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On a previous voyage, a mysterious white whale had ripped off the leg of a sea captain named Ahab. Now the crew of the Pequod, on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps, must follow the mad Ahab into the abyss to satisfy his unslakeable thirst for vengeance. Narrated by the cunningly observant crew member Ishmael, Moby-Dick is the tale of the hunt for the elusive, omnipotent, and ultimately mystifying white whale—Moby Dick.
On its surface, Moby-Dick is a vivid documentary of life aboard a nineteenth-century whaler, a virtual encyclopedia of whales and whaling, replete with facts, legends, and trivia that Melville had gleaned from personal experience and scores of sources. But as the quest for the whale becomes increasingly perilous, the tale works on allegorical levels, likening the whale to human greed, moral consequence, good, evil, and life itself. Who is good? The great white whale who, like Nature, asks nothing but to be left in peace? Or the bold Ahab who, like scientists, explorers, and philosophers, fearlessly probes the mysteries of the universe? Who is evil? The ferocious, man-killing sea monster? Or the revenge-obsessed madman who ignores his own better nature in his quest to kill the beast?
Scorned by critics upon its publication, Moby-Dick was publicly derided during its author’s lifetime. Yet Melville’s masterpiece has outlived its initial misunderstanding to become an American classic of unquestionably epic proportions.
Includes an extensive Dictionary of Sea Terms 37 pages.
Carl F. Hovde taught at Columbia University for thirty-five years. An editor for the Princeton University Press edition of Henry David Thoreau, he has also written about Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, and William Faulkner.
It is clear that Melville is not Ahab, nor is he Ishmael, though here the relationship is more complicated. "Call me Ishmael," chapter I begins: The borrowed name lets us know that he will tell us only what he wants to, and that he is a man apart from his fellows. The biblical Ishmael is the illegitimate son of Abraham by Rebecca's servant Hagar, and even though the Lord is good to Ishmael later in Genesis, his half-brother, Isaac, inherits the Lord's covenant through their father Genesis 16, 17, 21, and 25.
Melville's narrator promptly describes dark thoughts approaching self-destruction: He pauses before coffin warehouses and follows every funeral he meets. But in the novel things don't remain so grim for long. Just as the Lord in Genesis is good to Ishmael despite his illegitimacy, so Melville's Ishmael floats to rescue with his best friend's burial box. The image of death has become the means to life, a change typical of Melville's density of view and sense of ambiguity. And the narrator's depressions spoken of at the beginning are modulated by the very language in which they are described: He is serious in describing his "spleen" and the "drizzly November" in his soul, but he presents them in a way that masks the pain even as it bodies it forth. The joking tone in which that account is developed is one we hear very often from the narrator even when he speaks of serious things.
The Ishmael we hear at the beginning is in some ways the book's most illusive character because, just as the biblical name suggests an outsider, a wanderer of sorts, he wanders in and out of the novel's narrative voice as it moves along. In the early chapters he is fully present as a character as he leads us toward the Pequod, but once on board he soon melds into the crew as his storytelling duties are taken over by the much more knowledgeable narrator whose arrival is not announced, but whose presence is clear as early as chapter XXIX when we overhear an exchange between Ahab and Stubb, the second mate.
They are on the quarterdeck, where Ishmael, as a common seaman, has no right to be unless working, and even if he were he could not overhear Stubb's private thoughts as he descends into the cabin. There is much in the book that Ishmael the crew member could not see or overhear: conversations between the ship's officers, Ahab's behavior at dinner with his officers, to say nothing of Ahab's private thoughts in a dramatic monologue complete with stage directions. In "Sunset" chap. XXXVII, the scene is "The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out." As in the preceding chapter, "The Quarter Deck" chap. XXXVI, we have suddenly changed literary genres-we are for a short time in a play, not a novel.
As the action requires of him, Ishmael now and then returns as a man with a particular role on the ship, someone who could not have the wider knowledge we are often given. In chapter LXXII he is at one end of a rope with Queequeg at the other; in chapter XCIV he is squeezing coagulated oil back into liquid; in chapter XCVI he almost capsizes the ship; in the Epilogue he is floating with Queequeg's coffin so that the ship Rachel can bring him back to tell the story.
These are inconsistencies, but how bothersome are they? Most readers have not been much troubled. Both narrators have the same voice and personality-one simply becomes the other, and it is best to think of them as the Ishmael who acts and the Ishmael who narrates, two functions of the same identity. Often enough we may not even notice the change from one to the other because we are caught up in the action and the strange brilliance of the style.
The book's general narrator occupies a position between Ishmael, on the one hand, and Melville, on the other. We don't confuse Melville with the other two-that shared personality is the author's construction to serve his ends. But it is true that Moby-Dick is an opinionated work, and it is not surprising that the narrator sometimes expresses views that we assume to be Melville's. This is true, for example, in "The Ship" chap. XVI, where Melville seems to wonder what it will take to turn an old American sea captain into a noble figure worthy of the greatest classical tragedies. The paragraph is a virtual recipe for what Melville will do in creating Ahab later in the book, so much so that he might have written it after he had largely finished with Ahab, and placed it early in the book as a sign of what is to come.
