Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

Overview
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

 and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael
Ishmael (Moby-Dick)
Ishmael is the narrator of the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by U.S. author Herman Melville. It is through his eyes and experience that the reader experiences the story of the ship Pequod, and the fight between Captain Ahab and the white whale...

, and his voyage on the whaleship
Whaling
Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

 Pequod
Pequod (Moby-Dick)
The Pequod is a fictitious 19th century Nantucket whaleship that appears in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by American author Herman Melville. The Pequod and her crew, commanded by Captain Ahab, are central to the story, which, after the initial chapters, takes place almost entirely aboard the ship...

, commanded by Captain
Captain (nautical)
A sea captain is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of the vessel. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag...

 Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale--Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

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.

The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.

Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and 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.

As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of whaling stop at this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage, it may as well be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing.

It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet. A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro church; and the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the sign of 'The Trap!'

Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him — a far, far upward, and inward delight — who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self.

And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath — O Father! — chiefly known to me by Thy rod — mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

Encyclopedia
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

 and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael
Ishmael (Moby-Dick)
Ishmael is the narrator of the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by U.S. author Herman Melville. It is through his eyes and experience that the reader experiences the story of the ship Pequod, and the fight between Captain Ahab and the white whale...

, and his voyage on the whaleship
Whaling
Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

 Pequod
Pequod (Moby-Dick)
The Pequod is a fictitious 19th century Nantucket whaleship that appears in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by American author Herman Melville. The Pequod and her crew, commanded by Captain Ahab, are central to the story, which, after the initial chapters, takes place almost entirely aboard the ship...

, commanded by Captain
Captain (nautical)
A sea captain is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of the vessel. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag...

 Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale--Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ism, and metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 to explore numerous complex themes. Through the main character's journey, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as Ishmael speculates upon his personal beliefs and his place in the universe. The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, and asides. The book portrays destructive obsession and monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics to animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid 1700s...

--projecting human instincts, characteristics and motivations onto animals. Moby-Dick is ruthless in attacking the sailors who attempt to hunt and kill him, but it is Ahab who invests Moby-Dick's natural instincts with malignant and evil intentions. In fact, it is not the whale but the crippled Ahab who alone possesses this characteristic.

Moby-Dick has been classified as American Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

. It was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851, in an expurgated three-volume edition titled The Whale, and weeks later as a single volume, by New York City publisher Harper and Brothers as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale on November 14, 1851. The book initially received mixed reviews, but Moby-Dick is now considered part of the Western canon
Western canon
The term Western canon denotes a canon of books and, more broadly, music and art that have been the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. As such, it includes the "greatest works of artistic merit." Such a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism and the...

, and at the center of the canon of American novels.

Background


Moby-Dick was published in 1851 during a productive time in American literature, which also saw the appearance of Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

's The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 romantic work of fiction in a historical setting, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is considered to be his magnum opus. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an...

 and Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom...

's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War", according to Will Kaufman....

. Two actual events served as the genesis for Melville's tale. One was the sinking of the Nantucket
Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the coterminous Nantucket County, which are consolidated. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket...

 ship Essex in 1820, after it was rammed by a large sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the western coast of South America. First mate Owen Chase
Owen Chase
Owen Chase was First Mate of the whale ship Essex, that was struck and sunk by a sperm whale on November 20, 1820. Chase wrote about the incident in Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex...

, one of eight survivors, recorded the events in his 1821 Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex.

The other event was the alleged killing in the late 1830s of the albino sperm whale Mocha Dick
Mocha Dick
Mocha Dick was a notorious male sperm whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile. American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the...

, in the waters off the Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

an island of Mocha
Mocha (island)
Mocha is a small Chilean island located west of the coast of Arauco Province in the Pacific Ocean. The island is approximately in area, with a small chain of mountains running roughly in north-south direction. In Mapuche mythology, the souls of dead people travel west to visit this island...

. Mocha Dick was rumored to have twenty or so harpoons in his back from other whalers, and appeared to attack ships with premeditated ferocity. One of his battles with a whaler served as subject for an article by explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds
Jeremiah N. Reynolds
Jeremiah N. Reynolds , also known as J.N. Reynolds, was an American newspaper editor, lecturer, explorer and author who became an influential advocate for scientific expeditions...

 in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker
The Knickerbocker
The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, was a literary magazine of New York City, founded by Charles Fenno Hoffman in 1833, and published until 1865 under various titles, including:...

 or New-York Monthly Magazine. Melville was familiar with the article, which described: Significantly, Reynolds writes a first-person narration
First-person narrative
First-person point of view is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves. First-person narrative may be singular, plural or multiple as well as being an authoritative, reliable or deceptive "voice" and represents point of view in the...

 that serves as a frame
Frame story
A frame story is a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of shorter stories...

 for the story of a whaling captain he meets. The captain resembles Ahab and suggests a similar symbolism and single-minded motivation in hunting this whale, in that when his crew first encounters Mocha Dick and cowers from him, the captain rallies them:

Mocha Dick had over 100 encounters with whalers in the decades between 1810 and the 1830s. He was described as being gigantic and covered in barnacles. Although he was the most famous, Mocha Dick was not the only white whale in the sea, nor the only whale to attack hunters. While an accidental collision with a sperm whale at night accounted for sinking of the Union in 1807, it was not until August 1851 that the whaler Ann Alexander
Ann Alexander (ship)
The Ann Alexander was a whaling ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts, notable for being rammed by a wounded sperm whale in the South Pacific on August 20, 1851, some thirty years after the famous incident in which the Essex was stove in and sunk by a whale in the same area.-Early History:In her...

