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 "As a revelation of human destiny it is too deep even for sorrow", was how D.H. Lawrence characterized MOBY-DICK. Published in the same five-year span as The Scarlet Letter, Walden, and Leaves of Grass, this great adventure of the sea and the life of the soul is the ultimate achievement of that stunning period in American letters.(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
Published: Alfred A. Knopf an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
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"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me."One of my favorite books.more
I read this when I was very young, and I don't really remember it very well. Another for the list of things to reread now I'm older and wiser!more
Everyone eventually comes across the White Whale in one form or another. The trick is to not keep its attention for too long.

*****

Avast! Dost thee have a five spot thou can see thyself parting ways with?

No?

Jibberjab up the wigwam! Cuisinart the poopdeck!

What's that ye say? Thou canst not make heads nor tails of what I sayeth?

Here then. Let me take this pipe outta my mouth and stop menacing you with this harpoon. Better? Good.

Huh? No, no! Ho-ho! I wasn't asking for money! I was asking if you've seen the White Whale! Ha-ha!

No?

Okay, okay…well then, do you know who famously wrote, "The world seems logical to us because we have made it logical"?

Here's a hint: his bushy visage and even bushier philosophies have launched a thousand heavy metal bands.

Take your time. I'll just hone the point of this harpoon…

No again? No biggie, I'm happy to report that it is none other than one Friedrich Nietzsche.

But we know what became of that crusty old phrenologist, don't we? He went nuts. Why? Because he grew up in a house full of women, of course. But guess what? Turns out that hanging out with a bunch of guys doesn't work out too well, either.

Especially when they're so monomaniacal about Dick.

Moby-Dick.

You know? The White Whale?

Of course that's what I meant. What else did you --- ? You what?

Put away all that sophomoric homoerotic stuff, won't you? Let us turn to the thrust of the plot. The long and hard plot, whose veiny, undulating, ruminative tributaries all lead back to the all-consuming desire for globulous sperm…aceti.

I know what you're thinking, "Who the hell does this guy think he is, reviewing a canonical work like Moby-Dick? What aplomb!"

Aplomb? Really?

Who says aplomb any more? Just for that, I'm gonna tell you what happens -- EVERYBODY DIES AT THE END!

Jerk.

Yeah, yeah. You're right. I should put the harpoon back down. Sorry. I just get worked up sometimes.

Now. This is the fourth time I've read this weighty tome, and I ain't gonna lie -- I may not be able to bend spoons with my mind, but I'm not as scared of clowns as I used to be.

For reals.

You see, Melville gets me. I'm a little outta my depth arguing epistemology, but a guy who challenges the conceit that any sort of absolute truth can be apprehended already has my sympathies. Then when he opens a book of exhaustive -- and exhausting -- prose, itself like so much chanting by a humble pilgrim before his incomprehensible and terrible god, with a casual, "Call me Ishmael." Well. One thinks that he would be just as comfortable with the moniker The Dude.

What's in a name, man? It's all relative.

Fucking hippie, right?

Right!

And guess what? The hippie's the only one to make it out alive! (So I lied, everybody doesn't die.) There's a mad man at the helm of this rapacious project we call Life and you've got to be a bit of a hippie yourself if you plan on enduring it. Yet, there's nothing you can do about your participation in said project -- where would you go? Jump in the ocean?

HERE BE SHARKS.

And what's worse, what else would a guy like our mad man do than captain a doomsday machine? It's impossible for the mad man to do anything else. What? Ahab as gourmand?

"Damn thy eyes for a Cossack but if this not be the most succulent baked halibut in ten counties!"

Maybe it's a sort of inertia: certain professions attract certain types. Just look at Wall Street. Or the latest amateur video of a cop beating some innocent senseless. Or those child-molesting priest assholes.

Or clowns.

We're doomed!

Still, if you can channel your inner hippie, you might just be okay. "Oh man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, live in this world without being part of it." Not bad advice. The whale's lack of humanly reason isn't just dumb animalism, but is really a sort of supra-reason. The whale, like our hippie, is a wanderer that is never going to complete a journey. Welcome incompleteness! It'll ensure that you survive those brushes with the White Whale. Surrender to the idea of "Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel."

To mistake that mossy crust of reason gathered on the back of Schopenhaurean WILL as the conclusion of the Self instead of mere technique available to the same is to invite what D.H. Lawrence calls the "mystic dream-horror" of Moby-Dick.

Come again? You can't wait for Hollywood to suck the last bit of marrow from America's bones with something directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Bruce Willis as Ahab? Keanu Reeves as Ishmael, George Lopez as Queequeg, and Vin Diesel as Starbuck? With the whale rendered in vainglorious CGI?

Me? Oh, nothing. Just setting the pipe so, hefting my harpoon, and ---

THAR SHE BLOWS!more
I have written a review of Moby Dick elsewhere, still in the first flush of my love for the book, but I'm going to add a note here, as well.

Moby Dick is my On the Road. It's my Dead Poet's Society, my Catcher in the Rye. My book where disillusionment and carpe diem combine, my book where wonder meets pain. You know that quote people love from On the Road? "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live..."? I liked that quote too, when I was in high school. I mean, Kerouac, for me, was a high school phenomenon.

As an adult, I have a greater sense of adventure - and a deeper melancholy, and the opening lines of Moby Dick captured that for me:

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. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

The language felt so fresh to me, as I read, so urgent and modern and prickly and vivid. I think it's one of the greatest books ever written and I could have drowned in the prose.


more
That's kind of a guilty four stars up there. I skimmed a lot. My partner, who is...well, he's special...and he loves Melville...read it to the children. I ask you. Of course, he left off while they were still standing about on shipboard, contemplating the waves. The whale hadn't surfaced yet.

