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Moby Dick Vs. Jaws Essay

Moby Dick, one of the greatest works of American literature written, and Jaws, one of the nations top selling blockbuster movies, can both be considered masterpieces of their time. Written by different authors, in completely different time frames, these two classics still manage to share dozens of similar themes and plots. Perhaps Jaws was written off from Moby Dick, but the differences between the two make it hard to tell.

To describe the character similarities between Moby Dick and Jaws, the easiest between the two to compare are probably Ishmael, a common sailor aboard the Pequod, and Brody, the Sheriff of Amity Island. These two characters both have a definite aura of goodness about them. Although anything but sinless and perfect, the two both seem to be able to judge things without prejudice, and have a very clear sense of right from wrong.

Ishmael is one of the few characters in Moby Dick who is able to pull away from the overwhelming excitement of hunting down the white whale. He cannot completely ignore this atmosphere, but is still capable of seeing the danger and obsession that the voyage and its sailors present. In Jaws, after the first shark attack, Chief Brody immediately tries to close down the beaches to prevent more deaths. However, because of the greed present among its constituents and imminent danger to the welfare of the town, his actions are terminated.

When still more citizens become victim to the white shark, the blame is quickly shifted from the cause, to Sheriff Brody. Ishmael and the Chief also share the quality of a likeness to immortality. Of the entire crew of the Pequod, Ishmael is the lone survivor, saved only by the coffin of his close friend. In the movie, both characters Brody and Matt Hooper are able to escape from death, while the lives of Quint, Alex, the young woman and a few others are all lost.

The dual characters of Ahab, captain of the Pequod, and Quint, master of the Orca, also have much in common. Both individuals specialize in killing fish, one with whales, and the other mainly with sharks. From the moment Ahab is introduced, his obsession with killing Moby Dick is clear. From his motivational words of Moby Dick’s death to his crew, to offering gold coins for whoever succeeded in killing the whale, Ahab’s revenge to his enemy is obvious.

In Jaws, Quint is more interested in the money he receives from the island of Amity, then the reality of his job. He remains skeptic and refuses to guarantee much throughout the first half of the movie, but his obsession to kill the only intelligent shark he has ever seen continues to grow. Both characters eventually die because of this shared trait of obsession, and the existence of their ships and crew pay dearly as well.

Queequeg is one of the most definite symbols of loyalty in the entire book of Moby Dick. He first takes Ishmael under his wing, insures him a job aboard the Pequod, and repeatedly shows his generosity and patience to mankind. Queequeg’s character also showed intense beliefs, and stubbornness for those ideas he followed. When Ahab refuses to help the captain of the Rachel find his lost son, Queequeg refuses to keep harpooning aboard the ship. The personality of Matthew Hooper shares little with that of Queequeg.

He cares not for the lives of those in Amity, he boards the Orca only for his passion of learning about sharks. His traits are not kind and generous, because he continued to pick arguments with Brody and Quint. However, Hooper and Queequeg shared the quality of stubbornness. From the refusal to help Ahab after he abandons Pip, to the insistence of bringing the shark cage aboard the Orca, these two characters continually demonstrate their willfulness. Another thing they have in common is their expertise. Queequeg is paid an obscene amount of money for his ability to harpoon whales easily, and Hooper, who has studied for years about the characteristics and attributes of sharks, mainly the great white.

The Pequod versus the Orca is one of the easiest comparisons between Moby Dick, and Jaws. The two ships were different in size and structure obviously, and they differed in the their capabilities, but they shared the similarity of hunting down fish/whales. The two vessels were also both destroyed by the worst enemies of their captains, unusually large, vicious creatures of the sea.

Peleg and Bildad versus the Mayor of Amity Island shared dozens of qualities, most of which were not good. Greed, obsession with money, and indifference to the loss of life are just a few. Peleg and Bildad, co-captains of the Pequod were very much interested in the profit of the voyage, and the amount of oil it captured. These qualities were not considered to be good ones, but they did help to distract Ahab from his obsession with the death of Moby Dick.

The mayor of Amity always displayed intense concern for the welfare of his city, but not necessarily for the safety of the people who lived there. He continually ignored the death caused by shark attack, and instead focused on the blow to the financial situation of Amity that closed beaches would produce. Easy to shift blame and eager for the chance of wealth, these characters showed some of the ever-present and less gracious characteristics of human nature.

Starbuck, the first mate of Ahab, and Mikey, Chief Brody’s son, remained throughout both stories a symbol of innocence and a sort of conscience to the rest of the town and crew. To the Sheriff Brody, his son reminded him of what his duty was, and why exactly it was so important to finish his duty. Perhaps without his own sons to think of, he would never have been so quick to close the Amity beaches or have ventured out onto the Orca in the voyage to kill the shark. Starbuck repeatedly tried to warn Ahab of what danger the ship and it’s crew were in as the chased Moby Dick.