, while hunting in the Pacific off the Galapagos Islands
Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a...

, became the second vessel since the Essex to be attacked, holed and sunk by a whale. Meville remarked:

While Melville had already drawn on his different sailing experiences in his previous novels, such as Mardi
Mardi
Mardi, and a Voyage Thither is the third book by American author Herman Melville, first published in 1849.-Overview:Mardi is Melville's first pure fiction work...

, he had never focused specifically on whaling. The eighteen months he spent as an ordinary seaman aboard the whaler Acushnet in 1841-42, and on one incident in particular, now served as inspiration. It was during a mid-ocean "gam" (rendezvous at sea between ships) that he met Chase's son William, who loaned him his father's book. Melville later wrote:

The book was out of print, and rare. Knowing that Melville was looking for it, his father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw
Lemuel Shaw
Lemuel Shaw was an American jurist who served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court...

, managed to find a copy and buy it for him. When Melville received it, he fell to it almost immediately, heavily annotating it.
Moby-Dick contains large sections—most of them narrated by Ishmael—that seemingly have nothing to do with the plot but describe aspects of the whaling business. Although there had been a successful earlier novel about Nantucket whalers, Miriam Coffin or The Whale-Fisherman (1835) by Joseph C. Hart
Joseph C. Hart
Joseph Coleman Hart was an American writer. He is now best known as the first person to assert in print that William Shakespeare was not the true author of the plays published under his name...

., which is credited with influencing elements of Melville's work, most accounts of whaling tended to be sensational tales of bloody mutiny, and Melville believed that no book up to that time had portrayed the whaling industry in as fascinating or immediate a way as he had experienced it. Early Romantics also proposed that fiction was the exemplary way to describe and record history, so Melville wanted to craft something educational and definitive. Despite his own interest in the subject, Melville struggled with composition, writing to Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Richard Henry Dana Jr. was an American lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, a descendant of an eminent colonial family who gained renown as the author of the American classic, the memoir Two Years Before the Mast...

 on May 1, 1850:
There are scholarly theories that purport a literary legend of two Moby-Dick tales, one being a whaling tale as was Melville's experience and affinity, and another deeper tale, inspired by his literary friendship with and respect for Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

. These merged into the latter, the morality tale. Hawthorne and his family had moved to a small red farmhouse near Lenox, Massachusetts
Lenox, Massachusetts
Lenox is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. Set in Western Massachusetts, it is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 5,077 at the 2000 census. Where the town has a border with Stockbridge is the site of Tanglewood, summer...

, at the end of March 1850. He became friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author. Regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, he is considered a member of the Fireside Poets. His most famous prose works are the "Breakfast-Table" series, which began with The Autocrat...

 and Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

 beginning on August 5, 1850, when the authors met at a picnic hosted by a mutual friend. Melville had just read Hawthorne's short story collection Mosses from an Old Manse
Mosses from an Old Manse
Mosses from an Old Manse was a short story collection by Nathaniel Hawthorne, first published in 1846.-Background and publication history:...

, and his unsigned review of the collection, titled "Hawthorne and His Mosses", was printed in the The Literary World on August 17 and 24. Melville wrote that these stories revealed a dark side to Hawthorne, "shrouded in blackness, ten times black"., and dedicated Moby-Dick to him:

Plot



"Call me Ishmael
Ishmael (Moby-Dick)
Ishmael is the narrator of the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by U.S. author Herman Melville. It is through his eyes and experience that the reader experiences the story of the ship Pequod, and the fight between Captain Ahab and the white whale...

," Moby-Dick begins, in one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature. The narrator, an observant young man setting out from Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, has experience in the merchant marine but has recently decided his next voyage will be on a whaling ship. On a cold, gloomy night in December, he arrives at the Spouter-Inn in New Bedford, Massachusetts
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New Bedford is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States, located south of Boston, southeast of Providence, Rhode Island, and about east of Fall River. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 95,072, making it the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts...

, and agrees to share a bed with a then-absent stranger. When his bunk
Bunk bed
A bunk bed is a type of bed in which one bed frame is stacked on top of another. The nature of bunk beds allows two people to sleep in the same room while maximizing available floor space...

 mate, a heavily tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

ed Polynesia
Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

n harpoon
Harpoon
A harpoon is a long spear-like instrument used in fishing to catch fish or large marine mammals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal, allowing the fishermen to use a rope or chain attached to the butt of the projectile to catch the animal...

er named Queequeg
Queequeg
Queequeg is a fictional character presented in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by U.S. author Herman Melville. He is the first principal character encountered by the narrator, serves as the chief harpooner aboard the Pequod, and plays an important role in many of the events of the book, both in port and...

