Another slight format change: I’m going to start putting the main body of the posts “below the fold,” starting from the sentence in “The gist” where I first say the correct response – just click “Continue reading” or the post’s title for the rest. If you prefer it the old way, please let me know!
Jeopardy! category: WHAT A LITERARY CHARACTER! (27-01-2014)
$600 clue: This character “piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage & hate felt by his whole race”
The gist: “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.” These are the words Herman Melville, through his narrator Ishmael, uses in chapter 41 of Moby-Dick to describe the earlier encounter off the coast of Japan between Captain Ahab and the titular whale, where the protagonist’s ships were destroyed and he launched himself into hand-to-hump combat with what would thereafter become, at least in his own warped mind, his eternal nemesis. Ahab would lose his leg (that he would replace with a prosthetic made of whalebone) in the fracas, and Ishmael concludes that the Captain’s obsession surrounding the white whale must have developed during his long, excruciatingly painful voyage back to Nantucket, Massachusetts. The quote encapsulates how, to the quintessentially monomaniacal Ahab, the whale represents everything evil in the world, not only his own misfortunes but everything that has ever maligned humanity, “the whole race from Adam down.” Of course, no whale can shoulder (hump?) all that burden, and Ahab’s tragic flaw is his inability to recognize that fact. The fury that he heaps on the whale will eventually be precisely what causes his downfall.
The clue: Hm. An angry man and a white whale. Could it really be anybody but Ahab? Well, the answer is no, but one of the contestants in this game responded with “Queequeg,” Ahab’s Polynesian harpooner. Queequeg actually occurred to me while watching as well (although I took the easier road and went with Ahab), purely because the writers decided to end the quote at “his whole race,” which Melville meant as the human race, not, as a modern audience is likely to think, a race of people. With Queequeg the most well-known of the Moby Dick characters for whom races comes into the play in the story, I’m inclined to ascribe some cruel motivation to the writers. I don’t see why they couldn’t have included the next three words, “from Adam down,” which would not only have been a more faithful place to end the quote given the text, but also would have made it clear that this it does not mean “race” in the sense of “racism.” A baiting question if I’ve ever seen one, but also a fine demonstration that your first instinct – usually the simpler one – is often correct.*
In Jeopardy!: Well, the quote itself has never been used in the clue, of course, but Ahab himself shows up in 25 clues, where all but four have either the Captain himself or Moby Dick as the correct response. Two are about Gregory Peck, who portrayed him in a 1956 John Huston film (co-written by Ray Bradbury of sci-fi fame), one is about his cabin-boy Pip (and the protagonist of Dickens’ Great Expectations of the same name), and one is a nautical pun on his “stern” nature. Moby Dick shows up in 122 clues, even more than a Christmas Carol. Definitely another one to know.
* Unless it isn’t.