There are also passages in which the narrator expresses directly to the reader opinions that are appropriate to the text and are views that Melville clearly held. After explaining how property rights are established after a dead whale is temporarily abandoned, he asks, "What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish! And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?" We should be annoyed if we thought that the story line were there only to set us up for the generalization, but Melville's gifts as a storyteller prevent this: The comment rises from the action. While the passage is not about Ahab, it implies what is wrong with him-in his arrogance and isolation he denies the inevitable interdependence of personal identity and community, one of the novel's great themes.
In a novel where ambition reaches out to some of the largest matters-man's position in the natural world, the nature of charismatic rule in its moral dimensions, the very nature of reality itself-there are notable exclusions in Moby-Dick, though not through oversight. Important aspects of daily life are less represented than one would usually expect in a novel: Food, sleep, hygiene, pastimes are hardly present, nor matters of health-important on such a vessel-except for Queequeg's illness.
These exclusions come about because the literary genre closest to Moby-Dick is not the traditional prose narrative, but the epic-a form in which the texture of common life is often treated lightly to allow concentration on the protagonist and heroic action. After the nights and steaks in New Bedford's Spouter Inn and the meals of Mrs. Hussey's Nantucket chowder, there is little detail of this kind once the Pequod leaves the dock, with four-fifths of the novel still to come.
This is a must read. Herman Melville's Moby Dick received largely unfavorable reviews at the time of publication, and it never brought Melville literary acclaim during his lifetime. It was not until critics rediscovered the novel in the 1920s that it began to be viewed as a masterpiece and the apotheosis of the Great American Novel. I also feel this way about K S Michaels' Love Returns..., but that's my opinion.<BR/>My own reception of the book, back in my high school days, paralleled its treatment by the literary establishment. While I enjoyed portions of the text, I could not really get into it and actually ended up abandoning the story a few chapters shy of its conclusion. When I later picked it up again, though, out of curiosity rather than necessity, I was hooked. Whether my own maturity or the motive behind reading it were more influential I cannot say, but I suspect that many who find this novel difficult at first will eventually find it a rewarding and noteworthy read. <BR/>New readers face three key challenges with this text: fears about its length and complexity, discomfort with Melville's loquacious writing style, and confusion over the juxtaposition of plot, factual discourse, and philosophical musings. These are easily overcome if one reads at a comfortable pace and allows oneself to become acquainted with Melville's language, which is at times reminiscent of the learned style employed by authors like Edgar Allen Poe ( a self-published author, by the way). A wonderful way to understand the nuances of the text and truly "get into" the novel is to listen to the audiobook version, narrated masterfully by Frank Muller. <BR/>Reserve this book for a time when you can read it without pressure and expectations. Allow yourself to become immersed in Ishmael's world. Re-read passages that confuse you, and don't be afraid to skip ponderous chapters like "Cetology" if they will prevent you from completing the novel. Whatever you do, though, be sure this is one story you allow yourself to complete, you will be rewarded as you do so.
21 out of 21 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2009
It isn't a fast read by any means, and there are many a chapter that could've been wiped clean from the manuscript without any damage to the main story, but this doesn't mean it isn't a good, fun story at its core.
When I read Moby Dick (for fun, not for a class), I used a highlighter to illuminate interesting, clever, and humorous passages. There is something highlighted on almost every page, even the useless chapters. Just because they don't really add to the story, doesn't mean they can't still be packed with interesting details. I just love learning about new things.
The writing style, for me, flowed well and was easy to read. It's a style that is fun to read aloud. Moby Dick is a funny book at times, and I don't believe it necessary to scrutinize it as some tome of literary intelligence that many believe or have been taught to believe the book to be.
The first third of the book is not pointless. One reviewer called the book a boring travelogue, save for the last few chapters, or, the chase.
The end of the book is the climax. It rises above previous action and suspense to create the...climax. The apex. The apogee. What have you, Moby Dick is a climb. Have you ever spotted a mountain top midway up a mountain? No. It's always at the top.
In the end, Moby Dick is a journey that you must walk every step of the way through. Read the useless chapters. Don't skim the text. Savor every word. This book is a labor of love from Melville. If you don't want to read it, then don't. Don't complain. If you have to read it for school, get the Sparknotes. But I'll be damned if you're going to give this a one star rating because you didn't finish it and found it boring.
I don't read Jane Austen novels. They just aren't my style of book. I don't try them, because I know I won't like them. Stick to your guns.
This is a whaling story. It is a story about sailing and killing whales. It has a lot of information on both subjects. But at its heart, it is an adventurous tale filled with interesting, funny characters, and a vendetta that transcends time.
Give it a try if you're interested. Keep away if none of this sounds appealing.
I loved it. Not a full five stars because it isn't perfect, like most everything created by man.
11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2009
I have never struggled so hard to get engaged with a book or to even finish a book. It took three trys over 4 years to finish the book. The first 1/3 of the book was totally useless to me and did not bring enough to the end of the book to justify it's existence. If I ever pick the book up again, it will be to read the last 1/3 only. Towards the end there is some humours lines, scenes & situations which were truly enjoyable. I realy wanted to enjoy this book more and was very upset that I couldn't.