, returns very late and discovers Ishmael beneath his covers, both men are alarmed, but the two quickly become close friends and decide to sail together from Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the coterminous Nantucket County, which are consolidated. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket...

 on a whaling voyage.

In Nantucket, the pair signs on with the Pequod
Pequod (Moby-Dick)
The Pequod is a fictitious 19th century Nantucket whaleship that appears in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by American author Herman Melville. The Pequod and her crew, commanded by Captain Ahab, are central to the story, which, after the initial chapters, takes place almost entirely aboard the ship...

, a whaling ship that is soon to leave port. The ship’s captain, Ahab, is nowhere to be seen; nevertheless, they are told of him — a "grand, ungodly, godlike man," who has "been in colleges as well as 'mong the cannibals," according to one of the owners. The two friends encounter a mysterious man named Elijah on the dock after they sign their papers and he hints at troubles to come with Ahab. The mystery grows on Christmas morning when Ishmael spots dark figures in the mist, apparently boarding the Pequod shortly before it sets sail that day.

The ship’s officers direct the early voyage while Ahab stays in his cabin. The chief mate is Starbuck, a serious, sincere Quaker and fine leader; second mate is Stubb, happy-go-lucky and cheerful and always smoking his pipe; the third mate is Flask, short and stout but thoroughly reliable. Each mate is responsible for a whaling boat, and each whaling boat of the Pequod has its own pagan harpooneer assigned to it. Some time after sailing, Ahab finally appears on the quarter-deck one morning, an imposing, frightening figure whose haunted visage sends shivers over the narrator. One of his legs is missing from the knee down and has been replaced by a prosthesis fashioned from a sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

's jawbone.
Soon gathering the crewmen together, with a rousing speech Ahab secures their support for his single, secret purpose for this voyage: hunting down and killing Moby Dick, an old, very large sperm whale, with a snow-white hump and mottled skin, that crippled Ahab on his last whaling voyage. Only Starbuck shows any sign of resistance to the charismatic but monomaniacal captain. The first mate argues repeatedly that the ship’s purpose should be to hunt whales for their oil
Whale oil
Whale oil is the oil obtained from the blubber of various species of whales, particularly the three species of right whale and the bowhead whale prior to the modern era, as well as several other species of baleen whale...

, with luck returning home profitably, safely, and quickly, but not to seek out and kill Moby Dick in particular — and especially not for revenge. Eventually even Starbuck acquiesces to Ahab's will, though harboring misgivings.

The mystery of the dark figures seen before the Pequod set sail is explained during the voyage's first lowering for whales. Ahab has secretly brought along his own boat crew, including a mysterious harpooneer named Fedallah (also referred to as 'the Parsee'), an inscrutable figure with a sinister influence over Ahab. Later, while watching one night over a captured whale carcass, Fedallah gives dark prophecies to Ahab regarding their twin deaths.
The novel describes numerous "gams," social meetings of two ships on the open sea. Crews normally visit each other during a gam, captains on one vessel and chief mates on the other. Mail may be exchanged and the men talk of whale sightings or other news. For Ahab, however, there is but one relevant question to ask of another ship: “Hast seen the White Whale?” After meeting several other whaling ships, which have their own peculiar stories, the Pequod enters the Pacific Ocean. Queequeg becomes deathly ill and requests that a coffin be built for him by the ship’s carpenter. Just as everyone has given up hope, Queequeg changes his mind, deciding to live after all, and recovers quickly. His coffin becomes his sea chest, and is later caulked and pitched to replace the Pequods life buoy.

Soon word is heard from other whalers of Moby Dick. The jolly Captain Boomer of the Samuel Enderby
Samuel Enderby
Samuel Enderby was a successful whale oil merchant. In the 18th century, he founded Samuel Enderby & Sons, a prominent shipping and whaling and sealing company....

 has lost an arm to the whale, and is stunned at Ahab's burning need for revenge. Next they meet the Rachel, which has seen Moby Dick very recently. As a result of the encounter, one of its boats is missing; the captain’s youngest son had been aboard. The Rachels captain begs Ahab to aid in the search for the missing boat, but Ahab is resolute; the Pequod is very near the White Whale now and will not stop to help. Finally the Delight is met, even as its captain buries a sailor who had been killed by Moby Dick. Starbuck begs Ahab one final time to reconsider his thirst for vengeance, but to no avail.

The next day, the Pequod meets Moby Dick. For two days, the Pequods crew pursues the whale, which wreaks widespread destruction, including the disappearance of Fedallah. On the third day, Moby Dick rises up to reveal Fedallah tied to him by harpoon ropes, clearly dead. Even after the initial battle on the third day, it is clear that while Ahab is a vengeful whale-hunter, Moby-Dick, while dangerous and fearless, is not motivated to hunt humans. As he swims away from the Pequod, Starbuck exhorts Ahab one last time to desist, observing that:

Ahab ignores this voice of reason and continues with his ill-fated chase. As the three boats sail out to hunt him, Moby Dick damages two of them, forcing them to go back to the ship and leaving only Ahab's vessel intact. Ahab harpoons the whale, but the harpoon-line breaks. Moby Dick then rams the Pequod itself, which begins to sink. As Ahab harpoons the whale again, the unfolding harpoon-line catches him around his neck and he is dragged into the depths of the sea by the diving Moby Dick. The boat is caught up in the whirlpool of the sinking ship, which takes almost all the crew to their deaths. Only Ishmael survives, clinging to Queequeg’s coffin-turned-life buoy for an entire day and night before the Rachel rescues him.

