About the Author
Date of Birth:August 1, 1819
Date of Death:September 28, 1891
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15
Read an Excerpt
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 asnow 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.
Table of Contents
|Chapter 2||The Carpet-Bag||22|
|Chapter 3||The Spouter-Inn||26|
|Chapter 4||The Counterpane||41|
|Chapter 6||The Street||47|
|Chapter 7||The Chapel||50|
|Chapter 8||The Pulpit||53|
|Chapter 9||The Sermon||56|
|Chapter 10||A Bosom Friend||65|
|Chapter 16||The Ship||83|
|Chapter 17||The Ramadan||97|
|Chapter 18||His Mark||103|
|Chapter 19||The Prophet||107|
|Chapter 20||All Astir||111|
|Chapter 21||Going Aboard||113|
|Chapter 22||Merry Christmas||117|
|Chapter 23||The Lee Shore||121|
|Chapter 24||The Advocate||122|
|Chapter 26||Knights and Squires||128|
|Chapter 27||Knights and Squires||131|
|Chapter 29||Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb||139|
|Chapter 30||The Pipe||142|
|Chapter 31||Queen Mab||143|
|Chapter 33||The Specksynder||159|
|Chapter 34||The Cabin-Table||162|
|Chapter 35||The Mast-Head||168|
|Chapter 36||The Quarter-Deck, Ahab and All||174|
|Chapter 39||First Night-Watch||185|
|Chapter 40||Midnight, Forecastle||186|
|Chapter 42||The Whiteness of the Whale||203|
|Chapter 44||The Chart||213|
|Chapter 45||The Affidavit||218|
|Chapter 47||The Mat-Maker||230|
|Chapter 48||The First Lowering||233|
|Chapter 49||The Hyena||243|
|Chapter 50||Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah||245|
|Chapter 51||The Spirit-Spout||248|
|Chapter 52||The Albatross||252|
|Chapter 53||The Gam||254|
|Chapter 54||The Town-Ho's Story||259|
|Chapter 55||Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales||279|
|Chapter 56||Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, etc.||284|
|Chapter 57||Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; etc.||288|
|Chapter 60||The Line||296|
|Chapter 61||Stubb Kills a Whale||300|
|Chapter 62||The Dart||305|
|Chapter 63||The Crotch||306|
|Chapter 64||Stubb's Supper||308|
|Chapter 65||The Whale As a Dish||316|
|Chapter 66||The Shark Massacre||318|
|Chapter 67||Cutting In||320|
|Chapter 68||The Blanket||322|
|Chapter 69||The Funeral||325|
|Chapter 70||The Sphynx||327|
|Chapter 71||The Jeroboam's Story||329|
|Chapter 72||The Monkey-Rope||335|
|Chapter 73||Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale, etc.||340|
|Chapter 74||The Sperm Whale's Head-Contrasted View||345|
|Chapter 75||The Right Whale's Head-Contrasted View||350|
|Chapter 76||The Battering-Ram||353|
|Chapter 77||The Great Heidelburgh Tun||355|
|Chapter 78||Cistern and Buckets||357|
|Chapter 79||The Praire||361|
|Chapter 80||The Nut||364|
|Chapter 81||The Pequod Meets the Virgin||366|
|Chapter 82||The Honor and Glory of Whaling||378|
|Chapter 83||Jonah Historically Regarded||381|
|Chapter 85||The Fountain||385|
|Chapter 86||The Tail||391|
|Chapter 87||The Grand Armada||395|
|Chapter 88||Schools and Schoolmasters||408|
|Chapter 89||Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish||411|
|Chapter 90||Heads or Tails||415|
|Chapter 91||The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud||418|
|Chapter 93||The Castaway||428|
|Chapter 94||A Squeeze of the Hand||432|
|Chapter 95||The Cassock||436|
|Chapter 96||The Try-Works||437|
|Chapter 97||The Lamp||442|
|Chapter 98||Stowing Down and Clearing Up||443|
|Chapter 99||The Doubloon||446|
|Chapter 100||The Pequod Meets the Samuel Enderby of London||452|
|Chapter 101||The Decanter||459|
|Chapter 102||A Bower in the Arsacides||464|
|Chapter 103||Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton||468|
|Chapter 104||The Fossil Whale||471|
|Chapter 105||Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?||475|
|Chapter 106||Ahab's Leg||479|
|Chapter 107||The Carpenter||482|
|Chapter 108||Ahab and the Carpenter||485|
|Chapter 109||Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin||489|
|Chapter 110||Queequeg in His Coffin||492|
|Chapter 111||The Pacific||498|
|Chapter 112||The Blacksmith||499|
|Chapter 113||The Forge||502|
|Chapter 114||The Gilder||505|
|Chapter 115||The Pequod Meets the Bachelor||507|
|Chapter 116||The Dying Whale||510|
|Chapter 117||The Whale Watch||512|
|Chapter 118||The Quadrant||513|
|Chapter 119||The Candles||516|
|Chapter 120||The Deck||523|
|Chapter 121||Midnight-The Forecastle Bulwarks||524|
|Chapter 122||Midnight Aloft||526|
|Chapter 123||The Musket||526|
|Chapter 124||The Needle||530|
|Chapter 125||The Log and Line||533|