I feel I should love it, and should reread it...but....no, life is too short.more
one of the best reasons to spend hours alone reading--sorry--feasting on a gargantuan narrative stew of character, ideas and gleefully strange form. equally tragic and funny. i love love love this book...more
I wasn't sure what I was going to think of this book going into it because some people had told me it was really boring--it was one of my "I'm *obligated* as a person educated about literature to read this book" additions to my library. But I turned out to really enjoy it. Parts of it were very exciting, the symbolism was intriguing, and even the "whaling manual" stretches I found interesting because I like it when books teach me about things I don't know anything about. The only times it lost me were when it went off on total tangents like "And now I'm gonna describe paintings people have made of whales!" Ishmael/Queequeg are my OTP, and I related just a bit too much to Ahab. A note on this edition: It had a lot of footnotes, which were helpful as far as sailing terms/allusions, but sometimes were a little bothersome when they were trying to explain to you what passages meant.more
Moby Dick was written in 1851. Although Melville had been a seaman he had never participated in a whale hunt. The details he presents in this book were "harvested" from many sources. He transmits them thru the voice of his main narrator, Ishmael (a seaman on the ship Pequod's final voyage), and thru voices of other crew members.Captain Ahab's obsession with the white whale he calls Moby Dick is central to the story. Melville vividly describes periods of intense activity, details of routine maintenance and moments of extreme danger that require captain and crew to act with swift efficiency.From the much-quoted opening sentence ("Call me Ishmael") to the epilogue there are 157 chapters, some lengthy, some as brief as a single paragraph.The excitement inherent in this story has twice been translated to film: in 1926 with John Barrymore and 1954 with Gregory Peck. In 1998 Patrick Stewart appeared as Ahab in a 4 episode TV version.more
Herman Melville, the adventure-seeker and literary extraordinaire, had insight into the human psyche that most average thinking people overlook. The conviviality of the crew mates on the Pequod and their willingness to follow Captain Ahab to the fatal end speak of behavior patterns that typify normal propensities. Throughout his apprenticeship as a whaler, Melville observed the microcosm of humanity on a cargo ship, rubbing elbows with hardened ethnic groups. He recognized how the isolation and exhaustion from the whaling industry could fling the kind-hearted into a mindset of ruthlessness and irrationality. The narrator Ishmael gives a full account of the destructive nature of Ahab as well as the sailors' who are blown on the whirlwind to find the blow hole that will ultimately plunge them into their watery grave. Through overconfidence and over-the-top arrogance, all members of the Pequod--ironically except Ishmael--become extinct, as the name of the whaling ship suggests, having the title of the Native American tribe that succumbed to Western European domination. The subtle allusions and symbols, not to mention the heightened imagery, give the reader a round trip, ending in the Sea of Japan. The White Whale, which has many representations, serves to remind human beings of their mortal frailties. Although the sentence style is bogged down at times with semicolons, the plot structure is free-flowing to make the tour understandable. Interpretable on multiple levels, the novel Moby Dick is a triumph of fiction that persistent readers can enjoy and glean imbibing wisdom.more
One of those books that I'm surprised I never read in high school or college. I have to admit that this being the first time I've read this I know I've missed many layers to truly appreciate the depth of this book. I plan on reading this again next year to get a sense of some of those missed areas. And it will most likely take another reading after that to truly grasp it. So for now four out of five stars.more
I am surprised by how actively I disliked this book. Let me tell you why: I expected too much from it. Moby Dick is one of those classic novels every person should read. It has been sitting on my shelf since high school. After putting myself on a book diet, I finally set aside the time to read this 600+ page behemoth.It started out fine. The main character Ishmael is in search of an adventure on a whaling ship. He shows up at a mysterious lodge in a whaling town and runs into a strange pacific Indian fellow named Queequeg. They make odd bedfellows, literally, but they grow to respect and appreciate each other. They board a ship together with some suspicion they will be cheated by the ship owners who are willing to offer little in terms of financial reward.At this point in the story you expect some kind of buddy-buddy facing an adventure that reaches an arc, then resolves itself. What we get instead is a long diatribe about the various species of whales, the methods of whaling, and many other technicalities that abandon the plot that has been developed to this point.The plot turns out is really secondary in this novel, and this is what irked me the most. The narrator Ishmael is drowned out by another voice without a name who not only gives the technical details of whaling but who takes over the telling of the entire rest of the story. We never hear from Ishmael again.There are some interesting sections regarding the gruesome, awful, and difficult challenges of catching a whale. This is all fairly interesting from a lay perspective. And one hopes that all of these details become useful in understanding the future direction of the story.Such a view is optimistic, as it turns out. The story turns from a technical description of whaling, to the strange meanderings of a ship led by a captain who is himself rather unfeeling and single minded with regard to catching a certain white whale that ate his leg a few years back. One understands this captain Ahab has a mission and is willing to do anything to follow through with it. One appreciates that a man such as this is wiling to do anything to get his revenge, including put the lives of his ship mates at risk. But we learn fairly little about Ahab himself.The story turns into an aimless wandering in search of the white whale. Once he is discovered, a mere three out of the 140 chapters are consumed in telling what happens during the encounter. At the end of this, the story ends.Some have called Moby Dick one of the great American novels. I can see why various literary critics in the 1940s may have believed this at a time when America was at war with the world. Adventure, cruelty, danger, and other themes abounded in stories of the war. Moby Dick was a defunct piece of literature until it was rediscovered in the early 20th century.Today, Moby Dick is an anachronism. It was pilloried by contemporary critics in the 1840s. I can see why. But Moby Dick as the great American novel reflects the perspective of a certain time that has passed. The novel should be read more to evoke a certain romantic ethos and to reflect on a certain time, but in its current form the novel tells little to a contemporary reader.more
[Moby Dick] is not a book I ever wanted to read but my face-to-face book club is reading [Ahab's Wife] so I decided I should read its inspiration first. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about mid-19th century whaling but, I must admit, I found it oddly interesting. I was pleased that there was much more about life aboard a whaling ship than about the actual killing of the whales and, although I knew very roughly what the book was about, I didn't know how it ended so was drawn on by the story until the very end. Since I imagine everyone who hasn't read it has at least the same general idea of the story that I had, I will leave it at that.I did find some humor...mostly in the names Melville chose...and I found it odd (interesting?) that several of the chapters include stage directions. What was that about?Here's a sample of his humor: "...whenever it has been convenient to consult one (a dictionary) in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto ediion of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me."There are also some interesting observations of human nature. For example: "Another point of difference between the male and female schools is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a Forty-barrel-bull--poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as themselves to fall aprey.""There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own."The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the lovely archaic and rather poetic language. Here is a sample that particularly struck me:"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life."more
It's Moby Dick. There's not much new I can say about it. I'm proud to have finished it, although I frankly believe you could legitimately skip the entire middle third of it--the whaling manual--and it would be a better book. Suffice it to say that Conrad's Heart of Darkness touches most of the same themes and manages to be one the best books in the English language; Moby Dick, in my humble opinion, does not.more
I picked up Moby Dick because it is such an American classic and a staple on everyone's essential reading list. What I expected was an epic adventure about obsessive revenge and the conflict between man and nature. What I got instead was hundreds of pages of whale anatomy and whaling techniques with a sprinkling of philosophical discussion and homo-eroticism. I feel somewhat guilty about giving "The Great American Novel" 2 stars. Herman Melville is a talented novelist, and his works are widely regarded as masterpieces. As much as I wish I could sing praises of Moby Dick, I have to be honest and admit that I did not care for this book. In fact, certain parts of Moby Dick were downright boring. I found myself plowing through it not for the sake of enjoyment but for the sake of saying that I read Moby Dick.more
A lot of people are familiar with this story but fewer people have ever read it. Until now I was one of those people. And I could see why people would be put off by this book. It’s a good story, even a great story. But it is long. And Ismael, our narrator, is verbose to say the least. You have to be patient with him. You are a hundred pages into the book before you even get on the ship. It is a long time after that before you see any whales and a lot longer after that that you get to see Moby Dick himself. It’s not that nothing happens in the meantime. You get to know the crew and Ahab and you get to see the effect that the captain’s obsession with the famous whale has on him and his crew. Which is all good stuff. But Ismael goes on and on about everything. He gives you a catalog of all the whales he has seen represented in art and tells you how close they are to the real thing; he gives you a catalog of all the known whales; he discourses on the greatness of man. And there is a lot of sailing going on. I’ve never read anything else by Melville so I don’t know if it is author or the narrator that tends to be so wordy and tangential but for me there were long passages where I was at a loss as to what they added to the story and, quite frankly, I could have done without. Even with all of those things I really liked it but I’m glad I was reading another book at the same time or it might have become monotonous.more
Some "great" books are more to be admired for their reputation than their content: not so Moby Dick. I had had this tome upon my shelves for more than two years; one of those books which one ought to own, but did I want to go to the trouble of reading its 580 pages?I was shamed into answering this question in the affirmative, by an internet reading of the work, the prequel to which was a setting of its historical position in the line of the novel. It takes very few pages for the story to grip and, once Moby Dick has got its teeth into the reader, rather like Captain Ahab, resistance is futile. I have to be honest, I did find that the tale became becalmed a midships but, I think that this had more to do with the modern expectation for instant reward rather than any fault with the book.I expect that, like me, most people only know this book as pursuit of a giant whale, Moby Dick, by Captain Ahab. There is so much more to the story; in part, it is a history of the whaling trade in the mid nineteenth century, in part the story of Ishmael, our narrator's passage from a green horn to a whaler and the story of an obsession. The ending, I found genuinely shocking: sometimes ignorance has its own rewards, and I am glad that I was able to come to this book armed with so little foreknowledge. I shall not spoil the tale for anyone lucky enough to be contemplating the reading thereof from a similar base, I shall simply envy you the pleasure to come.Melville did go to sea and, indeed, serve upon a whaling vessel. I do not have the knowledge to confirm the accuracy of his (or Ishmael's) descriptions, but they do ring true. I was particularly fascinated by the mixture of admiration and callousness that the crew hold for Moby Dick. One needs to remember the age being described and subsume our Western revulsion of the haranguing of this King of the seas; the attitude then was so different and, lest we should get too carried away by the enhancement to civilisation that the years have gifted us, I am sure that even the fixated Captain Ahab would have been horrified by the way in which we have pushed these proud beasts so near to extinction.Do not be put off by this book's reputation, READ IT!!!!more