Characters


The crew-members of the Pequod are carefully drawn stylizations of human types and habits; critics have often described the crew as a "self-enclosed universe". There are 30 crew members, and as there were thirty states in the union at the time, it has been suggested that, in its diversity, Melville meant the Pequod to be a metaphor for America.

Ishmael



The name has come to symbolize orphan
Orphan
An orphan is a child permanently bereaved of or abandoned by his or her parents. In common usage, only a child who has lost both parents is called an orphan...

s, exile
Exile
Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

s, and social outcasts — in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells the reader that he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation
Social alienation
The term social alienation has many discipline-specific uses; Roberts notes how even within the social sciences, it “is used to refer both to a personal psychological state and to a type of social relationship”...

 from human society. In the last line of the book, Ishmael also refers to himself symbolically as an orphan, which maintains the Biblical connection and emphasises the representation of outcasts. In the Book of Genesis, Ishmael is the son born to Abraham and his wife's maidservant, Hagar, whom his barren wife, Sarah, gives to her husband so he may have a son. When Sarah finally bears a son of her own, Isaac, out of fear and jealousy she has Abraham exile Hagar and Ishmael into the desert (Genesis 21:10).

Ishmael has a rich literary background (he has previously been a schoolteacher), which he brings to bear on his shipmates and events that occur while at sea. His assurance that "only I alone escaped to tell you" (tell thee) is the messenger's admonishment in Job 1: 15-17, 19.

Elijah


The character Elijah (named for the Biblical prophet Elijah, who is also referred to in the King James Bible as Elias
Elias
Elias is the Latin transliteration of the Greek name , which in turn is the Hellenized form of the , meaning "Yahweh is my God". Another form of Eliyahu in English is Elijah.The name belonged most notably to Elijah , the Hebrew prophet...

), on learning that Ishmael and Queequeg have signed onto Ahab's ship, asks, "Anything down there about your souls?" When Ishmael reacts with surprise, Elijah continues:
Later in the conversation, Elijah adds:

Ahab



Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the Pequod who is driven by a monomania
Monomania
In 19th century psychiatry, monomania is a single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind. Emotional monomania is that in which the patient is obsessed with only one emotion or several related to it; intellectual monomania is that which is related to only one kind of delirious idea...

cal desire to kill Moby-Dick, the whale that maimed him on the previous whaling voyage. Although he is a Quaker
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, he seeks revenge in defiance of his religion's well-known pacifism
Pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

. Ahab
Ahab
Ahab or Ach'av or Achab in Douay-Rheims was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri according to the Hebrew Bible. His wife was Jezebel....

's Biblical namesake is the evil idol-worshipping ruler in the Book of Kings
Books of Kings
The Book of Kings presents a narrative history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of David to the release of his successor Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years...

, and this association prompts Ishmael to ask, at his first encounter with Ahab:

When Ishmael remarks upon the ill associations of such a name, he is rebuked by one of Ahab's colleagues, who points out that "He did not name himself!"

Little information is provided about Ahab's life prior to meeting Moby-Dick, although it is known that he was orphaned at a young age. When discussing the purpose of his quest with Starbuck, it is revealed that he first began whaling at eighteen and has continued in the trade for forty years, having spent less than three on land. He also mentions his "girl-wife," whom he married late in life, and their young son, but does not give their names.

Ahab ultimately dooms the crew of the Pequod (save for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby-Dick. During the final chase, Ahab hurls his last harpoon while yelling his now-famous revenge line:
The harpoon becomes lodged in Moby-Dick's flesh and Ahab, caught around the neck by a loop in his own harpoon's rope and unable to free himself, is dragged down into the cold oblivion of the sea by the injured whale. The mechanics of Ahab's death are richly symbolic. He is killed by his own harpoon, a victim of his own twisted obsession and desire for revenge. The whale eventually destroys the whaleboats and crew, and sinks the Pequod.

Ahab's motivation for hunting Moby-Dick is explored in the following passage:

Captain Boomer


Captain of the Samuel Enderby of London, Ahab encounters him at sea. Boomer has not only seen Moby-Dick recently, but lost his arm to him in a previous attack. Like Ahab, he has replaced the missing limb with a prosthesis made of sperm whale bone. Ahab immediately assumes he has found a kindred spirit in his thirst for vengeance, but Boomer is yet another representation of the duality to be found throughout the novel; in this instance, a sane and rational counterpart to Ahab. While Boomer also anthropormorphizes Moby-Dick, describing the "boiling rage" the whale seemed to be in when Boomer attempted to capture him, he has easily come to terms with losing his arm, and harbors no ill-will against Moby-Dick, advising Ahab "he's best left alone". The Enderby's doctor provides solid reasoning for this attitude, informing the gathering:

Boomer jokingly tells a long yarn about the loss of his arm; this attitude, coupled with a lack of urgency in telling where he sighted Moby-Dick, infuriates Ahab, leading Boomer to query, "Is your captain crazy?" Ahab immediately quits the Enderby and is so hasty in his return to the Pequod that he cracks and splinters his whalebone leg, then further damages it in admonishing the helmsman. While appearing to be whole, the leg is badly damaged and cannot be trusted; it now serves as metaphor for its wearer.