|Chapter 126||The Life-Buoy||536|
|Chapter 127||The Deck||540|
|Chapter 128||The Pequod Meets the Rachel||542|
|Chapter 129||The Cabin||546|
|Chapter 130||The Hat||548|
|Chapter 131||The Pequod Meets the Delight||552|
|Chapter 132||The Symphony||554|
|Chapter 133||The Chase-First Day||558|
|Chapter 134||The Chase-Second Day||567|
|Chapter 135||The Chase-Third Day||576|
|Criticism and Context|
|Herman Melville: A Biographical Note||590|
|Moby-Dick and Its Contemporary Reviews||607|
|Moby-Dick and Its Modern Critics||619|
|from Herman Melville||619|
|"The Tragic Meaning of Moby-Dick"||645|
|from "Herman Melville's Moby-Dick"||654|
|"The Fire Symbolism in Moby-Dick"||662|
What People are Saying About This
Winner of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show, organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books
Praise for Penguin Drop Caps:
“Vibrant, minimalist new typographic covers…. Bonus points for the heartening gender balance of the initial selections.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
"The Penguin Drop Caps series is a great example of the power of design. Why buy these particular classics when there are less expensive, even free editions of Great Expectations? Because they’re beautiful objects. Paul Buckley and Jessica Hische’s fresh approach to the literary classics reduces the design down to typography and color. Each cover is foil-stamped with a cleverly illustrated letterform that reveals an element of the story. Jane Austen’s A (Pride and Prejudice) is formed by opulent peacock feathers and Charlotte Bronte’s B (Jane Eyre) is surrounded by flames. The complete set forms a rainbow spectrum prettier than anything else on your bookshelf."
—Rex Bonomelli, The New York Times
"Classic reads in stunning covers—your book club will be dying."
Responsible to misshapen forces of his age as only men of passionate imagination are, even Melville hardly be aware of how symbolic an American hero he'd fashioned in Captain Ahab...he is the embodiment of his author's most profound response to the problem of the free individual will in extremis.
Reading Group Guide
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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!
I can't put it down!
READ IT ITS A CLASSIC!!!!!
Seems silly to comment on a classic, but it's nostalgic to re-read something like this and see how great writing remains great.
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
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.
I need help. Go to help res two and look for me.
I was engaged at the start but the many chapters on whaling definitely turned me off!
This book is about a captain that is coming for revenge named ahab. He goes to the ocean for the search of the great spearm whale named moby dick. One day he went to the ocean and he been attacked by this whale his boat was attacked and the whale bit the captains leg off. So he goes to the ocean with a sailor named Ismael. Ismeal does not know that ahab is going for revenge. Soon they found the big whale and Ismael got the big harpoon ready and he waited for the right moment. Then he had the shot and he did not shoot because he felt guilty so he let her go. Then ahab found out that he came for only that reason and he got mad. I think that this was a great book and I liked this book.
Melvilles masterpiece Should be read just to admire the pure poetry of his writing and all the bilical referances, from "Call me Ishmael" to the whaler Rachal weeping for her lost child. And don't forget "Peter Coffin save me". Melville was admired by Charles Dickns and was promoted by him on his American tours.
You don't read Moby-Dick because you want to read a book. You read Moby-Dick because you want to read Moby-Dick. Enormous in scope, prose, vocabulary and philosophy it is much like taking on a whale. I enjoyed most the actual story and subtle descriptions of the characters and the love for the simplest of things; like chowder. Although it isn't my favorite book, it is one of the few that I know I will be re-reading in the future. One of the most fascinating aspects of Moby-Dick is that though it is fiction, Melville is quite factual in the descriptions of most all things in the book. And a many times I decided to look up a word in the dictionary that I wasn't familiar with thus walking away with many new points of knowledge. And lastly Melville's comparison of Christianity and cannibalism is refreshing and impressive for a work written in 1851.