Reading Railsea reminded me that I'd never read this one, and since it happens to be public domain I just downloaded it and got straight into it. And it's great! It sort of reminded me of Neal Stephenson or Umberto Eco, in the way in which it goes off into tangents explaining how something works (generally whale anatomy or hunting equipment in this case) so that you can better appreciate the few dramatic moments of the plot... I love that. And I suppose that a long whaling voyage would be like that, with long stretches of nothing much happening, so it makes sense structurally, too. Well, anyway... I liked this one a lot. Somehow I had not been spoiled for the ending of it, either, which is always nice!more
I recently read about the sinking of the whaleship Essex in the book, "In the Heart of the Sea". Herman Melville was a whaler of the same time period and actually met several of the survivors of this tragedy. The Essex actually was sunk by a sperm whale. It had to give inspiration to Herman Melville in writing this classic.For a book written almost 160 years ago it reads very well, although it does take some concentration and interpretation. I read this book on my kindle fire, which makes searching for the definition of unfamiliar words a snap. It is humbling to me to learn how people from so long ago had better vocabularies than I do now.I would recommend this book, a true classic. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading it.more
I can't remember ever feeling like I finally crossed the finish line after reading a book, but that was my experience with Moby Dick. I was determined to chase it down and harpoon it, even if it took me down with it.It was published in 1851 and must have a zillion or so reviews and papers written about it, so I'll only make a few comments. Apparently Melville thought no one had really explained whales well enough to the public, and this novel was the perfect opportunity to do so. And he took full advantage of the opportunity, from noble forehead and missing nose (that's why they have blowholes) to the tippy tip of the tail (fluke). We get to find out about spermaceti, a white waxy substance in a sperm whale's head cavity that was used for candles and ointments (sperm whales can internally heat it or cool it to help them descend or ascend in the water), and ambergris, another waxy substance produced in the digestive system, often used in perfumes back then (now we use synthetics). Ishmael is effusive about ambergris's wonderful floral smell, despite its somewhat icky origins. Chapter after chapter of the novel educates us enthusiastically about one whale body part or another, or the written history of whales, or artistic depictions of whales, or weather vanes in the shape of a whale, and on and on. I think there may have been a whale merchandise store tucked in there somewhere.And what about Ishmael? We know that's what we're supposed to call him, but who is this guy? An experienced sailor who decides to try being on a whaler, okay. But how does he come to know everything there is to know about whales, and an awful lot about other things as well? Shouldn't he be a university professor somewhere? And what a vocabulary! This is not a sailor you could find in a catalog. And Ahab never seems to notice him, probably because he's all caught up in debating with Starbuck, then making goo-goo eyes at him as they share deep soulful thoughts, or telling Stubb to clam up for god's sake.Am I glad I read it? Sure. There are long stretches that are terrific, and wow, do I know a lot about whales now. Plus I just couldn't imagine showing up at the great library in the sky and saying no when the librarian asks, you've of course read Moby Dick, haven't you? I say no, my request for a celestial library card is rejected, and I end up you know where. So yes, I'm glad I read it.more
Moby Dick is certainly not a read for the faint of heart. One fun idea is to spot all the modern references lifted from this novel. Ones I spotted right away were from Jaws, Battlestar Galactica and a couple of Star Trek movies.Joking aside, while Melville doesn’t always write in the easiest style and many of the references he uses are now obscure, his writing is still beautiful. The passage where he discusses the whiteness of the whale, comparing it to the whiteness of other animals was beautiful and delicately described. The relationship between Ismael and Queequeg was funny and very engaging. Of course the heart of the novel is Captain Ahab and his total obsession with hunting down and killing Moby Dick. No matter what the cost to himself or his crew. His commander Starbuck is truly a tragic figure. Starbuck can see that Ahab’s obsession has really crossed over to madness. But his loyalty to ship and crew make it impossible for him to take any action against his captain. Ahab’s constant question to each ship he encounters ‘have ye encountered the white whale’ is haunting. I can’t lie that some of the minutia of the internal anatomy of a whale or descriptions of whaling didn’t drag the story down for me at times. My take on this level of detail was that it was Melville’s way of describing an animal and a way of life that almost no one of that era would experience. And in a world without the Discovery Channel or the Internet, he was using these descriptions to build an image of this oceangoing life to a mostly landlocked readership.more
This was the first work of Melville that I ever read. That was about 15 years ago, and since that time I have read many more of his works.Moby Dick remains an excellent work of literature. But be warned: Melville's style is not suitable for all readers. He will not throw out anything to make your journey through this novel easy. In fact, he writes in a way that makes it seem like he completely forgot about the reader.Melville, while writing, gets struck with a thought. "I think a book about whaling must contain a chapter on whale bones." He then writes a whole chapter describing various whale bones. There is zero thought given to the fact that others must now plough through sections like this to continue the story. Such a style would cause many others to give this novel only one star. But I fully appreciate the lack of consideration, as it consequently results in a complete lack of superficiality. There is nothing fake about it. Moby Dick is the real deal.You will have to read about whale classification, the whiteness of the whale, whale bones, ambergris, and many other descriptions. But if you are someone that can handle all of that, you hopefully walk away richer for the experience of having read it. The story and its moral is timeless. I recommend it to those willing to suffer in order to gain a reward.more
This book is one of those books you read just to say you've read it, it just takes half a year to do it because it is so boring from pages 200-600. Anyone who gave this book a 5 star rating only did so because it is a classic and want to feel important because they "love" the classics. I take that back, also if they love monotonous details about whales and killing them.more
So I wanted to read Moby Dick and was warned more than once that it is a tough read, requiring perseverance and an unnatural interest in arcane whale slaughtering practices. The book certainly lived up to its name: it took me a long time to get through it, much more than 600 pages would normally take me. The start is actually quite lively and a fun read, but once the crew is on board, there are four boring chapters for every interesting one. I actually liked the chapters where Melville describes in minute detail the practices of the 19th century whalers; sort of interesting. I was quite disappointed that after all of the dark premonitions and anticipation, the whale is actually first spotted at 95% of the book and then finishes off the boat and crew in a matter of a few pages. Well, anyway, I read it and it wasn't terrible, but I've read more entertaining 19th century novels.more
In this book a guy named Fedallah wanted to grow up and hunt whales and so one day he did.He went to a hotel to stay for the night and while he was there he meet this crew that hunted whales and they asked Fedllah to join him.So by morning they set off hunting.The captin,Ahab has a steel leg because the Moby Dick atacked him so their main goal was to kill the grat whale.On the way they killed a few small sperm whales and they passed by a few other boats and ships and evrey boat they passed by Ahab asked them is they have seen the great white whale.They all said no but they told him where they might be able to find him.So Ahab and his crew took off.Will Ahab and his crew find the moby dick or will the oppisite happen?more
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.more
Moby Dick is worth reading, despite being pretty abominable philosophically (and parts of it are seemingly interminable and hard to get through, but I think that's actually a deliberate aesthetic choice on Melville's part). There are parts that are very good. The opening chapters about the friendship that develops between Ishmael and Queequeg are actually quite entertaining, and Melville makes some insightful psychological points through the character of Ahab. There are a lot of sort of proto-postmodernist elements in terms of the novel's form, along with Melville's belief in man's impotence in both thought and action which they represent---but nowhere near to the extent that would come later, in, for example, Ulysses.more
It has been said, and must be said again, that Moby-Dick is for the large part tedious to read, and only a very small portion of the book, notable the last three chapters are full of fury, and heart-throbbing excitement.The endless succession of page-upon-page of knowledge about whaling, are like the vastness of the oceans, and the huge lapses of time that the voyage of the Pequod takes. The sparse encounters with other ships, emphasize the loneliness at sea, especially the isolation of Ahab. (It is a bit odd they never enter a port.)Early in the novel, we are told that few people understand or appreciate the whaling business, and this oversight is clearly and effectively remedied by including so much knowledge about whaling. Some of this knowledge is clearly needed to read the later chapters in the novel. This part of Melville's novel does what Hemingway's Death in the afternoon does for bull fighting.To understand why bull fighting is heroic, and what is the aesthetic value of it, you need a fair amount of knowledge and an open mind. The sincere, and easy-going friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg, which was probably odd in Melville's day, and might even be unusual in ours, shows what it means to be truly open-minded.There are several moments, when the prose takes the shape of "merry comedy", which breaks the dour seriousness of the novel. The second half of the book seems to allow for more humour, as in:The milk is very sweet and rich; it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries. p.424"What's the matter with your nose, there?" said Stubb. "Broke it?""I wish it was broken, or that I didn't have any nose at all!" (...)"But what are you holding yours for?""Oh, nothing! It's a wax nose; I have to hold it on. Fine day, aint it?" p.442-3With chapter 132 entitled "The symphony", the next three chapters are like movements of a symphony, or acts in a ballet. The dance of the whale is splendid and graceful.The best thing about reading Moby-Dick was to get to the story first-hand, and peel or scratch away all the layers of comment and interpretation of others, that had encrusted the this story from my earliest memories. Finishing this book required some perseverance at times, but was ultimately very rewarding.more