Moby-Dick


He is a giant, albino sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

 and the main antagonist of the novel. He bit off Ahab's leg, leaving Ahab to swear revenge. The cetacean also attacked the Rachel and killed the captain's son. At the end of the story he kills the entire crew, with the exception of Ishmael. Although he is an integral part of the novel, Moby-Dick appears in just three of the 159 chapters and the reader does not have access to his thoughts and motivations. Moby-Dick is considered to be a symbol of a number of things, among them God, nature, fate, the ocean, and the very universe itself.

The symbolism of the White Whale is deliberately enigmatic, and its inscrutability is a deliberate challenge to the reader. Ishmael describes the whale’s forehead as having wrinkles and scars on it that look like hieroglyphics, and recounts:
All the reader can know is that the White Whale symbolizes many things to various characters in the novel. It is their personal interpretations of Moby-Dick, in addition to their individual ruminations on the gold doubloon
Moby Dick Coin
Known in the numismatic world as a "Moby Dick Coin", the Ecuadorian 8 Escudos doubloon, minted in Quito, Ecuador, between 1838 and 1843, is the one ounce of gold "sixteen dollar piece" Captain Ahab nails to the mast of the Pequod, promising it to the first man who "raises" Moby-Dick...

 Ahab has nailed to the mast to motivate his crew, that serve as a further clue to their own inner makeup.

Starbuck


Starbuck, the young first mate of the Pequod, is a thoughtful and intellectual Quaker
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

 from Nantucket.
Little is said about Starbuck's early life, except that he is married with a son. Unlike Ahab's wife, who remains nameless, Starbuck gives his wife's name as Mary. Such is his desire to return to them, that when nearly reaching the last leg of their quest for Moby Dick, he considers arresting or even killing Ahab with a loaded musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

, one of several kept by Ahab (in a previous chapter Ahab threatens Starbuck with one when Starbuck disobeys him, despite Starbuck's being in the right), and turning the ship back, straight for home.

Starbuck is alone among the crew in objecting to Ahab's quest, declaring it madness
Insanity
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

 to want revenge
Revenge
Revenge is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is also called payback, retribution, retaliation or vengeance; it may be characterized, justly or unjustly, as a form of justice.-Function in society:Some societies believe that the...

 on an animal, which lacks reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

. Starbuck advocates continuing the more mundane pursuit of whales for their oil. But he lacks the support of the crew in his opposition to Ahab, and is unable to persuade them to turn back. Despite his misgivings, he feels himself bound by his obligations to obey the captain.

Starbuck was an important Quaker family name
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

 on Nantucket Island, and there were several actual whalemen of this period named "Starbuck," as evidenced by the name of Starbuck Island
Starbuck Island
Starbuck Island is an uninhabited coral atoll in the central Pacific, and is part of the Central Line Islands of Kiribati...

 in the South Pacific
Australasia
Australasia is a region of Oceania comprising Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean. The term was coined by Charles de Brosses in Histoire des navigations aux terres australes...

 whaling grounds. The multinational coffee
Coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

 chain Starbucks
Starbucks
Starbucks Corporation is an international coffee and coffeehouse chain based in Seattle, Washington. Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with 17,009 stores in 55 countries, including over 11,000 in the United States, over 1,000 in Canada, over 700 in the United Kingdom, and...

 was named after Starbuck, not due to any affinity for coffee, but because the name "Pequod" was first rejected by one of the co-founders.

Stubb


Stubb, the second mate
Second Mate
A second mate or second officer is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The second mate is the third in command and a watchkeeping officer, customarily the ship's navigator. Other duties vary, but the second mate is often the medical officer and in charge of maintaining...

 of the Pequod, is from Cape Cod
Cape Cod
Cape Cod, often referred to locally as simply the Cape, is a cape in the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States...

, and always seems to have a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face. "Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests." (Moby-Dick, Ch. 27) Although he is not an educated man, Stubb is remarkably articulate, and during whale hunts keeps up an imaginative patter reminiscent of that of some characters in Shakespeare. Scholarly portrayals range from that of an optimistic simpleton to a paragon of lived philosophic wisdom.

Flask


Flask is the third mate
Third Mate
A Third Mate or Third Officer is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The third mate is a watchstander and customarily the ship's safety officer and fourth-in-command...

 of the Pequod. He is from Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, known for being an affluent summer colony....

.

Harpooneers



The harpooneers of the Pequod are all non-Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s from various parts of the world. Each serves on a mate's boat.

Queequeg



Queequeg
Queequeg
Queequeg is a fictional character presented in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by U.S. author Herman Melville. He is the first principal character encountered by the narrator, serves as the chief harpooner aboard the Pequod, and plays an important role in many of the events of the book, both in port and...

 hails from the fictional island of Kokovoko in the South Seas, inhabited by a cannibal tribe, and is the son of the chief of his tribe. Since leaving the island, he has become extremely skilled with the harpoon
Harpoon
A harpoon is a long spear-like instrument used in fishing to catch fish or large marine mammals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal, allowing the fishermen to use a rope or chain attached to the butt of the projectile to catch the animal...

