tall ship with its sails furled and mountains in the distance

Herman Melville, Curiosity, and Banishing Fear

Herman Melville was an eminently curious man. He sought out new experiences of all kinds, especially the company of people who were unlike himself. This is probably, other than a paycheck, what mainly drew him to the sea. 

Around the watery world, Melville lived before the mast in the forecastle, getting to know well the ways of sailors from disparate parts of the globe: Polynesians from across the Pacific, men from the Azores and the rest of the North Atlantic islands, people from every corner of Europe and the Americas, and everywhere in between. And he did not limit himself to just one type of boats, having sailed out on whalers, merchantmen, and naval vessels, and experiencing life under a bevy of different captains who all had their own peculiar way of organizing life aboard. He even jumped ship, living for months amongst ostensible cannibals in the Marquesas.

Through all these experiences, Melville had come to know that so many of the world’s anxieties and animosities derived from a failure of understanding. And he no doubt took as a personal maxim that ignorance is the parent of fear. So, it comes as no surprise that so much of his writing worked to dispel the prejudices of the world and breakdown the barriers between cultures.

Melville actually gives us the quote, “ignorance is the parent of fear,” in the third chapter of Moby Dick at the memorable Spouter Inn. There, Ishmael is awash in worry at the bearing, possessions, and rumors of his new roommate, the harpooner Queequeg. Trying to calm himself amidst swirling fears, Ishmael reminds himself that “ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at the dead of night.”

As we come to find out in Moby Dick, Ishmael’s fears of Queequeg were unfounded, and the two go on to become the closest of friends. And, so, once again, ignorance has proved to be the parent of fear. It is a powerful thought that, almost always proves to be true. It is in celebration of Melville’s spirit, his openness to and curiosity about the world, that we made this design. And it is meant for anyone who rejects prejudice and racism, anyone who seeks out difference and new experience, and anyone who simply loves the words of Herman Melville and Moby Dick.