5) Moby-Dick by Herman MelvilleThis was my second reading of Moby-Dick and I still do not love the book! So much has been written about it since it regularly features in lists of the top 50 best books ever written and top ten lists of American novels. Moby-Dick has not always been a critical success and received mixed reviews when published in 1851. It was only with the advent of modernism some 70 years later, that it's perceived difficulties were seen as strengths and forerunners to the modernist movement. D H Lawrence was amongst the first of the British critics to acclaim it as a work of the first order. The difficulties that were apparent in that first publication are still there in the book today and although the modern reader will have absorbed many of them, for example; fragmentation of plot, use of intertextuality and themes of loss and madness, they still give the feel of a novel pushing the boundaries, almost experimental in its conception. A major theme of the novel is the collection and use of knowledge as exemplified by many chapters on the anatomy, nature, habitat and man's use of the living and dead whale. There are chapters too on the workings of a whale ship and details of the hazards in chasing their prey in the small whale boats. These chapters are interspersed with the narrative of Ahab's obsession with killing Moby-Dick and so there is a juxtaposition between the hunt for the white whale and a quest for knowledge. The information chapters then feed into the narrative and are themselves driven by it; the quest and the hunt. Rarely are the information/knowledge chapters less than fascinating reading. The narrator Ishmael/Melville's kleptomaniac use of metaphors, the richness of the prose and engrossing facts about whales and whaling should hold many readers attention while waiting for the story to continue. Some of Melville's best writing can be found in these chapters, for example "The Whiteness of the Whale""Bethink thee of the albatross: whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in the imagination? Not Coleridge first threw that spell: but God';s great, unflattering laureate, NatureMost famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions is that of the White Steed of the Prairies; a magnificent milk-white charger, large-eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity of a thousand monarchs in his lofty, overscorning carriage. He was the elected Xerxes of vast herds of wild horses, whose pastures in those days were only fenced by the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghanies......."This quest for knowledge allows Melville to display his own knowledge of literature, of which he takes full advantage. However engrossing these chapters may be they do interrupt the narrative flow and this has been perceived as one of the difficulties in reading Moby-Dick. Melville's syntax also presents some difficulties: all those commas. When reading I naturally pause when I come to a comma, but there are so many in patches of Melville's prose that it makes some sentences seem disjointed and ungainly.It was a hard life on board a whaleship with voyages lasting three or four years as the search for whales to fill the casks with oil became more difficult, it was an environment where death was not unusual. It should be no surprise then that Melville; a whale man himself should not populate the Pequod with sympathetic characters. Only Starbuck and Queequeg are allowed to show much humanity; the narrator Ishmael of the famous first line becomes almost a non character when the Pequod leaves harbour. There is no love, no female characters and very little sense of finer feelings. This is indeed a man's world."You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps" was a popular slogan pinned to many work notice boards in the 1970's. It would certainly apply to the Pequod. Ahab the monomaniacal captain afflicted with his "fatal pride" is almost totally insane, his harpooneer Fedallah the "Dark Shadow" could be the devil incarnate. Pip the cabin boy loses his sanity completely and shacks up with Ahab and Stubb...........well he is blissfully unaware of how crazy he is. A conversation with Flask the third mate goes like this:"Why don't you be sensible Flask? It's easy to be sensible; why don't ye, then? any man with half an eye can be sensible"."I don't know that, Stubb. You sometimes find it rather hard."(I don't think I have missed any of Melville's commas)Melville's characters do not develop as such; they just get crazier and this craziness turns to madness as the mood gets darker the nearer they get to Moby-Dick. Melville leaves us in no doubt with his stage like portentions, hints and omens that the Pequod is heading towards it's doom. I felt no pity for them; my sympathies had a long time ago transferred to the white whale; that wondrous creature of nature so lovingly descibed by Ishmael.It is good to be aware of Melvilles sense of humour and how he uses this to great effect in Moby Dick. The humour is there right at the start with Ishmael's discomfort about his sleeping arrangements with the cannibal. They become the best of friends in bed and Ishmael is driven to breaking down the door when Queequeg doesn't answer him, only to find in this instance that Queequeg has fallen into a meditative trance in front of a heathen idol and is oblivious of anything around him. Yes it is funny but it is also tinged with the theme of homo-eroticism that surfaces again later in the book. Melville skillfully uses humour to reflect more weighty themes and like all good humorists there is always some uncertainty about whether some incidents are meant to be funny. I found much to laugh at and in Stubb, Melville has created one of the great comic characters in literatureThis is an American novel that reeks of the pioneer spirit. A melting pot of influences that spill out in Melville's prose. A new country bursting at the seams with new ideas and practical know-how and a thirst for knowledge. Old Europe appears dead in the water as the Pequod meets German, French and English whaleships on the open seas and none of them are spared the satire that comes from Melville's pen. They are redundant in the face of the new spirit of the Americans. This is also reflected in Melville's drive to produce a mighty book; one where he has the freedom to break from the confines of the European novel:"Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme: we expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it" (chapter 104: The Fossil Whale)There is however a darker side to this relentless pushing ahead this unfettered freedom to achieve certain goals and maybe this is recognised by Melville. From my vantage point in the 21st century I can see a correlation between the whale hunts and the slaughter of the native Indians as land grabbing on the American continent was in full flow. The better equipped American soldiers were able to kill and plunder from the native Indians almost at will and it was only when they suffered a reverse that the Indians were named and branded as evil before being hunted down. The Indian wars were a feature of American life at the time Melville was writing and near the start of the novel there was that curious wigwam on board the Pequod.Melville was a voracious reader of books and his extensive knowledge of them is evident throughout Moby-Dick. Shakespeare and the Bible were major reference points and and his re-interpretation of Jonah and the Whale in Father Mapple's sermon is a tour de force. There are many similar highlights throughout the novel and so many layers of meaning to be uncovered. I read the Penguin English Library Edition which has a commentary of notes stretching to 300 pages; enough to keep the amateur scholar busy through many a long night.Moby-Dick is a thoroughly original novel, years ahead of its time. It bears re-reading as many times as you may wish to do so. It will continue to reveal new ideas, new meanings, new pleasures and new patches of wonderful writing that you may be amazed that you had not noticed before. It is a treasure-trove but alas I fear it is a novel that I will never love. Perhaps if I was an American.................more
“We do not judge a masterpiece by its flaws, but by its virtues.” That line is included in the introduction to my copy of Moby Dick and it was an incredibly helpful thing to remember. In my opinion, the book is flawed, of course it is. It’s a massive undertaking that covers many themes, writing styles and subjects. Melville was incredibly ambitious in what he tried to do with the novel and in taking on so many different formats and points-of-view, some of them inevitably failed, but in spite of that, the book has an undeniable magnetism. At times I felt like I was slogging through chapters. It was a bit like cross country skiing. It’s hard work, occasionally you hit a slick spot a slide along quickly, but mainly you're just pulling yourself forward slowly, with all of your energy and strength. Then the final 20 chapters were like a downhill streak. They went so quickly that it almost made me forget the struggle through the middle section. “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.” The main thing I took away from this book was the beauty of the writing, like the above quote. Sometimes Melville would ramble on about the details of whale anatomy or the perils of the whaling profession, but he does it in such an eloquent way. Every time I got a bit bogged down in all Melville's facts and ideas, his writing grounded me. He has a beautiful way of phrasing things, but it often seemed like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to educate or entertain his readers. In chapters like 32, where he gave a lesson in the different types of whales, I got bored. Then, a few chapter later in 42, he talked about the whiteness of the whale and how that heightens its terrifying nature because white is a color we associate with beauty, innocence, royalty, etc. When that’s paired with a murderous beast it makes it all the more horrifying. “…that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only rises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror.” On to some of the specifics in the book, which will include some SPOILERS. I was really glad Melville explained exactly how they track Moby Dick, because finding a specific whale in a vast ocean seemed far-fetched to me at first. Once he explained how they track the drifting of the whale’s food and the tides it made a lot more sense.I think the fact that Ahab had a wife and child makes his madness so much more tragic. Towards the end he talks about the fact that he widowed his wife the day he married her. I’ve heard of a book called Ahab’s Wife and now I’m curious if that’s any good. Has anyone read it? For me, the pinnacle of Ahab’s madness came in ch.128 when he turns down the request from a captain of a fellow whaling ship (the Rachel) to help look for his 12-year-old son that is on a missing boat. This is the first time Ahab's obsession really hurts someone else. He makes a conscience decision to choose his pursuit of the whale over helping someone in need and to me that proves that he's lost all perspective. He's refusing to help a man find his son, when he is a father and should know how important this is. This is where he crosses the line and he never really returns from that decision. In a strange way Ahab is both the villain and hero of the book. He is admired and feared, triumphant and broken. He has survived a whale attack, but can’t seem to move on with his life. He must have been a good captain at some point to gain the loyalty and respect of Starbuck, but we never really see that side of him. “For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” I am so grateful for Melville's sense of humor. The book has some wonderful elements, but without a bit of humor I think it would have felt incredibly heavy. The first section is the most entertaining, but Melville throws a few comedic bits in every so often. I thought the section about Queequeg’s coffin was hilarious. The harpooner is near death with sickness and requests a coffin be made for his burial. Then, after lying in it to confirm it will suffice, he miraculously recovers, declaring that anyone can get better if they decide to. Then he uses the coffin to store his belongings in! That wry sense of humor was sprinkled throughout the book, especially at the beginning. “Heaven have mercy on all of us – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked in the head, and sadly need mending.” In the end of the story the coffin returns to save Ishmael’s life. How amazing that something created for one man’s death ends up being another man’s salvation. I’m still in shock when I think about what Ishmael experienced when he watched his friends and shipmates die and was then stranded in the ocean, surrounded by sharks, for two days. It seems like madness would be inevitable. Melville created a wide and strange cast of characters; Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Bildad, Tashtego, Daggoo, Peleg, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and all the others connected with the ill-fated Pequod. They grew on me throughout the story, especially Starbuck with his misplaced loyalty to Ahab. He had a lot of wisdom. “‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.” There are so many breath-taking descriptions in this book. The mother whales nursing, the two dead whale heads hanging off the Pequod, the descriptions of whales’ eyes and ears. All of it was odd, but also interesting. Melville brought a foreign world into my home and made me feel like I was seeing these strange new sights along with Ishmael.The murder of the old whale in ch.81 is one particularly vicious example of this. It shocks not only the reader, but Ishmael too. After pages and pages of hearing about it in theory, to see the kill actually happen is startling and makes it all seem so much more real. “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all. As we near the end of the story Starbuck’s desperate attempts to shake Ahab from his obsession are heartbreaking. He tries again and again to make him turn back and drives the point home by saying that Moby Dick is not pursuing Ahab. It’s easy to forget this because Moby Dick is painted as the villain, lashing out against Ahab and taking his leg. In reality, he is just s whale trying to save himself. It’s Ahab’s one-sided fight and his actions have tragic repercussions for everyone else. When people talk about Moby Dick they always say it isn't really about a whale and I always thought that was silly. I thought, well yes, I get that there are other issues and themes, but really, it is about a whale. But now I understand, the hunt for the whale is part of the story, but it is seriously about so much more than that. I have always been curious about this book and I’m so glad I finally read it. My curiosity has been sated and it lived up to my expectations. Yes, there are parts that drag. Yes, he talks a LOT about whaling. Yes, there is not a clear A to B kind of plot and the characters fade in and out of the narrative. But as much as Melville meanders and pontificates, in the end he’s created an epic story. It’s about obsession, man’s relationship with nature, revenge, religion, insanity and so much more. And it is one strangely enthralling tale.I’ll leave you with one of those amazing lines that made me fall for the book…“These are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”  more
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Reviews

