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Rod Espinosa's creative graphic depiction (Magic Wagon, 2007) of Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a great way to introduce elementary age children to the classic as well as a terrific learning tool for middle school ESL students and exceptional children who struggle with reading. This interactive program allows students to read and listen to the book at their own pace. Narration can be turned on or off. When the text is read, dialogue panels are highlighted and enlarged. Sound effects and music enhance the text, and the graphics are excellent. Well organized with a table of contents, glossary, and brief multiple-choice quiz, this graphic novel ibook can be navigated easily by the youngest students.-Beverly S. Almond, Moore Square Museums Magnet Middle School, Raleigh, NC
Call me Ishmael. This resonant opening of Moby-Dick, the greatest novel in American literature, announces the narrator, Herman Melville, as he with a measure of slyness thought of himself. In the Scriptures Ishmael, a wild man sired by the overwhelming patriarch Abraham, was nevertheless the bastard son of a serving girl Hagar. The author himself was the offspring of two distinguished American families, the Melvilles of Boston and the Gansevoorts of Albany.
Melville's father cast something of a blight on the family escutcheon by his tendency to bankruptcy which passed down to his son. Dollars damn me, the son was to say over and over. When he sat down in the green landscape of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to compose Moby-Dick he was in debt, the father of one son, and another to be born a few days after the publication of the novel in England.
Melville had published five novels previous to Moby-Dick; the first two did well, and then with the capriciousness of the public the subsequent novels failed to please. He was a known literary figure with a fading reputation. How he came upon the courage to undertake the challenging creation of the epical battle between a sea creature, a white whale called Moby Dick, and an old captain from Nantucket by the name of Ahab is one of literature's triumphant mysteries. Add to that, as one reads, that he was only thirty-two years old.
Ten years before, in 1841, he had signed up as a common seaman on the whaling vessel Acushnet bound for the South Seas. Young Ishmael was drawn by the lure of the sea and by the wonder of the whale itself, the Leviathan, the monarch of the deep, "one grand hooded phantom,like a snow hill in the air." Until the discovery of petroleum oil in 1859 and Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp in 1879, whaling was a major commercial occupation in New England. Fortunes were made, grand houses were built, often with a "widow's walk" on the roof that testified to the great dangers of the enterprise. For the crew, service on a whaler was a drastic life of unremitting labor; foul, crowded quarters; bad food in scanty servings; contractual terms for years at miserable wages; brutalized companions picked up from all the ports of the world; tyrannical captains practicing a "sultanism" which Melville abhorred. A ship afloat is after all a prison. Melville was on three whalers in his four years at sea and from each, as we read in Typee and Omoo, the struggle is to escape, as he did when the boats anchored near exotic islands. He wrote about the misery of the whaling life, but not about whaling itself until he came to Moby-Dick. His imaginary whaler, the Pequod, death bound as it is, would be called, for an ordinary seaman, an agreeable berth. Ahab has no interest left beyond his internal struggle with one whale.
Still, there is whaling, the presumption of it. When a whale is sighted small boats are detached from the main vessel and the men engage in a deadly battle to try to match, with flying harpoons, the whale's immense strength and desperation. If the great thing is captured, the deck of the main ship becomes an abattoir of blood and guts. The thick blubber is to be stripped, the huge head to be drained of its oils for soothing ambergris, for candles; the bones of the carcass make their way into corsets and umbrellas and scrimshaw trinkets. Moby-Dick is a history of cetology, an encylopedic telling of the qualities of the fin-back, the right whale, the hyena whale, the sperm whale, the killer whale, classified by size in mock academic form as folio, octavo, and so on.
Information about a vanished world is one thing, but, above all else, this astonishing book is a human tragedy of almost supernatural suspensiveness, written in a rushing flow of imaginative language, poetical intensity, metaphor and adjective of consuming beauty. It begins on the cobbled streets of New Bedford, where Ishmael is to spend a few days before boarding the Pequod in Nantucket. The opening pages have a boyish charm as he is brought to share a bed with a fellow sailor, the harpooner Queequeg, an outrageously tattoed "primitive" who will be his companion throughout the narrative. Great ships under sail gave the old ports a rich heritage of myth, gossip, exaggeration, and rhetorical flights. Ishmael, on a Sunday, visits a whaleman's chapel to hear the incomparable sermon by Father Mapple on Jonah and the whale, a majestic interlude, one of many in this torrential outburst of fictional genius.
