Ishmael

fictional character from the novel Moby-Dick

Ishmael is a fictional character in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). Ishmael, the only surviving crewmember of the Pequod, is the narrator of the book. His importance relies on his role as narrator; as a character, he is only a minor participant in the action and the main protagonist is Captain Ahab. The Biblical name has come to symbolize orphans, exiles, and social outcasts. Because he was the first person narrator, most of the criticism of Moby-Dick either confused Ishmael with the author himself or overlooked him. From the mid-twentieth century onward, critics distinguished Ishmael from Melville, establishing the character's mystic and speculative consciousness as a central force in contrast to Captain Ahab's monomaniacal force of will. By contrast with his namesake Ishmael from Genesis, who is banished into the desert, Ishmael is wandering upon the sea. Each Ishmael, however, experiences a miraculous rescue; in the Bible from thirst, here from drowning.
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