"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me."One of my favorite books.more
I read this when I was very young, and I don't really remember it very well. Another for the list of things to reread now I'm older and wiser!more
Everyone eventually comes across the White Whale in one form or another. The trick is to not keep its attention for too long.

*****

Avast! Dost thee have a five spot thou can see thyself parting ways with?

No?

Jibberjab up the wigwam! Cuisinart the poopdeck!

What's that ye say? Thou canst not make heads nor tails of what I sayeth?

Here then. Let me take this pipe outta my mouth and stop menacing you with this harpoon. Better? Good.

Huh? No, no! Ho-ho! I wasn't asking for money! I was asking if you've seen the White Whale! Ha-ha!

No?

Okay, okay…well then, do you know who famously wrote, "The world seems logical to us because we have made it logical"?

Here's a hint: his bushy visage and even bushier philosophies have launched a thousand heavy metal bands.

Take your time. I'll just hone the point of this harpoon…

No again? No biggie, I'm happy to report that it is none other than one Friedrich Nietzsche.

But we know what became of that crusty old phrenologist, don't we? He went nuts. Why? Because he grew up in a house full of women, of course. But guess what? Turns out that hanging out with a bunch of guys doesn't work out too well, either.

Especially when they're so monomaniacal about Dick.

Moby-Dick.

You know? The White Whale?

Of course that's what I meant. What else did you --- ? You what?

Put away all that sophomoric homoerotic stuff, won't you? Let us turn to the thrust of the plot. The long and hard plot, whose veiny, undulating, ruminative tributaries all lead back to the all-consuming desire for globulous sperm…aceti.

I know what you're thinking, "Who the hell does this guy think he is, reviewing a canonical work like Moby-Dick? What aplomb!"

Aplomb? Really?

Who says aplomb any more? Just for that, I'm gonna tell you what happens -- EVERYBODY DIES AT THE END!

Jerk.

Yeah, yeah. You're right. I should put the harpoon back down. Sorry. I just get worked up sometimes.

Now. This is the fourth time I've read this weighty tome, and I ain't gonna lie -- I may not be able to bend spoons with my mind, but I'm not as scared of clowns as I used to be.

For reals.

You see, Melville gets me. I'm a little outta my depth arguing epistemology, but a guy who challenges the conceit that any sort of absolute truth can be apprehended already has my sympathies. Then when he opens a book of exhaustive -- and exhausting -- prose, itself like so much chanting by a humble pilgrim before his incomprehensible and terrible god, with a casual, "Call me Ishmael." Well. One thinks that he would be just as comfortable with the moniker The Dude.

What's in a name, man? It's all relative.

Fucking hippie, right?

Right!

And guess what? The hippie's the only one to make it out alive! (So I lied, everybody doesn't die.) There's a mad man at the helm of this rapacious project we call Life and you've got to be a bit of a hippie yourself if you plan on enduring it. Yet, there's nothing you can do about your participation in said project -- where would you go? Jump in the ocean?

HERE BE SHARKS.

And what's worse, what else would a guy like our mad man do than captain a doomsday machine? It's impossible for the mad man to do anything else. What? Ahab as gourmand?

"Damn thy eyes for a Cossack but if this not be the most succulent baked halibut in ten counties!"

Maybe it's a sort of inertia: certain professions attract certain types. Just look at Wall Street. Or the latest amateur video of a cop beating some innocent senseless. Or those child-molesting priest assholes.

Or clowns.

We're doomed!

Still, if you can channel your inner hippie, you might just be okay. "Oh man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, live in this world without being part of it." Not bad advice. The whale's lack of humanly reason isn't just dumb animalism, but is really a sort of supra-reason. The whale, like our hippie, is a wanderer that is never going to complete a journey. Welcome incompleteness! It'll ensure that you survive those brushes with the White Whale. Surrender to the idea of "Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel."

To mistake that mossy crust of reason gathered on the back of Schopenhaurean WILL as the conclusion of the Self instead of mere technique available to the same is to invite what D.H. Lawrence calls the "mystic dream-horror" of Moby-Dick.

Come again? You can't wait for Hollywood to suck the last bit of marrow from America's bones with something directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Bruce Willis as Ahab? Keanu Reeves as Ishmael, George Lopez as Queequeg, and Vin Diesel as Starbuck? With the whale rendered in vainglorious CGI?

Me? Oh, nothing. Just setting the pipe so, hefting my harpoon, and ---

THAR SHE BLOWS!more
I have written a review of Moby Dick elsewhere, still in the first flush of my love for the book, but I'm going to add a note here, as well.

Moby Dick is my On the Road. It's my Dead Poet's Society, my Catcher in the Rye. My book where disillusionment and carpe diem combine, my book where wonder meets pain. You know that quote people love from On the Road? "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live..."? I liked that quote too, when I was in high school. I mean, Kerouac, for me, was a high school phenomenon.

As an adult, I have a greater sense of adventure - and a deeper melancholy, and the opening lines of Moby Dick captured that for me:

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. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

The language felt so fresh to me, as I read, so urgent and modern and prickly and vivid. I think it's one of the greatest books ever written and I could have drowned in the prose.


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That's kind of a guilty four stars up there. I skimmed a lot. My partner, who is...well, he's special...and he loves Melville...read it to the children. I ask you. Of course, he left off while they were still standing about on shipboard, contemplating the waves. The whale hadn't surfaced yet.