As Ishmael and Queequeg proceed to Nantucket, the shadows of the plot begin to fall upon the pages. The recruits are interviewed by two retired sailors who will struggle to express the complicated nature of Captain Ahab. We learn that he has lost a leg, chewed off by a whale, and thus the fated voyage of the Pequod begins. Ahab has lost his leg to a white whale Moby Dick and is consumed with a passion for retribution. He will hunt the singular whale as a private destiny in the manner of ancient kings in a legendary world. However, Ahab is real and in command. The chief mate, Starbuck, understands the folly of the quest, the danger of it, and, as a thoughtful man longing to return to his wife and children, he will speak again and again the language of reason. "Vengeance on a dumb beast that simply smote thee from the blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
The necessity of Starbuck's human distance from the implacable imperative of Ahab's quest illustrates the brilliant formation of this harrowing tale. But it is Ahab's story, his destiny, and, if on the one hand, he is a shabby, sea-worn sailor long mesmerized by mercurial oceans, he too has a wife at home and a child of his old age. We learn, as the story proceeds, that on a time ashore after his terrible wounding, he had fallen and by way of his whalebone leg been unmanned. He has suffered an incapacity not to be peacefully borne by one who in forty years had spent only three on land. Ahab knows the wild unsuitability of his nature, his remove from the common life.
Chapter I: Loomings
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs -- commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the Battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see? -- are wedded for ever.
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies -- what is the one charm wanting? -- Water -- there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus , who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick -- grow quarrelsome -- don't sleep of nights -- do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing -- no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever to go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook, -- though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board -- yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls -- though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids.
N o, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal masthead. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tarpot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time.
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scale of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who aint a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about -- however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way -- either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and be content.
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid, -- what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!
Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it. But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way -- he can better answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I t ake it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:
Grand Contested Election for the
Presidency of the United States.
WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.
Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces -- though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it -- would they let me -- since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was we lcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, midmost of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster Inc.
1. What is the significance of the whale? What do you think Melville intends in developing such a vicious antagonism between Ahab and the whale?
2. How does the presence of Queequeg, particularly his status as a "savage, " inform the novel? How does Melville depict this cultural clash?
3. How does whaling as an industry function metaphorically throughout the novel? Where does man fit in in this scenario?
4. Melville explores the divide between evil and virtue, justice and vengeance throughout the novel. What, ultimately, is his conclusion? What is Ahab's?
5. What do you think of the role, if any, played by religion in the novel? Do you think religious conventions are replaced or subverted in some way? Discuss.
6. Discuss the novel's philosophical subtext. How does this contribute to the basic plot involving Ahab's search for the whale? Is this Ishmael's purpose in the novel?
7. Discuss the role of women in the novel. What does their conspicuous absence mean in the overall context of the novel?
Posted February 8, 2004
After reading the previous reader reveiws, I'll be brief and to the point. This book should not be read by eighth graders or other persons who are not at the top of their game with regard to their ability to read dificult text. I am over 50 years old and chose to read it for myself, although I found it very intimidating to start. The importance of the detail is when one considers Moby as God or nature the details are an attempt to understand the whale aka God and it can't be done. Now do you get it? Nobody can understand God and consequently nobody can understand the symbol of God as portrayed in this miraculous novel. I will indeed miss reading it.
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Posted August 16, 2003
We have all heard the story of the infamous encounter between Captain Ahab and his nemesis Moby-Dick. I understood it to be a classic and began to read it even though I already saw the movie. The first few chapters had that ominous feeling (Melvilles' brilliant foreshadowing) and purported to promise better things to come. Well, they didn't. Instead Melville drolls on frivolous topics for countless chapters; he literally fills 3/4 of the book with chapters the reader can skip over and still not lose any of the story plot. It took me months to get through his book and it was not until the last three chapters that I realized why this book was a classic. The ending had such a profound impact on me that I have decided to reread Moby-Dick...though not for a long while.
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Posted March 30, 2003
O.K. I READ THE FIRST COUPLE PAGES AND MY THOUGHTS SUMMED UP; 'WHAT DID THIS GUY JUST SAY.' I MAY BE ONLY A TEENAGER, BUT WHAT'S GOOD IS GOOD SO FAR THIS IS BORING. IN ALL FAIRNESS I DIDN'T READ ALL OF IT YET SO IT MIGHT TURN AROUND(I HOPE IT DOES)SO I GAVE IT 3.5 STARS NOT 4 LIKE IT SAYS AT THE TOP.
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Posted September 26, 2009
The greatest novel in American literature, Moby Dick is as massive and inscrutable as the White Whale of the title. This is a book with the primal logic of a dream and the timelessness of myth. The characters themselves have become legend; the restless sailor Ishmael, the noble savage Queegueg, stalwart first mate Starbuck, and Captain Ahab, a man of fearful determination and charisma. Ahab stands as one of the great tragic heroes and he is characterized with the emotional grandeur and raw force of Hamlet or Lucifer. I will note that no one says or does anything that remotely resembles what a normal person would do or say. The dialogue and narrative is instead presented in complex, stately, refined, and operatic terms. It is clear that Melville intended this to be an epic. The characters are appropriately larger than life.