. He befriends Ishmael very early in the novel, when they meet in New Bedford
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New Bedford is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States, located south of Boston, southeast of Providence, Rhode Island, and about east of Fall River. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 95,072, making it the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 before leaving for Nantucket. He is described as existing in a state between civilized and savage. For example, Ishmael recounts with amusement how Queequeg feels it necessary to hide himself when pulling on his boots, noting that if he were a savage he wouldn't consider boots necessary, but if he were completely civilized he would realize there was no need to be modest when pulling on his boots.

Queequeg is the harpooneer on Starbuck's boat, where Ishmael is also an oarsman. Queequeg is best friends with Ishmael in the story. He is prominent early in the novel, but later fades in significance, as does Ishmael.

Tashtego


Tashtego is described as a Gay Head (Wampanoag) Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 harpooneer. The personification of the hunter, he turns from hunting land animals to hunting whales. Tashtego is the harpooneer on Stubb's boat.

Daggoo


Daggoo is a gigantic (6'5") African harpooneer from a coastal village with a noble bearing and grace. He is the harpooneer on Flask's boat.

Fedallah


Fedallah is the harpooneer on Ahab's boat. He is of Persian Zoroastrian ("Parsi") descent. Because of descriptions of him having lived in China, he might have been among the great wave of Parsi traders who made their way to Hong Kong and the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

 from India during the mid-19th century. At the time when the Pequod sets sail, Fedallah is hidden on board, and he emerges with Ahab's boat's crew later on, to the surprise of the crew. Fedallah is referred to in the text as Ahab's "Dark Shadow." Ishmael calls him a "fire worshipper" and the crew speculates that he is a devil
Devil
The Devil is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly...

 in man's disguise. He is the source of a variety of prophecies regarding Ahab and his hunt for Moby Dick. Ishmael describes him thus, standing by Ahab's boat:

Other notable characters


Pip (nicknamed "Pippin," but "Pip" for short) is a black boy from Tolland County
Tolland County, Connecticut
Tolland County is a county located in the northeastern part of Connecticut. As of 2010, the population was 152,691.Counties in Connecticut have no governmental function: all legal power is vested in the state, city, and town governments...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, who is "the most insignificant of the Pequod's crew". Because he is physically slight, he is made a ship-keeper, (a sailor who stays aboard the ship while its whaleboats go out). Ishmael contrasts him with the "dull and torpid in his intellects" — and paler and much older — steward Dough-Boy, describing Pip as "over tender-hearted" but "at bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe". Ishmael goes so far as to chastise the reader: "Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony, panelled in king's cabinets."

The after-oarsman on Stubb's boat is injured, however, so Pip is temporarily reassigned to Stubb's whaleboat crew. The first time out, Pip jumps from the boat, causing Stubb and Tashtego to lose their already-harpooned whale. Tashtego and the rest of the crew are furious; Stubb chides him "officially" and "unofficially," even raising the specter of slavery
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

: "a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama." The next time a whale is sighted, Pip again jumps overboard and is left stranded in the "awful lonesomeness" of the sea while Stubb's and the others' boats are dragged along by their harpooned whales. By the time he is rescued, he has become (at least to the other sailors) "an idiot," "mad." Ishmael, however, thought Pip had a mystical experience: "So man's insanity is heaven's sense." Pip and his experience are crucial because they serve as foreshadowing, in Ishmael's words, "providing the sometimes madly merry and predestinated craft with a living and ever accompanying prophecy of whatever shattered sequel might prove her own." Pip's madness is full of poetry and eloquence; he is reminiscent of Tom in King Lear. Ahab later sympathizes with Pip and takes the young boy under his wing.

Dough Boy is the pale, nervous steward of the ship. The Cook (Fleece), Blacksmith (Perth), and Carpenter of the ship are each highlighted in at least one chapter near the end of the book. Fleece, a very old, half-deaf African-American with bad knees, is presented in the chapter "Stubb's Supper" at some length in a dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

 where Stubb good-humoredly takes him to task over how to prepare a variety of dishes from the whale's carcass. Ahab calls on the Carpenter to fashion a new whalebone leg after the one he wears is damaged; later he has Perth forge a special harpoon that he carries into the final confrontation with Moby-Dick.

The crew as a whole is exceedingly international, having constituents from both the United States and rest of the world. Chapter 40, "Midnight, Forecastle
Forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

," highlights, in its stage-play manner (in Shakespearean style), the striking variety in the sailors' origins. A partial list of the speakers includes sailors from the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

, France, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, the Azores
Azores
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and is located about west from Lisbon and about east from the east coast of North America. The islands, and their economic exclusion zone, form the Autonomous Region of the...

, Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, China, Denmark, Portugal, India, England, Spain, and Ireland.