I feel I should love it, and should reread it...but....no, life is too short.more
one of the best reasons to spend hours alone reading--sorry--feasting on a gargantuan narrative stew of character, ideas and gleefully strange form. equally tragic and funny. i love love love this book...more
I wasn't sure what I was going to think of this book going into it because some people had told me it was really boring--it was one of my "I'm *obligated* as a person educated about literature to read this book" additions to my library. But I turned out to really enjoy it. Parts of it were very exciting, the symbolism was intriguing, and even the "whaling manual" stretches I found interesting because I like it when books teach me about things I don't know anything about. The only times it lost me were when it went off on total tangents like "And now I'm gonna describe paintings people have made of whales!" Ishmael/Queequeg are my OTP, and I related just a bit too much to Ahab. A note on this edition: It had a lot of footnotes, which were helpful as far as sailing terms/allusions, but sometimes were a little bothersome when they were trying to explain to you what passages meant.more
Moby Dick was written in 1851. Although Melville had been a seaman he had never participated in a whale hunt. The details he presents in this book were "harvested" from many sources. He transmits them thru the voice of his main narrator, Ishmael (a seaman on the ship Pequod's final voyage), and thru voices of other crew members.Captain Ahab's obsession with the white whale he calls Moby Dick is central to the story. Melville vividly describes periods of intense activity, details of routine maintenance and moments of extreme danger that require captain and crew to act with swift efficiency.From the much-quoted opening sentence ("Call me Ishmael") to the epilogue there are 157 chapters, some lengthy, some as brief as a single paragraph.The excitement inherent in this story has twice been translated to film: in 1926 with John Barrymore and 1954 with Gregory Peck. In 1998 Patrick Stewart appeared as Ahab in a 4 episode TV version.more
Herman Melville, the adventure-seeker and literary extraordinaire, had insight into the human psyche that most average thinking people overlook. The conviviality of the crew mates on the Pequod and their willingness to follow Captain Ahab to the fatal end speak of behavior patterns that typify normal propensities. Throughout his apprenticeship as a whaler, Melville observed the microcosm of humanity on a cargo ship, rubbing elbows with hardened ethnic groups. He recognized how the isolation and exhaustion from the whaling industry could fling the kind-hearted into a mindset of ruthlessness and irrationality. The narrator Ishmael gives a full account of the destructive nature of Ahab as well as the sailors' who are blown on the whirlwind to find the blow hole that will ultimately plunge them into their watery grave. Through overconfidence and over-the-top arrogance, all members of the Pequod--ironically except Ishmael--become extinct, as the name of the whaling ship suggests, having the title of the Native American tribe that succumbed to Western European domination. The subtle allusions and symbols, not to mention the heightened imagery, give the reader a round trip, ending in the Sea of Japan. The White Whale, which has many representations, serves to remind human beings of their mortal frailties. Although the sentence style is bogged down at times with semicolons, the plot structure is free-flowing to make the tour understandable. Interpretable on multiple levels, the novel Moby Dick is a triumph of fiction that persistent readers can enjoy and glean imbibing wisdom.more
One of those books that I'm surprised I never read in high school or college. I have to admit that this being the first time I've read this I know I've missed many layers to truly appreciate the depth of this book. I plan on reading this again next year to get a sense of some of those missed areas. And it will most likely take another reading after that to truly grasp it. So for now four out of five stars.more
I am surprised by how actively I disliked this book. Let me tell you why: I expected too much from it. Moby Dick is one of those classic novels every person should read. It has been sitting on my shelf since high school. After putting myself on a book diet, I finally set aside the time to read this 600+ page behemoth.It started out fine. The main character Ishmael is in search of an adventure on a whaling ship. He shows up at a mysterious lodge in a whaling town and runs into a strange pacific Indian fellow named Queequeg. They make odd bedfellows, literally, but they grow to respect and appreciate each other. They board a ship together with some suspicion they will be cheated by the ship owners who are willing to offer little in terms of financial reward.At this point in the story you expect some kind of buddy-buddy facing an adventure that reaches an arc, then resolves itself. What we get instead is a long diatribe about the various species of whales, the methods of whaling, and many other technicalities that abandon the plot that has been developed to this point.The plot turns out is really secondary in this novel, and this is what irked me the most. The narrator Ishmael is drowned out by another voice without a name who not only gives the technical details of whaling but who takes over the telling of the entire rest of the story. We never hear from Ishmael again.There are some interesting sections regarding the gruesome, awful, and difficult challenges of catching a whale. This is all fairly interesting from a lay perspective. And one hopes that all of these details become useful in understanding the future direction of the story.Such a view is optimistic, as it turns out. The story turns from a technical description of whaling, to the strange meanderings of a ship led by a captain who is himself rather unfeeling and single minded with regard to catching a certain white whale that ate his leg a few years back. One understands this captain Ahab has a mission and is willing to do anything to follow through with it. One appreciates that a man such as this is wiling to do anything to get his revenge, including put the lives of his ship mates at risk. But we learn fairly little about Ahab himself.The story turns into an aimless wandering in search of the white whale. Once he is discovered, a mere three out of the 140 chapters are consumed in telling what happens during the encounter. At the end of this, the story ends.Some have called Moby Dick one of the great American novels. I can see why various literary critics in the 1940s may have believed this at a time when America was at war with the world. Adventure, cruelty, danger, and other themes abounded in stories of the war. Moby Dick was a defunct piece of literature until it was rediscovered in the early 20th century.Today, Moby Dick is an anachronism. It was pilloried by contemporary critics in the 1840s. I can see why. But Moby Dick as the great American novel reflects the perspective of a certain time that has passed. The novel should be read more to evoke a certain romantic ethos and to reflect on a certain time, but in its current form the novel tells little to a contemporary reader.more
[Moby Dick] is not a book I ever wanted to read but my face-to-face book club is reading [Ahab's Wife] so I decided I should read its inspiration first. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about mid-19th century whaling but, I must admit, I found it oddly interesting. I was pleased that there was much more about life aboard a whaling ship than about the actual killing of the whales and, although I knew very roughly what the book was about, I didn't know how it ended so was drawn on by the story until the very end. Since I imagine everyone who hasn't read it has at least the same general idea of the story that I had, I will leave it at that.I did find some humor...mostly in the names Melville chose...and I found it odd (interesting?) that several of the chapters include stage directions. What was that about?Here's a sample of his humor: "...whenever it has been convenient to consult one (a dictionary) in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto ediion of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me."There are also some interesting observations of human nature. For example: "Another point of difference between the male and female schools is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a Forty-barrel-bull--poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as themselves to fall aprey.""There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own."The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the lovely archaic and rather poetic language. Here is a sample that particularly struck me:"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life."more
It's Moby Dick. There's not much new I can say about it. I'm proud to have finished it, although I frankly believe you could legitimately skip the entire middle third of it--the whaling manual--and it would be a better book. Suffice it to say that Conrad's Heart of Darkness touches most of the same themes and manages to be one the best books in the English language; Moby Dick, in my humble opinion, does not.more
I picked up Moby Dick because it is such an American classic and a staple on everyone's essential reading list. What I expected was an epic adventure about obsessive revenge and the conflict between man and nature. What I got instead was hundreds of pages of whale anatomy and whaling techniques with a sprinkling of philosophical discussion and homo-eroticism. I feel somewhat guilty about giving "The Great American Novel" 2 stars. Herman Melville is a talented novelist, and his works are widely regarded as masterpieces. As much as I wish I could sing praises of Moby Dick, I have to be honest and admit that I did not care for this book. In fact, certain parts of Moby Dick were downright boring. I found myself plowing through it not for the sake of enjoyment but for the sake of saying that I read Moby Dick.more
A lot of people are familiar with this story but fewer people have ever read it. Until now I was one of those people. And I could see why people would be put off by this book. It’s a good story, even a great story. But it is long. And Ismael, our narrator, is verbose to say the least. You have to be patient with him. You are a hundred pages into the book before you even get on the ship. It is a long time after that before you see any whales and a lot longer after that that you get to see Moby Dick himself. It’s not that nothing happens in the meantime. You get to know the crew and Ahab and you get to see the effect that the captain’s obsession with the famous whale has on him and his crew. Which is all good stuff. But Ismael goes on and on about everything. He gives you a catalog of all the whales he has seen represented in art and tells you how close they are to the real thing; he gives you a catalog of all the known whales; he discourses on the greatness of man. And there is a lot of sailing going on. I’ve never read anything else by Melville so I don’t know if it is author or the narrator that tends to be so wordy and tangential but for me there were long passages where I was at a loss as to what they added to the story and, quite frankly, I could have done without. Even with all of those things I really liked it but I’m glad I was reading another book at the same time or it might have become monotonous.more
Some "great" books are more to be admired for their reputation than their content: not so Moby Dick. I had had this tome upon my shelves for more than two years; one of those books which one ought to own, but did I want to go to the trouble of reading its 580 pages?I was shamed into answering this question in the affirmative, by an internet reading of the work, the prequel to which was a setting of its historical position in the line of the novel. It takes very few pages for the story to grip and, once Moby Dick has got its teeth into the reader, rather like Captain Ahab, resistance is futile. I have to be honest, I did find that the tale became becalmed a midships but, I think that this had more to do with the modern expectation for instant reward rather than any fault with the book.I expect that, like me, most people only know this book as pursuit of a giant whale, Moby Dick, by Captain Ahab. There is so much more to the story; in part, it is a history of the whaling trade in the mid nineteenth century, in part the story of Ishmael, our narrator's passage from a green horn to a whaler and the story of an obsession. The ending, I found genuinely shocking: sometimes ignorance has its own rewards, and I am glad that I was able to come to this book armed with so little foreknowledge. I shall not spoil the tale for anyone lucky enough to be contemplating the reading thereof from a similar base, I shall simply envy you the pleasure to come.Melville did go to sea and, indeed, serve upon a whaling vessel. I do not have the knowledge to confirm the accuracy of his (or Ishmael's) descriptions, but they do ring true. I was particularly fascinated by the mixture of admiration and callousness that the crew hold for Moby Dick. One needs to remember the age being described and subsume our Western revulsion of the haranguing of this King of the seas; the attitude then was so different and, lest we should get too carried away by the enhancement to civilisation that the years have gifted us, I am sure that even the fixated Captain Ahab would have been horrified by the way in which we have pushed these proud beasts so near to extinction.Do not be put off by this book's reputation, READ IT!!!!more
