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Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is recognized as one of the most important American novels of all time, but why? The book not only offers a wild ocean adventure filled with memorable characters.
but also explores the realms of philosophy, science, history and politics with great energy and tragicomic insight.
Moby Dick Paperback – November 6, 2018
novel by Melville
novel by Herman Melville, published in London in October 1851 as The Whale and a month later in New York City as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. It is dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Moby Dick is generally regarded as Melville’s magnum opus and one of the greatest American novels.
it is famously begins with the narratorial invocation “Call me Ishmael.” The narrator, like his biblical counterpart, is an outcast. Ishmael, who turns to the sea for meaning, relays to the audience the final voyage of the Pequod, a whaling vessel.
Amid a story of tribulation, beauty, and madness, the reader is introduced to a number of characters, many of whom have names with religious resonance. The ship’s captain is Ahab, who Ishmael and his friend Queequeg soon learn is losing his mind.
Starbuck, Ahab’s first-mate, recognizes this problem too, and is the only one throughout the novel to voice his disapproval of Ahab’s increasingly obsessive behavior.
This nature of Ahab’s obsession is first revealed to Ishmael and Queequeg after the Pequod’s owners, Peleg and Bildad, explain to them that Ahab is still recovering from an encounter with a large whale that resulted in the loss of his leg.
moby dick lyrics
“You project, all these qualities onto me
You don’t know me
This is what happens betwe-“
Then I’d have a shit ton of nickels
That shit was stupid, now
Run it back, take it back
Hold it back, take it back
Run it back, run it back, run it back
Imma kill the fucking white whale
Imma give the Dick a damn heart attack
moby dick meaning
can sustain numerous, if not seemingly infinite, readings generated by multiple interpretative approaches.
One of the most fruitful ways to appreciate the novel’s complexity is through the names that Melville gave to its characters, many of which are shared with figures of the Abrahamic religions.
The very first line of Moby Dick, for instance, identifies Ishmael as the narrator; Ishmael was the illegitimate (in terms of the Covenant) son of Abraham and was cast away after Isaac was born.
There are a number of other Abrahamic names in the book as well, including Ahab—who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was an evil king who led the Israelites into a water life of idolatry.
Melville’s Ahab is obsessed with Moby Dick, an idol that causes the death of his crew.
The ship that saves Ishmael, the Rachel, is named for the mother of Joseph, known for interceding to protect her children.
It is Rachel, as depicted in the Book of Jeremiah, who convinced God to end the exile placed upon the Jewish tribes for idolatry.
The rescue of Ishmael by the Rachel in Moby Dick can thus be read as his return from an exile caused by his complicity (because he was on the Pequod’s crew) in Ahab’s idolatry of the whale. Melville’s use of these names grants his novel a rich layer of additional meaning.
Context and reception
Melville himself was well versed in whaling, as he had spent some time aboard the Acushnet.
a whaling vessel, which gave him firsthand experience.
He also did tremendous amounts of research, consulting a number of scientific sources as well as accounts of historical events that he incorporated into Moby Dick.
In particular, the story of the Essex was one that fascinated Melville—and perhaps served as his primary inspiration for the novel. The Essex, a whaling vessel, was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820.
The ship sank, and many of the crew members were either lost immediately in water or died of starvation as they awaited rescue for nearly eight months.