Trips and Readings from the Split House: Melville, Stone, Moby Dick, and Platoon

In this essay, Oliver Stone’s film Platoon is compared to Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick as stories in which two protagonists, Chris and Ishmael, leave their homeland on a perilous voyage. Ishmael joins the whaling Pequod, seeking whales in the world’s oceans, while Chris goes to combat in the Vietnam woods. The conflicts of their split homeland, the United States of America, are present in both storylines. Platoon depicts the daily battle of a small unit in a military film where fighting sequences are central. Multi-ethnic troops conducting search and destroy operations reflect socioeconomic tensions in the US. Platoon is on the lookout for a tenacious and defiant foe of American science and military might. The novel Moby Dick is a metaphorical depiction of a divided America and Captain Ahab, who is obsessed with avenging himself on the White Whale. Platoon and Pequod are destroyed by American policy in Vietnam, much like Moby Dick. Using Michel Onfray as a guide, we view both stories as journeys that begin in a library and whose heroes imitate the Greek Achilles’ gesture of fleeing a comfortable home life for the dangers of the world on their way to immortality. Whether in Pequod or Platoon, our heroes take the risk of eventually maturing with the help of a metaphorical family of brothers. Ahab and Barnes, their symbolic parents, are castrating, tyrannical, and oppressive. The heroes’ complete independence occurs when they meet and eliminate their symbolic parents, bringing an end to their round trip back to the home from which they had set out.

Author (S) Details

Jose Mauricio Saldanha-Alvarez
Cultural Studies and Media Department, Federal Fluminense University, Brazil.
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