Brand : Herman Melville

Moby Dick

Rick clapp |

Still a great read

Though sometimes tough reading, this is still great story. having spent some of my life at sea, i am more impressed than when i read it in high school. the accuracy of the details is uncanny. melville was well versed in his subject.

Nicholas attanasio |

An american classic

An american classic herman melville's moby-dick is, without question, the greatest single work of american fiction ever written. with good reason the novel has been a staple of our culture, from the english classroom to popular culture. melville's compelling story of obsession and revenge, his rich cast of characters, his varied and experimental style, and above all his masterful use of symbolism and pregnant imagery make moby-dick a book that no educated man or woman can afford to miss. the storyline, though somewhat unevenly paced, builds steadily into a first-rate tale of human struggle. the book is narrated by ishmael, a young man who joins the crew of a whaling vessel to combat his depression, or, as he puts it, the "drizzly november" in his soul. though ishmael narrates, ahab, the captain of the nantucket whaling ship the pequod, is the book's main character. prior to the beginning of the story, ahab is attacked by an albino sperm whale, named moby-dick. moby-dick chomps off ahab's leg and sends him into a feverish madness. ahab swears revenge, and over the course of the rest of the novel, he brings his crew with him on his doomed quest. melville crews his ship with a huge and diverse cast of characters. the domineering and remote ahab provides a natural foil for the care-free and easy-going ishmael. the three mates of the ship - starbuck, stubb and flask - encapsulate the range of man's responses to life's trials. starbuck's sensitivity, stubb's nonchalance, and flask's prickly nature mark each character as distinct (though archetypal). in addition, the crew contains new englanders of all types, natives from remote islands around the globe, and the sinister "hair-turbaned fedallah [who] remained a muffled mystery to the last." melville's style, like his characters, is varied. there are sections of the book - particularly the "whiteness of the whale" chapter that are lyrical and poetic, alongside technical chapters addressing the types of whales or the proper manufacture of whaling rope. certain scenes are written almost like a play, with stage directions and character names followed by their lines. when the pequod leaves nantucket, the mastery of melville's prose shines through: "ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone atlantic." moby-dick is a landmark in american literature, but because of its complex structure and poetic style, it's better suited for older or more patient readers. in addition, many readers might find an abridged version useful - one that removes the less plot-oriented chapters (like the infamous "cetology" chapter). still, for the discerning reader, there is no richer find than moby-dick by herman melville. i give it 10 harpoons out of 10.

Rlotz |

What's your white whale?

Moby dick, by herman melville, is one of the greatest american contributions to world literature. although it is often labeled as a novel, and indeed it does begin as one, the book is sui generis, and contains multiple digressions in the plot that make moby dick a thoroughly distinct work. notorious for its difficulty, and infamous for its many chapter's describing the mechanics and history of whaling, melville's book is now regarded as a classic par excellence. what are we to make of this book? it is one of the strangest that i've ever encountered, and i reckon myself pretty well versed in strange books. for one, this is the most overt effort to write a 'classic' that i've come across. melville knows what he's going for, and he self-conciously pulls out every trick in his bag. the book is firmly grounded in the western canon, making references to shakespeare, locke, milton, kant, plato, the bible, goethe, and coleridge, among others. it is also meticulously researched, with virtually whole bibliographies on whaling and whale-stories contained within. it seems that melville's white whale was greatness, and he pursued it with a madman's ire, lashing out at it with every harpoon in his armory. in fact, moby dick was not well-received during his lifetime, and so perhaps melville even shared in ahab's fate. in the book, ishmael uses everything on board the ship to serve as a metaphor for something else, until, in the end, the ship is as riddled with metaphors as with the rigs, ropes, and lines that cross her hull. meaning is ever-elusive, and one thing can stand for ten others. the best example of this is, obviously, moby dick, who can take on almost infinite meanings. is he nature, punishing the whalers for their slaughter of his kinsmen? is he melville's struggle with greatness? with god? or is moby dick simply fate? or, is moby dick a pre-freudian psychological device? the object of ahab's displaced fears, hopes, and anger? is moby dick a phallic symbol (his name is straightforward enough)? a ram-shaped whale, filled with white spermaceti! i hate to be coarse, but the work asks these questions, and a thousand more. melville also gives us a consummate tragic character, captain ahab, who seems to be a composite of nearly every other tragic figure that came before: achilles, orestes, king lear, hamlet, faust, and satan from paradise lost. added to that, melville blends with ishmael several times during the narrative, becoming both part of the story as well as the author. he makes no attempt to hide the process of creation, giving moby dick a strickingly modernist feel at times. but is moby dick a perfect work? not a soul would argue that. some chapters on whaling are indeed excessive, melville's prose, while often brilliant, has a tendency to become labyrinthine and over-precise during his technical explanations. the storyline itself is actually quite short, and is told in the first and last 10% of the book, the middle 80% consisting of a monumentously ambitious literary experiment (some of which he could have spared us). but i regard these flaws as i do the scar that runs the length of ahab's body: the flaw that makes perfection. the entire work itself becomes some sort of allegory for ahab's character: monomaniacal, brilliant, flawed, and over-extended. blast you, melville, you're a genius after all.