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Great Books: Moby Dick Symbolism in Moby Dick Call me Ishmael is the opening line and one of the

e most famous opening lines in American literature. Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick, the white whale, and now wants revenge on Moby Dick. Hes determined to hunt the whale and kill him. In the Bible, Ahab is a wicked king going against Gods willAhab goes against the white whale which can be a symbol of God/Devil/or all that thwarts human intentions. "Call Me Ishmael": The Voyage Begins The story begins with a young Ishmael wanting to go to sea. The story is then told from his point of view after his journey at sea. He is looking back. Ishmael is a Biblical name meaning outcast or wanderer. The Pequod is the ship Ishmael sails. It leaves out of Nantucket on Christmas morning. As the ship sails, Captain Ahab is not seen for days. He is only heard as his ivory peg leg hits the deck as he walks. Ahabs only thought is to hunt down the whale and take his revenge by killing it. First mate, Starbuck, goes to sea to kill whales for their oil. He is a businessman focusing on the job he has to do. Whales and the American Whaling Industry The whale represents different things to different characters in the novel. To Ahab, the whale represents all that is evil in the universe. To Starbuck, the whale represents an animal to be killed for oil. To Ishmael, the whale represents nature in all its wonder both beautiful and terrifying. In the 1840s, New England was at the height of the whaling era. The U.S. dominated the whaling industry supplying oil for street lamps, lanterns, machinery, etc. Whale oil was the oil of commerce from 1800 to 1850. Jobs were readily available on whaling ships. All types of people were welcomed in this industry such as free blacks, Native Americans, and foreigners. The work was dirty and workers were underpaid and undersupplied. Portrait of the Author: Herman Melville Born in 1819 in New York near the harbor. At age 11, his father fell into debt and died. At 21, he set sail for the South Pacific. After 4 years at sea, he returned to New York and wrote of these adventures. His first two books were very successful, and he became famous. At age 30, hed written 5 books. He was now ready to write Moby Dick. Halfway through Moby Dick, Melville meets established writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville feels Hawthorne understands the depth of his writing and can help him with it. Melville dedicates the book to Hawthorne. America in the Mid-19th Century: The Pequod as a "Little Democracy"

When Melville wrote Moby Dick, he felt the country was slipping away from the ideals of the founding fathers. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the American landscape. People were moving West in search of gold. The Civil War was 11 years away, and slavery was dividing the country. He explored these different themes in his novel. On board, there were 4 different harpooners, each representing a different culture. Melville was concerned about bringing together all of the races of the world. The Pequod then becomes a metaphor for a ship of state, a little democracy. As the voyage continues, Moby Dick remains elusive. 1851 Moby Dick was a failure. Melville disappeared from the literary world. Hollywood rediscovered the novel in the 20th Century. Cruel Obsession: Ishmael Separates from Captain Ahab One night, Ishmael is on deck. He has a vision. He realizes Ahab is obsessed and overtaken by his anger against the whale. He realizes he needs to separate from Ahab. Ahab Versus the White Whale: A Fight to the Death The white whale is spotted. For 2 days, Ahab tries to kill the white whale. Day 3, the whale attacks the ship, killing every man on board. Ahab and Ishmael are in small boats. Moby Dick surfaces next to Ahab. Ahab harpoons him, but the rope gets wrapped around his neck and pulls Ahab under the sea. All are gone except Ishmael. He floats along until the ship, Rachel, picks him up. He lives to tell the tale while the white whale swims the ocean. The End: The Final Years of Herman Melville 15 years after publication of Moby Dick, Melville fell into obscurity. Hes broke, unemployed, and father of 4 children. He took a job as customs inspector at Port of New York for $4 a day. He never received public recognition again. When he died, the New York Times got his name wrong. Now, his masterpiece endures.