Melville's expectations


In a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

 written within days of Moby-Dick's American publication, Melville made a number of revealing comments:


... for not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows, or any one of them. Appreciation! Recognition! Is Jove
JOVE
JOVE is an open-source, Emacs-like text editor, primarily intended for Unix-like operating systems. It also supports MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows. JOVE was inspired by Gosling Emacs but is much smaller and simpler, lacking Mocklisp...

 appreciated? Why, ever since Adam, who has got to the meaning of his great allegory—the world? Then we pigmies must be content to have our paper allegories but ill comprehended. I say your appreciation is my glorious gratuity.



A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your understanding the book. I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb. Ineffable sociabilities are in me. I would sit down and dine with you and all the gods in old Rome's Pantheon. It is a strange feeling—no hopefulness is in it, no despair. Content—that is it; and irresponsibility; but without licentious inclination. I speak now of my profoundest sense of being, not of an incidental feeling.


You did not care a penny for the book. But, now and then as you read, you understood the pervading thought that impelled the book—and that you praised. Was it not so? You were archangel enough to despise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul.

Contemporary


Melville was regarded as a very successful author after the acclaim received by his popular earlier works of Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

 and Omoo
Omoo
Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is Herman Melville's sequel to Typee, and, as such, was also autobiographical. After leaving Nuku Hiva, the main character ships aboard a whaling vessel which makes its way to Tahiti, after which there is a mutiny and the majority of the crew are imprisoned on...

. He considered Moby-Dick to be his magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

, but he was shocked and bewildered at the scathing reviews it received. Instead of bringing him the literary acclaim which he sought, this master-work started a slide toward literary obscurity in his lifetime. This was partially due to the fact that the book was first published in England, and the American literary establishment took note of what the English critics said, especially when these critics were attached to the more prestigious journals. Many critics praised it for its unique style, interesting characters, and poetic language, but others agreed with a critic with the highly regarded London Athenaeum
Athenaeum (magazine)
The Athenaeum was a literary magazine published in London from 1828 to 1921. It had a reputation for publishing the very best writers of the age....

, who described it as:

One problem was that publisher Peter Bentley botched the English edition, most significantly in omitting the epilogue. For this reason, many of the critics faulted the book, what little they could grasp of it, on purely formal grounds, e.g., how the tale could have been told if no one survived to tell it. The generally bad reviews from across the ocean made American readers skittish about picking up the tome. Still, a handful of American critics saw much more in it than most of their U.S. and English colleagues. Hawthorne said of the book:

Another problem was that by the time the book was published, whaling and maritime adventuring were no longer the main focus of the American public. The Gold Rush had shifted their interest to the West, and the lengthy novel, with its long factual passages dealing with the brutal technology of the whaling industry, seemed far less relevant to the author's American audience.

Underground


Within a year after Melville's death, Moby-Dick, along with Typee, Omoo, and Mardi, was reprinted by Harper & Brothers, giving it a chance to be rediscovered. However, only New York's literary underground seemed to take much interest, just enough to keep Melville's name circulating for the next 25 years in the capital of American publishing. During this time, a few critics were willing to devote time, space, and a modicum of praise to Melville and his works, or at least those that could still be fairly easily obtained or remembered. Other works, especially the poetry, went largely forgotten.

Then came World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and its consequences, particularly the shaking or destruction of faith in so many aspects of Western civilization, all of which caused people concerned with culture and its potential redemptive value to experiment with new aesthetic techniques. The stage was set for Melville to find his place.

The Melville Revival


With the burgeoning of Modernist aesthetics (see Modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 and American modernism
American modernism
American modernism like modernism in general is a trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation, and is thus in its essence both progressive and optimistic...

) and the war that tore everything apart still so fresh in memory, Moby-Dick began to seem increasingly relevant. Many of Melville's techniques echo those of Modernism: kaleidoscopic, hybrid in genre and tone, monumentally ambitious in trying to unite so many disparate elements and loose ends. His new readers also found in him an almost too-profound exploration of violence, hunger for power, and quixotic
Quixotism
Quixotism is impracticality in pursuit of ideals, especially those ideals manifested by rash, lofty and romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action. It also serves to describe an idealism without regard to practicality...

 goals. Although many critics of this time still considered Moby-Dick extremely difficult to come to grips with, they largely saw this lack of easy understanding as an asset rather than a liability.

In 1917, American author Carl Van Doren became the first of this period to proselytize about Melville's value.

In the 1920s, British literary critics began to take notice. In his idiosyncratic but landmark Studies in Classic American Literature
Studies in Classic American Literature
Studies in Classic American Literature is a seminal work of literary criticism by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It was first published by Thomas Seltzer in the USA in August 1923. The English edition was published in June 1924 by Martin Secker....

, novelist, poet, and short story writer D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence
David Herbert Richards Lawrence was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation...

 directed Americans' attention to the great originality and value of many American authors, among them Melville. Perhaps most surprising is that Lawrence saw Moby-Dick as a work of the first order despite his using the original English edition.

In his 1921 study, The American Novel, Carl Van Doren returned to Melville with much more depth. He called Moby-Dick a pinnacle of American Romanticism.

Post-revival


The next great wave of Moby-Dick appraisal came with the publication of F. O. Matthiessen
F. O. Matthiessen
Francis Otto Matthiessen was an educator, scholar and literary critic influential in the fields of American literature and American studies.-Scholarly work:...

