.  i think there is something wonderful and unique about stiving to discover the undiscovered... and in some cases the undiscoverable (might have made that word up).  i'm not so sure that all of the men aboard the pequod knew death before depth either... if depth is simply to be 100% sure of something... ahab had achieved depth.  there's a saying that the most dangerous man to face is the man who has nothing left to lose... ahab WAS that man... he was totally consumed, all of his answers and reasons were personified by the great white whale... we may call him mad, or a lunatic, or insane... but the fact is that many of us on some level probably nevy him, because for most of us, that type of "depth" is unatainable... we will never be able or willing to completely give ourselves to a cause, especially one as seemingly crazy as his... i would argue that that gave him depth, and for him death was nothing more than a foregone conclusion...

Step 3 -- Student F fields P's return (agreeing/re-thinking):

Great insight! I never had thought of it that way and when you first claimed that Ahab had achieved depth I was immediately skeptical however, you proved your meaning in your interesting and valid definition. You are right; maybe many view Ahab as crazy and going after something that he is lucky to be living from. He is definitely courageous and passionate. Moreover, "To each his own." And if he is going to live his life with the obsession of reconnecting so to speak with Moby Dick then so be it, death or liberty.

Step 2 -- Student B's return (agreeing/enhancing):

that's a really good point and you offer a prevailing overlying theme really really early on in the discussion for this book, which i personally think is impressive.  I'm not sure there's any more to say than that I completely agree with you.  The vastness of the ocean symbolizes the miniscule authority of man over anything.  It kind of goes back, in a way, to Red Badge of Courage, with the narrator finally being disillusioned (or "enlightened," however you want to look at it) about man's vital...or not so vital role on this earth.  Mortal insignificance seems to be a big theme in the books we've been reading, and I think that's part of what makes them such lasting classics, the way the epiphanies one gets from these novels is like reading a religious scriptural work and having a revelation about your true place on this earth.  what do you think?

Step 3 -- Student F fields B's return (agreeing):

I completely agree and you bring up an interesting analysis when you depict the classics as centering around moral insignificance. This is so true and admittedly, I had not made that specific connection between the four thus far (epiphany- thanks to you). I like your analogy on the epiphanies, and I agree that our true place on this earth is realized.

My reflections on F's fielding:

Student F is a consummate agree-er.  That's what marks her as one of the weakest students.  Though I see some flashes of a deeper intellect -- such as in her serve here -- basically more often than not she sort of gives up and goes along.  I see that here.  Both of her fieldings are "agreeing" posts, though I would give her a nod toward "re-thinking" in the last two sentences of her response to P.  The trouble is -- also as she has exemplified before -- her posts tend to be lean and undeveloped.  She writes probably the shortest posts, on average, of anybody in the class.  So what might be an interesting new train of thought in her response to P never really seems to get out of the station.  The response to B seems flat-out, dead-end agreement  -- nothing more.  Neither response shows much potential for another step -- the volley stage. 

2)  Student B

Step 1 -- Student B's serve (synthesizing): "Synthesizing in UTC"

While this is the first post, I'd like to "synthesize" at this point because the burgeoning frienship between Ishmael and Queequeg is highlighted so early on in the novel.  Ishmael seems to be a very different sort of Christian than the ones we see in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It was really noteworthy to observe how Christians can very differently skew the meaning of the Bible.  In UTC the Bible somehow proves that a stance of racial intolerance (or, should i say, black intolerance especially) is a justifiable view.  Slaveowners say that they endorse the principles buttressing slavery because it says they can in the Bible.  Ishmael on the other hand, goes out of his way to worship "the savage's" idols, and his reason is because he'd expect Queequeg to do the same for him if Ishmael were kneeling before Jesus or the Holy Cross.  The spin the slaveowners gave on christianity in UTC, looking at it from ishmael's angle, verge on sacrilege ... they totally undermine the value Christianity's message.  Looking at it this way, does anyone agree with me that, ESPECIALLY after reading UTC, Ishmael's character should be seen as a much more noble character?  And, i guess, it's safe to say that the slaveowners looking like even bigger freaking idiots, seeing as how they interpret the bible's message to mean the lowest, most self serving possible thing, right?

Step 2 -- Student P's return (disagreeing/building) to B's serve:

i don't know if we should look at ishmael as so much more a mobler character... b/c i feel that none of these characters are truly characters... rather they are merely representations set up by melville to work through different ideas... but i DO see what you're talking about with ishmael and queepueg, i just think it goes beyond them.  the pequod is teeming with diversity.  different cultures, races, ethnicities... and they're all working together for a common goal... almost unfathomable considering the day in which moby-dick was written!  so i do think that we should give someone a pat on the back here, but i feel like it's melville and not ishmael.

Step 3 -- Student B fields P's return (disagreeing):

What i meant to say in my post is that from an angle of religion specifically, Ishmael puts a much more positive spin on Christianity than the slaveowners in UTC.   I agree with your feeling this whole book is a satire or an allegory or whatever, but in terms of concrete synthesis, I think we can take a look at Ishmael as a character and not immediately turn each character into a concept and the entire plot into some socio-political commentary. 

