Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story

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Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story

Throughout my reading of Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife, I was disturbed by the fact that the most tempting way to situate the two novels in a relationship was to categorize them as "male" and "female." Moby Dick was, of course, the man's story and Ahab's Wife was its womanly counterpart. This comparison makes sense when you consider the gender of the authors, Melville and Naslund, the gender of their respective narrators, Ishmael and Una, and the experiences portrayed throughout the texts. Many readers argue, "There are no female characters in Moby Dick- how could it be anything but a man's story?" In that context, it is easy to position
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This term reinforces the Biblical notion of Adam and Eve as counterparts of the same creation, and the literary interpretation that divides "male" and "female" texts. I don't feel comfortable viewing masculine and feminine as diametric variations of the human species that are isolated at opposing ends of the human spectrum.

The second objection I have to the Adam and Eve analogy to Ahab's Wife and Moby Dick is that it diminishes the female story by making it completely dependent on the male story. It's true that without Moby Dick, there would be no Ahab's Wife, but I am resistant to the generalizations that can be drawn from gendering this relationship between the texts. One novel may have evolved from the other, but there are many possible stories that could stand on the shoulders of Moby Dick- Queequeg's tale, for example. There should be a separation between the gender affiliations of the texts, if they exist, and their location in time and space. The gender binary as we are familiar with it cannot contain these works or explain their interaction.

The imperative readers feel to assign a sexual identity to a particular text parallels the experience of individuals who are forced to the margins of society because of their inability to conform to the rigid binary. Transvestites, transsexuals, and intersexuals are striking examples of groups that exist somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of male and female. In the case of transvestites, a

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