's American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman
American Renaissance (literature)
In American literature, the American Renaissance was a period during which many of the literary works most widely considered American masterpieces were produced. The period is generally defined as the mid-19th century but especially the years roughly from 1850 to 1855...

. Published in 1941, the book proposed that Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville were the most prominent figures of a flowering of conflicted (and mostly pre-Civil War) literature important for its promulgation of democracy and the exploration of its possibilities, successes, and failures. Since Matthiessen's book came out shortly before the entry of the U.S. into World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, critic Nick Selby argues that
On October 9, 2008, the Massachusetts House of Representatives
Massachusetts House of Representatives
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is composed of 160 members elected from single-member electoral districts across the Commonwealth. Representatives serve two-year terms...

 passed a bill naming Moby-Dick Massachusetts' official “epic novel.”

Editions

  • Melville, H. The Whale. London: Richard Bentley, 1851 3 vols. (viii, 312; iv, 303; iv, 328 pp.) Published October 18, 1851.
  • Melville, H., Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1851. xxiii, 635 pages. Published probably on November 14, 1851.
  • Melville, H., Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1930. In three large volumes, encased in a metal slipcase and distinguished by the original, now iconographic woodblock print illustrations of Rockwell Kent
    Rockwell Kent
    Rockwell Kent was an American painter, printmaker, illustrator, and writer.- Biography :Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown, New York, the same year as fellow American artists George Bellows and Edward Hopper...

    . (read about and view them here.)
  • Melville, H., Moby-Dick; or, The White Whale. Garden City, New York: The Literary Guild of America, 1949. 416 pages. Illustrated by Anton Otto Fischer.
  • Melville, H. Moby-Dick, or The Whale. Northwestern-Newberry Edition of the Writings of Herman Melville 6. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern U. Press, 1988. A critical text with appendices on the history and reception of the book. The text is in the public domain.
  • Melville, H. Moby-Dick, or The Whale Arion Press
    Arion Press
    The Arion Press "is considered the nation's leading publisher of fine-press books," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Founded in San Francisco in 1974, it has published 80-plus limited-edition books, most printed by letterpress, often illustrated with original prints by notable...

    , San Francisco, 1979, illustrated with 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser. Edition of 265, of which 250 were for sale. One of the most noted fine book editions of 20th century America, recognized by the Grolier Club
    Grolier Club
    The Grolier Club is a private club and society of bibliophiles in New York City. Founded in January 1884, it is the oldest existing bibliophilic club in North America. The club is named after Jean Grolier de Servières, Viscount d'Aguisy, Treasurer General of France, whose library was famous; his...

     as one of the 100 most beautiful books of the century.
  • Melville, H., Moby Dick; or The Whale. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1981. A reduced version of the Arion Press Edition with 100 illustrations by Barry Moser.
  • Melville, H., Moby-Dick The Folio Society
    Folio Society
    The Folio Society is a book club based in London that produces new editions of classic books. Their books are notable for their high quality bindings and original illustrations...

     2009. A Limited Edition with 281 illustrations by Rockwell Kent.

Critical editions


Further reading

  • Olson, Charles
    Charles Olson
    Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

    , Call Me Ishmael, New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947.

Online texts


Motion picture adaptations

(1926) - John Barrymore
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

 as Captain Ahab (1930) - John Barrymore
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

 as Captain Ahab (1956) - Gregory Peck
Gregory Peck
Eldred Gregory Peck was an American actor.One of 20th Century Fox's most popular film stars from the 1940s to the 1960s, Peck continued to play important roles well into the 1980s. His notable performances include that of Atticus Finch in the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he won an...

 as Captain Ahab (1978) - Jack Aranson
Jack Aranson
Jack Aranson was an American actor, trained in Ireland and England, noted for acting in many Shakespeare plays and several one-man shows. He was one of the last actor/managers, creating and managing several small companies in California and New York.Jack played 13 characters in his one man...

 as 13 characters (1998) - Patrick Stewart
Patrick Stewart
Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE is an English film, television and stage actor, who has had a distinguished career in theatre and television for around half a century...

 as Captain Ahab (2011) - William Hurt
William Hurt
William McGill Hurt is an American stage and film actor. He received his acting training at the Juilliard School, and began acting on stage in the 1970s. Hurt made his film debut as a troubled scientist in the science-fiction feature Altered States , for which he received a Golden Globe nomination...

 as Captain Ahab

Music

  • Ahab - Song by MC Lars based on Moby Dick
  • Leviathan - an album by Mastodon, containing several songs about Moby Dick, and a Moby Dick inspired album cover.

Documentaries

  • "Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World", PBS, American Experience
    American Experience
    American Experience is a television program airing on the Public Broadcasting Service Public television stations in the United States. The program airs documentaries, many of which have won awards, about important or interesting events and people in American history...

    , 2010. Cf. section on Melville and the writing of Moby-Dick.

Commentary & criticism

  • Did Melville Borrow the Idea for 'Moby Dick'? A radio discussion with literary historian Paul Collins via NPR
    NPR
    NPR, formerly National Public Radio, is a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States. NPR was created in 1970, following congressional passage of the Public Broadcasting...

    .