I read this sometime in 1997, probably the fall, but I cannot be certain it was early, or even possibly in the summer. So another memory unrooted in time is formed, and I will have a vague impression of having read the book sometime in my forties, with older kids around.I never realized, before reading Moby Dick, how it is so much about the whale. Long chapters of the history of whaling, of the biology and anatomy of whales, of the behavior of whales. Ahab seems insubstantial by comparison, and he is not exactly central, but seems more to hang over the book menacingly.Long chapters of the history of whaling, of the biology and anatomy of whales, of the behavior of whales. Ahab seems insubstantial by comparison, and he is not exactly central, but seems more to hang over the book menacingly. From the vantage of a year later, I can recall only being thoroughly caught up in the 19th century atmosphere and attitudes of the book, and I was most impressed with the descriptions of whaling and the whales, rather than with the characters. Ishmael and Queegog and Starbuck are the famous actors, but I think Melville reserves his true enthusiam for the whale.
Any time I mentioned to someone that I was finally tackling the book of the whale, I would get eye-rolls or declarations of boredom. But I actually got sucked further and further in, as pulled by some leviathan's great wake.Ishmael's tale of Ahab's dark revenge is not a typical narrative. If one's looking for a well-paced action yarn, don't read it. It's a story of character asides and the sea and the secrets of the whale physical and metaphysical. Ishmael concerns himself chiefly with the unfolding sublime (in Burke's sense) rather than the mundane.Images and old-sea phrases will doubtless rattle around in my head for decades to come.
There are of course so many versions, including illustrated and children's versions. I think it is imperative to read Melville's original classic version. the depth and complexity of the prose makes you feel the heat and smoke of the lard kilns and the spray of seawater on your face. I can't do this all the time, but a novel like this is a wonderful occasional break from some of the modern day more mindless books of entertainment.
This is a very challenging book to read, even for a 5th grader like me. I recommend this book to 6th graders, and up, but maybe some 5th graders my age can read it. Even though the language was confusing and there was some minor killing, I have to say the book was awesome.
Perhaps the most amazing novel in American literature. The thousands of pages of literary scholarship are enough to prove the book's seemingly endless amount of unturned rocks. For a casual reader a daunting task, for an eager reader a feast of gluttonous proportions. The relationships on board the Pequod can be interpreted any number of ways, from psychological to religious. The peaceful savage Queequeg is the blueprint for a literary spirit guide. Although the novel does drag in many places, there does seem to be a bit of method to Melville's sluggish style, namely in the satirical cetology chapters. Melville's novel may have been considered a failure by his contemporaries, however he created one of the most rich and enthralling works of all time. 'Moby-Dick' explores the deepest recesses of the human soul and creates a fantastically maniacal character in Ahab. Warning: do not pick up this book expecting to follow an exceptionally vigorous plot speeding along allegorical tracks in a few short sittings. Expect to devote many hours exploring complex characters and unraveling intense social, political, religious and psychological commentary.
There are plenty of overrated, canonized books. I had been going along assuming this was one of them-- a book as long as Anna Karenina, but written by an American? Guffaw. Unreadable! I had also been under the assumption that this was an Old Man and the Sea kind of overplayed metaphor-- yes, yes, a man wishes to kill a particular whale. This must be about the eternal struggle between, er, man and nature, or man and his other. This must be a boring rumination about the useless of, er, revenge?Instead, I have been astonished by how experimental this "novel" book turned out. The first few chapters are beautifully captivating and narrative-driven. We have an affable narrator as our presumed main character. He finds a dear friend, Queequeg, in a series of blundered misunderstandings. And then we are introduced to his challenge-- to survive his first whaling voyage. Melville must have bored easily of such narrative devices. Our narrator/main character disappears soon after, as easily replaced by an omniscient point of view. The particularity of these characters is equally unimportant. Instead, this is an encyclopedia of whaling, a philosophy on travel, a history of the Eastern US and much else of the world, a commentary on commercialism, and an elegy to hope. What I found so relentless about the narrative was its disjointedness, its inability to stay with the story, as though it too were tossed fitfully in the wake of an enormous whale.
Okay so I didn't finish but despite that fact I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the first half, which is as far as I got. What surprised me about this classic are the funny characters, such as the moody Captain Ahab to the peculiar harpooner Queequeg. I found myself laughing out loud a LOT. Highly recommend this book, even if you have to read it in parts;)
A book which is read 150 plus years after its published is almost always good. This book describes an occupation which went out of vogue some time ago. Its afirst hand experience of an whaleman. It is an in depth and comprehensive narrative of whalers. Some emotional aspects add additional flavor . All in all a good book
I've been reading this for about ten years now and I am determined to finish it. Melville's writing is incredible. There is a rhythm to it that is almost soothing and that might be the problem. This is the book I read to help me fall asleep and I think that is why its taken me so long to finish it.
Was a good adventure story full of revenge, gained friendships and a very protagonist Captain. In the end I was voting him off the island and on the side of the whale. I could have gone without the detailed descriptions of the catching of the Whales for rendering of oils. I felt sorry for the animals and the roughness in which they got captured. You could say it is a true Fisherman's story.