However, the captain let his warning go unheeded, resulting in the sinking of the Pequod and the deaths of all the sailors. Starbuck was another character that always seemed good. He seemed always concerned about the profit made on the voyage, and whether it was his safety alone or that of the whole crew, he kept it in mind at all times. Just as Mikey reminded Brody of his obligation to the town of Amity, Starbuck tried to remind Ahab that the lives of all aboard the Pequod rested in his hands alone, and his actions could either keep them alive, or kill them. Mikey and Starbuck were of different ages, and had different relationships with characters but they did share the same mission. Mikey did little, but he still succeeded, while Starbuck did everything but kill Ahab and failed.

Moby Dick, the white whale whose existence seemed to mock Ahab for all eternity, and Jaws, the predator of swimmers of offshore Amity Island, shared two huge details. One being that they were both inhuman. No matter what adjectives were used to describe them, or what kind of personality and brains they supposedly had, both characters were animals. Both were able to survive mainly by instinct that their bodies held from millions of years of adaptation. Their lives depended on food, and neither knew the difference between human and fish, only that both were easy prey.

When attacked both of these animals reacted with sense that had been ingrained into them through generations alone. They too attacked. The action of fleeing, although highly successful was something that these kings of the deep were not programmed to do. By sinking ships and killing people, they were restoring their dominance of the sea, and protecting themselves form danger.

In both the cases of Moby Dick and Jaws, the fish were probably killed, but not before they succeeded in destroying small parts of the symbols of human power. Another shared quality between these two creatures was their description of white. White being a color mainly of innocence and youth, to bestow it upon two species who had caused such damage and death seemed odd. The White Whale, and the Great White Shark, both sharing the title of white was one discreet way of the authors showing the animalistic attitudes of these characters, instead of being purely evil.

The two pieces of work, Jaws, and Moby Dick clearly shared not only character similarities, but also themes, plots, and setting. Three of the most distinct themes of both are those of the vastness of the sea, the evilness of human nature, and above all survival of the fittest. The sea, in both works helps to show the danger of the voyages. Sometimes friend, and others foe, the sea remains a constant reminder that mother nature rules above anything that man can build. To go out into the sea instantly provides danger. Both vessels of the Pequod and the Orca moved out onto the high seas with no way of communicating back with civilization. Without it possible to call for help, and very much alone, the people aboard the ships placed their lives in fate’s hands, ultimately depending on the kindness of Mother Nature.

Unlike most authors, Herman Melville and Peter Bentley made it clear in their works about one belief they shared. That human nature has an evil side to it, one that can be brought out in the qualities of obsession and greed. The offer of money and revenge can often provoke people to do things they wouldn’t normally consider. Present aboard the Pequod, and through the eyes of the Mayor of Amity, this theme is repeatedly shown, reminding us that spontaneous greed and revenge are qualities that everyone possesses, but are not often shown until the moment of truth.

The last common theme between Moby Dick, and Jaws, is survival of the fittest. No matter how hard people try, it almost always comes down to man ruling over beast. Not because the human race is stronger or has more endurance, but only because they have the use of our brains. Comprehensive thinking was the only way the white shark was killed, and if it had been left to instinct alone, the crew of the Pequod and Orca would have never stood a chance. This idea of survival of the fittest remains the truth of human nature. It is only because of the ability to reason the we remain at the top of the food chain, and the only reason the voyage of the Orca ended in success.

The settings of Moby Dick and Jaws are not exactly the same, but they do have many similarities. For the majority of the time, the setting is inside a boat, out in the ocean with no way to contact help. Both have the plot of killing one animal in particular, and in both works the characters are in grave danger. However, these two books differ in time frame. Moby Dick takes place in the 1800’s, while Jaws occurs somewhere in the late 1970’s.

One of Herman Melville’s tricks to make his novel a little more interesting (although it didn’t really succeed) was to use duality, making some objects have more than one meaning, like the whiteness of the whale, and it’s symbolism of evil. Another example of duality in Moby Dick was the Spanish gold coin that was offered as a reward for whoever harpooned the great white whale.

The coin itself stood for wealth, but at the same time it showed how far people would go, and how much they would risk for wealth, and the power that came along with it. Melville tried to show the greed of mankind with the coin, and he also used it as a symbol of hope. In Jaws, the pressurized air tanks were at first only a luxury, Quint considered them to be dead weight, and never wanted aboard the Orca. However, near the end of the movie, it was the air tanks that finally destroyed the white shark, so they came in handy after all.

Moby Dick and Jaws were written by different authors during different time periods. The two however have much in common, not only plot and character-wise, but also in their ability to become and prevail as American classics. Authors and critics have analyzed both works, comparing their similarities and difference. They have torn apart each sentence and clip looking for symbolism and hidden meanings that perhaps were never there or meant to be noticed.

Despite the resemblances these two pieces share, there is one thing that binds them together more than all the similes and themes people have dug out ever could or have. The literary work of Herman Melville kept Moby Dick as a time-honored classic for writers and students for almost one hundred years. The special effects and suspense of Jaws will keep it at the top of the charts for probably a long time still. No matter how much critiquing is done on these works by English professors, it is the action and the fact that students are forced to read them that help these pieces remain at the top and keep the title of ‘American Classics.’

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