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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
Third Web Paper
A story is composed of many parts, some necessary and some to add meaning. What are necessary are characters, a setting, a conflict, and a resolution. To add meaning an author may include complicated histories to their characters' lives, underlying themes, value within the setting, and surprising twists within the conflicts and resolutions. Because this outline is generally used throughout fictional stories, many, even if written in completely different genres and time periods, are alike and can be compared. This is because through technological and social changes, themes such as man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature, and man vs. society remain constant. Newer authors such as Chuck Palahniuk are considered post modern; he must create art in a world where everything that could possibly be original has already been created. Therefore he is expected to take what has been done and make it better. Thus, he combines themes from Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife to make Diary. Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick in the nineteenth century to narrate a story of a man who battles the world in search of himself. It is hinted that he left a wife behind and selfishly sacrifices his fellow humans because he can only see his one goal: capturing the white whale. Sena Jeter Naslund took the idea that Ahab had a wife and created Ahab's Wife (1999), which gives birth to many characters and similar themes. Most of this novel details Una's life before she met Ahab, but also includes her absent husband a great deal and illustrated their relationship while he is present as well as after he leaves. In both novels the inner turmoil of man dominates, creating similar backgrounds, lives, and goals for both Ahab and his wife Una. Chuck Palahniuk, a nouveaux shock fiction writer, also writes with man vs. himself (sometimes literally), man vs. society, and man vs. nature permeated throughout in order to create his novels. By combining character traits, settings, conflicts, and resolutions, one can easily understand how, though the world has evolved, the underlying themes of fiction have not.
Within the plots of the three novels there are many similarities. Diary is a fictional story written as a series of diary entries. Misty is keeping this diary as suggested by her comatose husband's mother; "It's what sailors and their wives used to do . . . It's a treasured old seafaring tradition . . . when they come back together, the sailors and wives, they trade diaries to catch up on what they missed" (Palahniuk 39). Misty is a wife left behind by her husband who tried to kill himself but failed, only putting him in a perpetual coma. Ahab left his wife to find himself and ended up, in a sense, committing suicide by chasing the whale.
Diary mirrors Una's story more than Ahab's does because we are reading the reactions of the woman left behind and how she views the life of the man who left her. Misty includes memories of the life that she and her husband, Peter, had together when her life was normal. Una is able to describe Ahab as the man she fell in love with before he left her, and after he lost his leg and went insane, when she decided to leave him.
Misty and Ahab are both viewed as outcasts of the society that they must live in. Ahab outcasts himself at first, calling himself Ishmael and by living with the personality that he does. Misty also chose to be an outcast, but it was because she wanted a better life for herself; therefore, she married into a wealthy family and moved onto an island where "old" money and traditions abounded.
Though they have physical, emotional, and mental weaknesses, in both Melville's and Palahniuk's books, the main characters lose the use of a leg. Ahab lost his in a whaling accident and Misty tripped over a rug and dislocating her knee. He is fixed with a wooden replacement and she has a full leg cast put on her. In both cases neither character allows this to stop them from reaching their goal, even if in insanity. This shows that even though a person may have obstacles thrown at them, if they are passionate enough, they will succeed.
Another boundary that all the characters must face is the sea. It acts as a boundary for Misty between the life she could have and the life she is living. Therefore she hates the sea but still looks at it longingly, reveling in its massive beauty. Ahab sees the sea as something to be controlled and conquered, which is why it conquers him in return. Una respects the sea and uses it as her means of escape into the world. She fears it and, through this fear, lives through every voyage.
Furthermore, the characters are constantly battling with themselves. Oftentimes they have inner confusion as to what they should do in order to survive. Ahab states that whenever he starts to get depressed he goes to sea. We also watch him struggle over every decision he has to make, until he loses his leg and does only what he wants to. Una struggles with love and her morals. For a long time she cannot decide whom she loves between two of the sailors she goes to sea with. Also, when the crew must choose between cannibalism for survival or deadly starvation, Una watches the cabin boy and the captain die for this cause. She chooses survival, but battles with the guilt she feels from this event for the rest of her life. Misty also battles the guilt of leaving her impoverished mother behind to live a dream. After her husband attempts suicide she must choose between working as a waitress to make enough money to live on, or follow her dream to become an artist like the entire island wants her to.
In conclusion, the basic themes of these novels can be compared in parallel. All artists are influenced and inspired by previous artists, and the concept of suffering, something that all humans must endure at some time in their lives, is a muse unlike any other. Melville, Naslund, and Palahniuk all tell the story of an outsider who searches for the meaning in their lives, narrating the good and the bad in their past and present. Melville wrote his story in a time that was much less technologically advanced than our time, and his novel reflects that. Naslund wrote Ahab's Wife five years ago, but the language and plot reflected Melville's era. Palahniuk took the ideas and themes presented in both works, as well as many other of the time, and crafted his own, modern story of suffering and individuality. Even though our society has evolved into a world of computers and drugs for everything problem, authors still have the capability to revert back to a time well past.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, 2002.
Naslund, Sena Jeter. Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer. Perennial. New York, NY, 1999.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Diary A Novel. Doubleday. New York, 2003.
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