Reading Railsea reminded me that I'd never read this one, and since it happens to be public domain I just downloaded it and got straight into it. And it's great! It sort of reminded me of Neal Stephenson or Umberto Eco, in the way in which it goes off into tangents explaining how something works (generally whale anatomy or hunting equipment in this case) so that you can better appreciate the few dramatic moments of the plot... I love that. And I suppose that a long whaling voyage would be like that, with long stretches of nothing much happening, so it makes sense structurally, too. Well, anyway... I liked this one a lot. Somehow I had not been spoiled for the ending of it, either, which is always nice!more
I recently read about the sinking of the whaleship Essex in the book, "In the Heart of the Sea". Herman Melville was a whaler of the same time period and actually met several of the survivors of this tragedy. The Essex actually was sunk by a sperm whale. It had to give inspiration to Herman Melville in writing this classic.For a book written almost 160 years ago it reads very well, although it does take some concentration and interpretation. I read this book on my kindle fire, which makes searching for the definition of unfamiliar words a snap. It is humbling to me to learn how people from so long ago had better vocabularies than I do now.I would recommend this book, a true classic. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading it.more
I can't remember ever feeling like I finally crossed the finish line after reading a book, but that was my experience with Moby Dick. I was determined to chase it down and harpoon it, even if it took me down with it.It was published in 1851 and must have a zillion or so reviews and papers written about it, so I'll only make a few comments. Apparently Melville thought no one had really explained whales well enough to the public, and this novel was the perfect opportunity to do so. And he took full advantage of the opportunity, from noble forehead and missing nose (that's why they have blowholes) to the tippy tip of the tail (fluke). We get to find out about spermaceti, a white waxy substance in a sperm whale's head cavity that was used for candles and ointments (sperm whales can internally heat it or cool it to help them descend or ascend in the water), and ambergris, another waxy substance produced in the digestive system, often used in perfumes back then (now we use synthetics). Ishmael is effusive about ambergris's wonderful floral smell, despite its somewhat icky origins. Chapter after chapter of the novel educates us enthusiastically about one whale body part or another, or the written history of whales, or artistic depictions of whales, or weather vanes in the shape of a whale, and on and on. I think there may have been a whale merchandise store tucked in there somewhere.And what about Ishmael? We know that's what we're supposed to call him, but who is this guy? An experienced sailor who decides to try being on a whaler, okay. But how does he come to know everything there is to know about whales, and an awful lot about other things as well? Shouldn't he be a university professor somewhere? And what a vocabulary! This is not a sailor you could find in a catalog. And Ahab never seems to notice him, probably because he's all caught up in debating with Starbuck, then making goo-goo eyes at him as they share deep soulful thoughts, or telling Stubb to clam up for god's sake.Am I glad I read it? Sure. There are long stretches that are terrific, and wow, do I know a lot about whales now. Plus I just couldn't imagine showing up at the great library in the sky and saying no when the librarian asks, you've of course read Moby Dick, haven't you? I say no, my request for a celestial library card is rejected, and I end up you know where. So yes, I'm glad I read it.more
Moby Dick is certainly not a read for the faint of heart. One fun idea is to spot all the modern references lifted from this novel. Ones I spotted right away were from Jaws, Battlestar Galactica and a couple of Star Trek movies.Joking aside, while Melville doesn’t always write in the easiest style and many of the references he uses are now obscure, his writing is still beautiful. The passage where he discusses the whiteness of the whale, comparing it to the whiteness of other animals was beautiful and delicately described. The relationship between Ismael and Queequeg was funny and very engaging. Of course the heart of the novel is Captain Ahab and his total obsession with hunting down and killing Moby Dick. No matter what the cost to himself or his crew. His commander Starbuck is truly a tragic figure. Starbuck can see that Ahab’s obsession has really crossed over to madness. But his loyalty to ship and crew make it impossible for him to take any action against his captain. Ahab’s constant question to each ship he encounters ‘have ye encountered the white whale’ is haunting. I can’t lie that some of the minutia of the internal anatomy of a whale or descriptions of whaling didn’t drag the story down for me at times. My take on this level of detail was that it was Melville’s way of describing an animal and a way of life that almost no one of that era would experience. And in a world without the Discovery Channel or the Internet, he was using these descriptions to build an image of this oceangoing life to a mostly landlocked readership.more
This was the first work of Melville that I ever read. That was about 15 years ago, and since that time I have read many more of his works.Moby Dick remains an excellent work of literature. But be warned: Melville's style is not suitable for all readers. He will not throw out anything to make your journey through this novel easy. In fact, he writes in a way that makes it seem like he completely forgot about the reader.Melville, while writing, gets struck with a thought. "I think a book about whaling must contain a chapter on whale bones." He then writes a whole chapter describing various whale bones. There is zero thought given to the fact that others must now plough through sections like this to continue the story. Such a style would cause many others to give this novel only one star. But I fully appreciate the lack of consideration, as it consequently results in a complete lack of superficiality. There is nothing fake about it. Moby Dick is the real deal.You will have to read about whale classification, the whiteness of the whale, whale bones, ambergris, and many other descriptions. But if you are someone that can handle all of that, you hopefully walk away richer for the experience of having read it. The story and its moral is timeless. I recommend it to those willing to suffer in order to gain a reward.more
This book is one of those books you read just to say you've read it, it just takes half a year to do it because it is so boring from pages 200-600. Anyone who gave this book a 5 star rating only did so because it is a classic and want to feel important because they "love" the classics. I take that back, also if they love monotonous details about whales and killing them.more
So I wanted to read Moby Dick and was warned more than once that it is a tough read, requiring perseverance and an unnatural interest in arcane whale slaughtering practices. The book certainly lived up to its name: it took me a long time to get through it, much more than 600 pages would normally take me. The start is actually quite lively and a fun read, but once the crew is on board, there are four boring chapters for every interesting one. I actually liked the chapters where Melville describes in minute detail the practices of the 19th century whalers; sort of interesting. I was quite disappointed that after all of the dark premonitions and anticipation, the whale is actually first spotted at 95% of the book and then finishes off the boat and crew in a matter of a few pages. Well, anyway, I read it and it wasn't terrible, but I've read more entertaining 19th century novels.more
In this book a guy named Fedallah wanted to grow up and hunt whales and so one day he did.He went to a hotel to stay for the night and while he was there he meet this crew that hunted whales and they asked Fedllah to join him.So by morning they set off hunting.The captin,Ahab has a steel leg because the Moby Dick atacked him so their main goal was to kill the grat whale.On the way they killed a few small sperm whales and they passed by a few other boats and ships and evrey boat they passed by Ahab asked them is they have seen the great white whale.They all said no but they told him where they might be able to find him.So Ahab and his crew took off.Will Ahab and his crew find the moby dick or will the oppisite happen?more
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.more
Moby Dick is worth reading, despite being pretty abominable philosophically (and parts of it are seemingly interminable and hard to get through, but I think that's actually a deliberate aesthetic choice on Melville's part). There are parts that are very good. The opening chapters about the friendship that develops between Ishmael and Queequeg are actually quite entertaining, and Melville makes some insightful psychological points through the character of Ahab. There are a lot of sort of proto-postmodernist elements in terms of the novel's form, along with Melville's belief in man's impotence in both thought and action which they represent---but nowhere near to the extent that would come later, in, for example, Ulysses.more
It has been said, and must be said again, that Moby-Dick is for the large part tedious to read, and only a very small portion of the book, notable the last three chapters are full of fury, and heart-throbbing excitement.The endless succession of page-upon-page of knowledge about whaling, are like the vastness of the oceans, and the huge lapses of time that the voyage of the Pequod takes. The sparse encounters with other ships, emphasize the loneliness at sea, especially the isolation of Ahab. (It is a bit odd they never enter a port.)Early in the novel, we are told that few people understand or appreciate the whaling business, and this oversight is clearly and effectively remedied by including so much knowledge about whaling. Some of this knowledge is clearly needed to read the later chapters in the novel. This part of Melville's novel does what Hemingway's Death in the afternoon does for bull fighting.To understand why bull fighting is heroic, and what is the aesthetic value of it, you need a fair amount of knowledge and an open mind. The sincere, and easy-going friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg, which was probably odd in Melville's day, and might even be unusual in ours, shows what it means to be truly open-minded.There are several moments, when the prose takes the shape of "merry comedy", which breaks the dour seriousness of the novel. The second half of the book seems to allow for more humour, as in:The milk is very sweet and rich; it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries. p.424"What's the matter with your nose, there?" said Stubb. "Broke it?""I wish it was broken, or that I didn't have any nose at all!" (...)"But what are you holding yours for?""Oh, nothing! It's a wax nose; I have to hold it on. Fine day, aint it?" p.442-3With chapter 132 entitled "The symphony", the next three chapters are like movements of a symphony, or acts in a ballet. The dance of the whale is splendid and graceful.The best thing about reading Moby-Dick was to get to the story first-hand, and peel or scratch away all the layers of comment and interpretation of others, that had encrusted the this story from my earliest memories. Finishing this book required some perseverance at times, but was ultimately very rewarding.more