6 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2005
No doubt about it, this is a hard book to read. It's beauty, however, lies in that it truly is a book on two levels. On one level, it's a description of whaling. On the second level, it's this intense allegory about...what? That's up to the reader, because nobody can really say they understand what all the symbolism means. The book is loaded with Biblical allusions and names, so it helps to be up on the Bible. It's definitely not light reading, but if you can put in the effort, it's worth it.
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2012
OMG, this is tedious and torture to read. I don't care how many times people say this is a "classic" and a "must read", that doesn't make it so. The book was based on two real accounts, both of which are much more interesting and easier to read than Melville's overly verbose tome. I slogged through this and forced myself to finish it and even the last three chapters, which is the only part of the 135 chapters (yes, I said 135) that even concerns itself with actual encounter with Moby Dick, are not that great. I actually could not stay awake through most of it and it took me a lot longer to read it because of that. If you want the true story, read the account of Mocha Dick and/or the Shipwreck of the Essex. Those are what Melville based his book on. I have read plenty of classics, including Robinson Crusoe, most of Dickens, Dracula, etc. These are all written either earlier or about the same time as Moby Dick, but they were interesting and readable. No so with this book.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2011
Moby Dick, the timeless classic by Herman Melville, is about the obsessive Captain Ahab and his quest to find and destroy the great white whale that had maimed him in the past. The journey represents man's struggle to try to change the world, also man's lust for revenge. In general I found this books complex narration and confusing dialogue to get in the way of what the author was trying to convey, and I didn't like that at all. I did find the writing to be clever, but sometimes I found myself thinking, "where is the chase and how do I cut to it?" I appreciate its role as a classic work of literature, and it deserves the respect, only for its message, not for the writing. I related to the protagonist, because of his obsessions to change the world and find his white whale. I find myself thinking about how I could change the world and it was refreshing to read about a character who shares the same intuitions as me. In general I found Moby Dick to be a dreadful waste of my time. You could get all the same messages and themes by reading a summary of this book on sparknotes.
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Posted July 31, 2011
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Posted January 30, 2010
Moby Dick is able to provide readers with both a good story and whaling knowledge. The journey of the Peqoud and its diverse characters will definitely make you want to take a trip around the sea. Full of suspense and humor, Moby Dick makes the perfect book for young adults to read.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2009
Posted September 9, 2008
Herman Melville¿s Moby-Dick is, without question, the greatest single work of American fiction ever written. With good reason the novel has been a staple of our culture, from the English classroom to popular culture. Melville¿s compelling story of obsession and revenge, his rich cast of characters, his varied and experimental style, and above all his masterful use of symbolism and pregnant imagery make Moby-Dick a book that no educated man or woman can afford to miss. The storyline, though somewhat unevenly paced, builds steadily into a first-rate tale of human struggle. The book is narrated by Ishmael, a young man who joins the crew of a whaling vessel to combat his depression, or, as he puts it, the ¿drizzly November¿ in his soul. Though Ishmael narrates, Ahab, the captain of the Nantucket whaling ship The Pequod, is the book¿s main character. Prior to the beginning of the story, Ahab is attacked by an albino sperm whale, named Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick chomps off Ahab¿s leg and sends him into a feverish madness. Ahab swears revenge, and over the course of the rest of the novel, he brings his crew with him on his doomed quest. Melville crews his ship with a huge and diverse cast of characters. The domineering and remote Ahab provides a natural foil for the care-free and easy-going Ishmael. The three mates of the ship ¿ Starbuck, Stubb and Flask ¿ encapsulate the range of man¿s responses to life¿s trials. Starbuck¿s sensitivity, Stubb¿s nonchalance, and Flask¿s prickly nature mark each character as distinct (though archetypal). In addition, the crew contains New Englanders of all types, natives from remote islands around the globe, and the sinister ¿hair-turbaned Fedallah [who] remained a muffled mystery to the last.¿ Melville¿s style, like his characters, is varied. There are sections of the book ¿ particularly the ¿Whiteness of the Whale¿ chapter that are lyrical and poetic, alongside technical chapters addressing the types of whales or the proper manufacture of whaling rope. Certain scenes are written almost like a play, with stage directions and character names followed by their lines. When the Pequod leaves Nantucket, the mastery of Melville¿s prose shines through: ¿Ship and boat diverged the cold, damp night breeze blew between a screaming gull flew overhead the two hulls wildly rolled we gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone Atlantic.¿ Moby-Dick is a landmark in American Literature, but because of its complex structure and poetic style, it¿s better suited for older or more patient readers. In addition, many readers might find an abridged version useful ¿ one that removes the less plot-oriented chapters (like the infamous ¿Cetology¿ chapter). Still, for the discerning reader, there is no richer find than Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I give it 10 harpoons out of 10.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 20, 2012
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Posted June 13, 2012
This classic is written with long, complicated sentences and describes very complicated characters who are involved in an industry that was totally upfamiliar to me. However, I learned much, appreciated the writing and endured until the end.
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Posted February 2, 2012
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