Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.
The Ship of Doom
What's in a name? Have you ever considered how sailing vessels - cruise ships, in particular - are named? They generally boast positive and uplifting names like Princess, Regal, Inspiration or Magic. Sounds enticing, right? Who wouldn't want to go sailing the seas in a boat with a name that evokes feelings of wellness and royalty?
You might not have wanted to sail aboard the Pequod in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, however. In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at the Pequod and what it represents in Melville's tale on the high seas.
The Pequod's Ties to History
To understand a little more about what the Pequod symbolizes, you must first understand its roots. The Pequod was named after a long-extinct Native American tribe located in Massachusetts. The Pequot people were ravaged by smallpox and skirmishes with white settlers, and all but disappeared from the region. The word, 'Pequot,' is Algonquian and is most notably recognized as meaning 'the men of the swamp.' The imagery of 'men of the swamp' might even have negative connotations in itself, to some.
The Pequod's Symbolism
Thanks to its ties to the extinction of the Pequot people, the name of the Pequod alone symbolizes doom and failure. Pretty bleak, huh? By naming the ship for a tribe that didn't survive, Melville is almost foreshadowing the deaths of the Pequod's crew.
The Pequod is necessary for the story, however. Without it, the voyage to sail to find Moby-Dick may not have happened. And, it's important to note that the superstitious and foreboding premonitions of many characters, who try to discourage Ahab's vengeful pursuit, are also aligned with the symbolism (used to give deeper meaning to objects and characters in literature) of the boat's name.
The Pequod's Appearance
In the book, Melville tells us that the ship is noble, yet melancholy or gloomy. The ship, itself, is painted a foreboding black and covered with teeth and bones, not-so-subtle reminders of death from previous quests, captures, and kills.
Melville describes those trophies in detail:
'She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.'
The ship is further described as rare and old, worn and wrinkled, and damaged from many years of service, perhaps more hints from Melville about the coming doom meant for it and its crew.
When the ship sinks in the book's final chapter, Melville records Ahab saying:
'The ship! The hearse!--the second hearse!' cried Ahab from the boat; 'its wood could only be American!'
This is a final omen of the ship's nature of doom and death, as it signifies a prophetic statement from a crew member earlier in the book; the second hearse (a hearse transports a dead body from a mortuary to the funeral home to the cemetery) that will entomb the Pequod crew.
The Pequod, in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, is an important element of the tale because it is the vessel that carries Ahab's crew on their last fateful journey. The name of the ship itself is derived from an extinct Indian tribe, the Pequot, in Massachusetts that was beset by disease, war, and death. That alone screams about the symbolism of the whaling ship, which is symbolic of both doom and failure. The sight of the ship itself is also foreboding, including a dark paint color and the bones and teeth of the ship's past conquests, an ever-present reminder of death all around.
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