5) Moby-Dick by Herman MelvilleThis was my second reading of Moby-Dick and I still do not love the book! So much has been written about it since it regularly features in lists of the top 50 best books ever written and top ten lists of American novels. Moby-Dick has not always been a critical success and received mixed reviews when published in 1851. It was only with the advent of modernism some 70 years later, that it's perceived difficulties were seen as strengths and forerunners to the modernist movement. D H Lawrence was amongst the first of the British critics to acclaim it as a work of the first order. The difficulties that were apparent in that first publication are still there in the book today and although the modern reader will have absorbed many of them, for example; fragmentation of plot, use of intertextuality and themes of loss and madness, they still give the feel of a novel pushing the boundaries, almost experimental in its conception. A major theme of the novel is the collection and use of knowledge as exemplified by many chapters on the anatomy, nature, habitat and man's use of the living and dead whale. There are chapters too on the workings of a whale ship and details of the hazards in chasing their prey in the small whale boats. These chapters are interspersed with the narrative of Ahab's obsession with killing Moby-Dick and so there is a juxtaposition between the hunt for the white whale and a quest for knowledge. The information chapters then feed into the narrative and are themselves driven by it; the quest and the hunt. Rarely are the information/knowledge chapters less than fascinating reading. The narrator Ishmael/Melville's kleptomaniac use of metaphors, the richness of the prose and engrossing facts about whales and whaling should hold many readers attention while waiting for the story to continue. Some of Melville's best writing can be found in these chapters, for example "The Whiteness of the Whale""Bethink thee of the albatross: whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in the imagination? Not Coleridge first threw that spell: but God';s great, unflattering laureate, NatureMost famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions is that of the White Steed of the Prairies; a magnificent milk-white charger, large-eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity of a thousand monarchs in his lofty, overscorning carriage. He was the elected Xerxes of vast herds of wild horses, whose pastures in those days were only fenced by the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghanies......."This quest for knowledge allows Melville to display his own knowledge of literature, of which he takes full advantage. However engrossing these chapters may be they do interrupt the narrative flow and this has been perceived as one of the difficulties in reading Moby-Dick. Melville's syntax also presents some difficulties: all those commas. When reading I naturally pause when I come to a comma, but there are so many in patches of Melville's prose that it makes some sentences seem disjointed and ungainly.It was a hard life on board a whaleship with voyages lasting three or four years as the search for whales to fill the casks with oil became more difficult, it was an environment where death was not unusual. It should be no surprise then that Melville; a whale man himself should not populate the Pequod with sympathetic characters. Only Starbuck and Queequeg are allowed to show much humanity; the narrator Ishmael of the famous first line becomes almost a non character when the Pequod leaves harbour. There is no love, no female characters and very little sense of finer feelings. This is indeed a man's world."You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps" was a popular slogan pinned to many work notice boards in the 1970's. It would certainly apply to the Pequod. Ahab the monomaniacal captain afflicted with his "fatal pride" is almost totally insane, his harpooneer Fedallah the "Dark Shadow" could be the devil incarnate. Pip the cabin boy loses his sanity completely and shacks up with Ahab and Stubb...........well he is blissfully unaware of how crazy he is. A conversation with Flask the third mate goes like this:"Why don't you be sensible Flask? It's easy to be sensible; why don't ye, then? any man with half an eye can be sensible"."I don't know that, Stubb. You sometimes find it rather hard."(I don't think I have missed any of Melville's commas)Melville's characters do not develop as such; they just get crazier and this craziness turns to madness as the mood gets darker the nearer they get to Moby-Dick. Melville leaves us in no doubt with his stage like portentions, hints and omens that the Pequod is heading towards it's doom. I felt no pity for them; my sympathies had a long time ago transferred to the white whale; that wondrous creature of nature so lovingly descibed by Ishmael.It is good to be aware of Melvilles sense of humour and how he uses this to great effect in Moby Dick. The humour is there right at the start with Ishmael's discomfort about his sleeping arrangements with the cannibal. They become the best of friends in bed and Ishmael is driven to breaking down the door when Queequeg doesn't answer him, only to find in this instance that Queequeg has fallen into a meditative trance in front of a heathen idol and is oblivious of anything around him. Yes it is funny but it is also tinged with the theme of homo-eroticism that surfaces again later in the book. Melville skillfully uses humour to reflect more weighty themes and like all good humorists there is always some uncertainty about whether some incidents are meant to be funny. I found much to laugh at and in Stubb, Melville has created one of the great comic characters in literatureThis is an American novel that reeks of the pioneer spirit. A melting pot of influences that spill out in Melville's prose. A new country bursting at the seams with new ideas and practical know-how and a thirst for knowledge. Old Europe appears dead in the water as the Pequod meets German, French and English whaleships on the open seas and none of them are spared the satire that comes from Melville's pen. They are redundant in the face of the new spirit of the Americans. This is also reflected in Melville's drive to produce a mighty book; one where he has the freedom to break from the confines of the European novel:"Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme: we expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it" (chapter 104: The Fossil Whale)There is however a darker side to this relentless pushing ahead this unfettered freedom to achieve certain goals and maybe this is recognised by Melville. From my vantage point in the 21st century I can see a correlation between the whale hunts and the slaughter of the native Indians as land grabbing on the American continent was in full flow. The better equipped American soldiers were able to kill and plunder from the native Indians almost at will and it was only when they suffered a reverse that the Indians were named and branded as evil before being hunted down. The Indian wars were a feature of American life at the time Melville was writing and near the start of the novel there was that curious wigwam on board the Pequod.Melville was a voracious reader of books and his extensive knowledge of them is evident throughout Moby-Dick. Shakespeare and the Bible were major reference points and and his re-interpretation of Jonah and the Whale in Father Mapple's sermon is a tour de force. There are many similar highlights throughout the novel and so many layers of meaning to be uncovered. I read the Penguin English Library Edition which has a commentary of notes stretching to 300 pages; enough to keep the amateur scholar busy through many a long night.Moby-Dick is a thoroughly original novel, years ahead of its time. It bears re-reading as many times as you may wish to do so. It will continue to reveal new ideas, new meanings, new pleasures and new patches of wonderful writing that you may be amazed that you had not noticed before. It is a treasure-trove but alas I fear it is a novel that I will never love. Perhaps if I was an American.................more
“We do not judge a masterpiece by its flaws, but by its virtues.” That line is included in the introduction to my copy of Moby Dick and it was an incredibly helpful thing to remember. In my opinion, the book is flawed, of course it is. It’s a massive undertaking that covers many themes, writing styles and subjects. Melville was incredibly ambitious in what he tried to do with the novel and in taking on so many different formats and points-of-view, some of them inevitably failed, but in spite of that, the book has an undeniable magnetism. At times I felt like I was slogging through chapters. It was a bit like cross country skiing. It’s hard work, occasionally you hit a slick spot a slide along quickly, but mainly you're just pulling yourself forward slowly, with all of your energy and strength. Then the final 20 chapters were like a downhill streak. They went so quickly that it almost made me forget the struggle through the middle section. “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.” The main thing I took away from this book was the beauty of the writing, like the above quote. Sometimes Melville would ramble on about the details of whale anatomy or the perils of the whaling profession, but he does it in such an eloquent way. Every time I got a bit bogged down in all Melville's facts and ideas, his writing grounded me. He has a beautiful way of phrasing things, but it often seemed like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to educate or entertain his readers. In chapters like 32, where he gave a lesson in the different types of whales, I got bored. Then, a few chapter later in 42, he talked about the whiteness of the whale and how that heightens its terrifying nature because white is a color we associate with beauty, innocence, royalty, etc. When that’s paired with a murderous beast it makes it all the more horrifying. “…that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only rises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror.” On to some of the specifics in the book, which will include some SPOILERS. I was really glad Melville explained exactly how they track Moby Dick, because finding a specific whale in a vast ocean seemed far-fetched to me at first. Once he explained how they track the drifting of the whale’s food and the tides it made a lot more sense.I think the fact that Ahab had a wife and child makes his madness so much more tragic. Towards the end he talks about the fact that he widowed his wife the day he married her. I’ve heard of a book called Ahab’s Wife and now I’m curious if that’s any good. Has anyone read it? For me, the pinnacle of Ahab’s madness came in ch.128 when he turns down the request from a captain of a fellow whaling ship (the Rachel) to help look for his 12-year-old son that is on a missing boat. This is the first time Ahab's obsession really hurts someone else. He makes a conscience decision to choose his pursuit of the whale over helping someone in need and to me that proves that he's lost all perspective. He's refusing to help a man find his son, when he is a father and should know how important this is. This is where he crosses the line and he never really returns from that decision. In a strange way Ahab is both the villain and hero of the book. He is admired and feared, triumphant and broken. He has survived a whale attack, but can’t seem to move on with his life. He must have been a good captain at some point to gain the loyalty and respect of Starbuck, but we never really see that side of him. “For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” I am so grateful for Melville's sense of humor. The book has some wonderful elements, but without a bit of humor I think it would have felt incredibly heavy. The first section is the most entertaining, but Melville throws a few comedic bits in every so often. I thought the section about Queequeg’s coffin was hilarious. The harpooner is near death with sickness and requests a coffin be made for his burial. Then, after lying in it to confirm it will suffice, he miraculously recovers, declaring that anyone can get better if they decide to. Then he uses the coffin to store his belongings in! That wry sense of humor was sprinkled throughout the book, especially at the beginning. “Heaven have mercy on all of us – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked in the head, and sadly need mending.” In the end of the story the coffin returns to save Ishmael’s life. How amazing that something created for one man’s death ends up being another man’s salvation. I’m still in shock when I think about what Ishmael experienced when he watched his friends and shipmates die and was then stranded in the ocean, surrounded by sharks, for two days. It seems like madness would be inevitable. Melville created a wide and strange cast of characters; Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Bildad, Tashtego, Daggoo, Peleg, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and all the others connected with the ill-fated Pequod. They grew on me throughout the story, especially Starbuck with his misplaced loyalty to Ahab. He had a lot of wisdom. “‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.” There are so many breath-taking descriptions in this book. The mother whales nursing, the two dead whale heads hanging off the Pequod, the descriptions of whales’ eyes and ears. All of it was odd, but also interesting. Melville brought a foreign world into my home and made me feel like I was seeing these strange new sights along with Ishmael.The murder of the old whale in ch.81 is one particularly vicious example of this. It shocks not only the reader, but Ishmael too. After pages and pages of hearing about it in theory, to see the kill actually happen is startling and makes it all seem so much more real. “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all. As we near the end of the story Starbuck’s desperate attempts to shake Ahab from his obsession are heartbreaking. He tries again and again to make him turn back and drives the point home by saying that Moby Dick is not pursuing Ahab. It’s easy to forget this because Moby Dick is painted as the villain, lashing out against Ahab and taking his leg. In reality, he is just s whale trying to save himself. It’s Ahab’s one-sided fight and his actions have tragic repercussions for everyone else. When people talk about Moby Dick they always say it isn't really about a whale and I always thought that was silly. I thought, well yes, I get that there are other issues and themes, but really, it is about a whale. But now I understand, the hunt for the whale is part of the story, but it is seriously about so much more than that. I have always been curious about this book and I’m so glad I finally read it. My curiosity has been sated and it lived up to my expectations. Yes, there are parts that drag. Yes, he talks a LOT about whaling. Yes, there is not a clear A to B kind of plot and the characters fade in and out of the narrative. But as much as Melville meanders and pontificates, in the end he’s created an epic story. It’s about obsession, man’s relationship with nature, revenge, religion, insanity and so much more. And it is one strangely enthralling tale.I’ll leave you with one of those amazing lines that made me fall for the book…“These are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”  more
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