Step 2 -- Student F's return (agreeing) to B's serve:

I agree that Ishmael should be seen as a more noble character when viewing him in that regard.  I agree with your points and your comparisons.  The slave owners definitely look like even bigger ignorant morons especially when looking at their perceptions of the Bible, haha nice work.

Step 3 -- Student B fields F's return (re-directing?):

thanks, but look at evan's reply, i think he makes a good point.  I'm sure how far we should go treating them as characters and at what point we should stop and look at them as concepts.

My reflections on B's fielding:

Wow!  Big disappointment!  Remember, I consider B in the top echelon in the class.  But his fieldings here mutter and then sputter out.  Interestingly, he focuses on the initial but subordinate disagreeing part of P's return -- ignoring the main building part -- and disagrees in return.  What's going on there?  B has a pretty big ego -- did he let the minor disagreement dominate his fielding?  Was that all he could "see"?  And what is going on in the reply to F?????  It doesn't even seem related to F's return except for the "thanks."  I'm not sure why he suggests F look at P's return.  There is no relation that I can see.  Was B so befuddled by F's much-less-than-helpful return that he couldn't figure out what to do?  O, my, conversation has completely broken down in this thread. 

3)  Student P

Step 1 -- Student P's serve (internalizing): "migraine material"

moby-dick is probably the coolest book i've ever read.  i've taken philosophy classes, psychology classes, sociology classes, and a whole lotta english classes, and this story built around nothing more than a whale hunt has prompted more deep thought and introspection than anything from any of those other courses.  unlike some (most?) of you, i have never read moby dick before--surprising i suppose to make it to my senior year as an english major and pass over one of the truly great works of american literature, but i'm glad i waited.  i don't know if it would have done the same thing for me in high school that it has done for me now.  like professor g, i had a lot of thoughts focusing on "what's important in life?" when i read this.  the trip, the journey, the expedition, the adventure... isn't THAT what life's suppossed to be all about?  it sounds so corny, but i think that that's how you really "find yourself", and on one level, this is a story about ishmael finding himself.  there is a consitant theme of lonliness present in the text as if everyman is an island.  and they are on an island both literally and figuratively... sitting alone on a ship in the middle of the earth's great oceans... out there a man is left with pretty much nothing else besides his own thoughts.  i know i'm rambling but i keep getting new ideas, so i apologize, just try and stay with me as long as you can... this is a story about being extraordinary... whalers weren;t content to settle for a normal, boring life on land... and these whalers aboard the pequod are special even amongst the other whalers because they are chasing something that others wouldn't even dream to chase... mad? crazy? insane?  maybe... but maybe they are the only one's truly living... maybe the novel ends with "orphan" because ishmale was orphaned by ahab and crew by not drowning with them... maybe they died the ultimate deaths... maybe there are no actions that seperate anyone in life... even the richest men die... but maybe there is something that seperates men in death... in a way ahab became part of his obsession... i could go all night with this, so i'll save you anymore of a headache and stop.  i guess i provided a lot to talk about, and at the same time nothing to talk about (b/c it's all just metaphysical rambling)... i told you this was the best book i've ever read.

Step 2 -- Student F's return (agreeing):

I loved your post it was great.  As a Sophomore, I had never before read the novel having always heard about it.  Classics are truly classics for a reason.  While I did not LOVE the book especially to the extent to which you enjoyed it, I definitely found it compelling enough to captivate my attention and challenging in that it leaves the reader with much speculation.  I really liked your thoughts in your post and I think you are right in your cheesy definition of what life is supposed to be all about.  Interesting thoughts on Ahab and death.  Never thought about it that way before and I see where you are going with what you are saying...or at least I think I do?  Again, much speculation but your theories are cool.

Step 3 -- Student P fields F's return (thanking):


Step 2 -- Student B's return (disagreeing/re-thinking):

it seems like we can say that melville was glorifying the characters lives and everything, but i don't think this book is about celebrating life.  well i dont think that yet.  I think there's a lot of anger in this book, while certain parts like, like queequeg and ishmael's relationship, are uplifting..your post open my eyes to a different way of looking at it.  guess i need more time.

Step 3 -- Student P fields B's return (clarifying/enhancing):

i'm not saying that this book is all "peaches and cream"... my point was that melville seems to envy certain characters (namely ahab) for the ultimate freedom they have found.  of course there is anger... he is driven by anger... but he has "found wings" in a way and i truly feel melville's admiration for such people shining through.

My reflections on P's fielding:

Damn, the end result of P's thread is not really any better than F's or B's.  P's fielding of F's return certainly answers my question.  He has no response.  All he does is say thanks.  Well, F is to blame there.  Once again we see the end result of dead-end posts.  P's fielding of B's return is clipped as well.  P defends his point against B's disagreement, or perhaps clarifies it is a better word, and then moves minisculely toward enhancing.  Where did P's original passion go?  He's a cold fish here.  He doesn't seem to have anything at stake in his position.  Simply repeating his original claim, P does not take up B's receptiveness to new ideas.  An opportunity seems lost.  (Something to think about: the serves here in this group are much better and much longer than either the returns or the fieldings.  What's going on there?  Is more time being spent on the serves?  Are the serves valued more than the other posts?  Is there a time squeeze doing all response posts?  Is more guidance for successful responses needed?)