I will say that this book is not for everyone, and many complain that it is boring and ponderous. Be forewarned that Herman Melville spends half the chapters describing the minutiae of life on a 19th century whaling ship. Yet even these plot-less chapters on such topics as rendering blubber to oil contain philosophical depth and striking grace. Have patience and you will be rewarded. It seems Melville sought to encompass everything in his novel; all of humanity can be found on board the Pequod. We drift through our days and nights on the immense unknowable sea of life, driven forth by those in power, hunting elusive goals for reasons we cannot define, all of us doomed men.
It should be noted that this review covers the Modern Library hardcover edition of this book. I cannot praise it enough. It is simply and handsomely presented, sturdy, and contains all of Rockwell Kent's striking and detailed 1930 line drawn illustrations. This book is a fine edition to any personal library.
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Posted April 4, 2005
Oh my goodness! I cannot belive how descriptive this Heman Melville is. Moby Dick was critiqued as two big thumbs down when it was originally released. It wasn't until after his death some description madman read it and promoted it to The first American Novel Genius. It should have stayed in the gutters. The story itself is interesting but way too many side streets. I'm on page 433 and they still haven't seen the dang whale. Way too long, way too descriptive. Im going to the library to get the sound recording, just so I can say I finished it. One thing I can say is this book will defintley improve your vocabulary. I needed a dictionary by my side. If you are going to tackle this monster (Pun intended) I recommend the soundrecording, too keep your sanity.
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Posted May 22, 2002
This book is so up to past that I couldn't take my eyes off the page.I just whanted to keep on reading.This is a great book for a person looking for a sea adventure.
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Posted July 11, 2008
I have to read this book for summer reading and I hate it. I have not yet finished, but I am struggling through every page! I came up with a schedule on how many chapters I have to read, otherwise I would never be able to finish! One of the worse books I have ever read.
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Posted June 13, 2005
This book is perhaps one of the best I have ever read. If for sheer style alone this book is awe inspiring. The narative talent of Melville is like that of Hugo, supurfluous yet strikingly beautiful. An emotionally compelling read there is so much depth to be found within these pages and so much to learn of human nature, and put so eloquently. Melville truely does have a silver pen!
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Posted August 16, 2013
Posted May 10, 2012
this book is full of detail and i love how it was written my favorite charecter in this book is captain ahab once you read the book from start to finish you will see why i love and cherish this book that is a great work of art
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Posted June 10, 2010
I haven't actually ready this particular copy, edition or what have you. It was one I grabbed for the cover for my e-library. I read Moby Dick awhile back in hard cover form from the local library. I never read it in school and always prided myself for getting out of reading book assignments.(so many regrets) Moby Dick is a great book. It is a bit long, and I always joke you could take 200 pages out and still have a good story. It is a famous classic that will live on forever. There are some great quotes in the book. Two of my favorate have even made it into Star Trek shows and movies. Gene Roddenberry was a fan of the book and references to Moby Dick are found thoughout the Star Trek universe. If you've never read it, read it. If you haven't got time or patients read an abridged version. Melville can be a bit wordy but then with out words books would be just blank paper. The characters are good and there has been much discussion about some of the scenes and what if any thing Mevlille was implying.
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Posted May 20, 2014
Posted July 2, 2013
Seems silly to comment on a classic, but it's nostalgic to re-read something like this and see how great writing remains great.
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Posted August 25, 2012
Posted December 2, 2003
this book was expertly writen and i loved it it pulls you in with details of the ocean and the people and how the air smelled and the whaling adventures are extrodinary!
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Posted September 13, 2000
Ah, yes, MOBY....I personally loved the book. Sure, there were lots digressions on the procedures of whaling and other little irrevelent stuff, but what people don't realize is that all the extremely abstruse messages in MOBY need to be hidden. If you strip away all the other stuff, the themes will just be too straight-forward and the reader probably will get a philosophical overload. Plus, is it just me or does anybody else find this book humorous too? I mean, come on, how can one NOT laugh at some of the language that Melville chooses to use? Brilliant! Brilliant! And another thing for people who are reading this as an assignment: read MOBY to read and understand it. DO NOT read it just to say in the end that you've read one of the greatest novels in Ame. history. B/c if you go about it in a more accepting manner, you'll find yourself comprehending it a lot better. If you accomplish this, you will also discover that MOBY is everything you'll EVER need on exam essays. It encompasses so many things: meaning of life, democracy, societal influences, human emotion & spirit, realization of truth--just to name a few. So go! Go read this book. Dance a little jig after you're done.
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Posted October 13, 2014
Posted October 10, 2014
Posted October 8, 2014