April 10, 2013
The Native Americans have always been there, of course. The very name of the ship brings up their ghostly presence, for “Pequod, you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes.”
But extinction is not to be taken for granted. For one thing, Tashtego, the harpooner, an “unmixed Indian from Gay Head,” is a reminder that there is a living, seafaring descendant to those “proud warrior hunters” who once “had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main.”
And it is Tashtego that we see at the end of Moby-Dick, in the form of a “red arm and a hammer” which, in the act of “nailing the flag faster and yet faster” to the spar of the sinking Pequod, nails fast as well a sea-hawk, “his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag.”
It is left to Linda Hogan to tell the next installment of that story: about a Native protagonist named Thomas Just — with an A’atsika son named Marco Polo and a half-Vietnamese daughter named Lin — trying to come to terms both with the war that created that particular biracialism, and the whale-hunt that seems to carry the imperial venture of the 1960s back to the 1980s’ reservation.
Not foreseen by Melville, but probably not a complete surprise either.