“ Authors: Herman Melville,Sebastian Armesto / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 20 March 2013 / Genre: Theatre / Subcategory: Plays, Playscripts / Publisher: Oberon Books Ltd / Title: Moby Dick / ISBN 13: 9781849435109 / ISBN 10: 1849435109 „
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Moby Dick is a novel written in 1851 by Herman Melville and is considered by some to be the first American classic novel. It depicts the battles between a whaling crew captained by Ahab and a white albino sperm whale Moby Dick. The book is narrated by Ishmael who supplies one of the most famous opening lines from any book when he introduces himself "Call me Ishmael" The use of that opening line is an interesting one as it instantly gives the sense of the narrator hiding from the reader, and that Ishmael is almost certainly a false name. He also states in the very first paragraph that he is the only survivor of the tale so the reader instinctively knows that the book isn't going to end on a high.
Moby Dick is a huge white whale which a few years earlier attacked a ship carrying Captain Ahab and in the battle Ahab's leg was taken off at the knee. Ahab has since become obsessed with the whale and desperately wants to kill the white whale, he is the captain of the whaling ship the Pequod and the book begins the ship leaving Nantucket. From the start the nature of the voyage is clear; Ahab nails a gold dragoon onto the ships mast and tells the crew that the first to spot the white whale will claim the coin. Along with Ahab and Ishmael are Starbucks a mate of the ship and the reason for the famous coffee shops name, Queequeg the harpooner, and Elijah the eponymous voice of doom.
The book then takes us through the history of whaling as from a 19th century perspective; indeed the novel is a strange one because with chapters of action and mayhem we get chapters on whaling as an industry. So we get to know all about the nature of whales, the nature of whaling, how to harpoon a whale, the differences between baleen and sperm whales, the importance of oil, life as a whaler, life as a Nantucket whaler, life as a Nantucket whaler on a whaling ship etc. This is either very interesting, a bit grim as the subject matter is usually killing whales or a bit boring as the dissection of a large whale may not be the most riveting read in the world. So as we get to know the crew we also get to know about the reasons for whaling in the North Atlantic 150 years ago, the views of the author are clearly pro-whaling but they aren't overly biased and the fate and actions of the crew are the focus of the novel rather than the killing of whales.
The primary driver in this novel is Captain Ahab, we begin by meeting Ishmael and the Polynesian Queequeg and they are the initial focus of the novel but as the book progresses Ahab slowly takes over. Ahab is clearly mad, he has become obsessed with the killing of the white whale and nothing else will distract him, so when a rival captain tries to persuade him to join forces he rejects because he wants the whale for himself and no-one else. Ahab's raw driven force of personality turns Moby Dick from a rather pedantic trawl through the waters of the Atlantic into a messianic drive to kill the creature which took his leg. Ahab is intelligent, prudish and severe and the reader has no soft edges to grasp onto to make the pages where he appears any easier to read. Ahab and the whale take us on a journey not through the Atlantic but into the darkness of a man's soul, the loss of his leg is more than a limb it has been converted into the loss of a man's identity and only with the destruction of the whale can Ahab become whole again.
This is a book about whales but it is full of philosophy, wit and occasionally dark sardonic humour so when Ahab captures his first sperm whale he doesn't celebrate until he catches a Wright whale so he can hang their heads on either side of the ship. A whaling captains version of the stuffed big cat head on the wall no doubt! The attitude of the love and hatred of the sea is still with us, I'm from the east coast and when we discussed the naming of our first child my wife liked the name Jonah, however, my mum and grand-dad told her flatly that the name in Grimsby is linked to death and destruction on the sea.
Moby Dick by Hermann Melville isn't a piece of work a reader should read without plenty of time, and the need to analyse the events depicted and the story unfolding making it one of the longest novels I've ever read. The book is as with all mid-1800's novels word dense and uses 5 words where one would do but if the reader persists than he is drawn into an alien world where whales are turned into vats of oil, men are sent out with harpoons in small ships to slay creatures many times larger than the boat and where obsession over one whale will lead to death and destruction. Like I said probably not a book for sitting around the pool on holiday but then we aren't on holiday all the time are we?
Classic novels appeal to me because they are almost invariably well written. No book sells more than a hundred years after it was first published unless it is a good read, and for that reason I tend to buy classics rather than contemporary novels because the chance of finding a good one is higher. But sometimes one can have false expectations.
Everyone knows the story of Moby-Dick: Captain Ahab has his leg bitten off by the eponymous whale, and usurps his next whaling voyage in an attempt to wreak vengeance. Moby-Dick, however, is not an adventure story; it is a long, philosophical novel that muses on a wide variety of topics. I would not, therefore, recommend it to lovers of seafaring adventure. Sure, there is a great deal of information here on whaling in the early-nineteenth century (Herman Melville had served aboard a whaler) and on whales in general, but unless you're here primarily for the philosophy, you are likely to be disappointed.
It is obvious from the start that the book is allegorical: long lists of quotations, characters with improbable names, biblical references and curious set pieces follow one after another. Moby-Dick is clearly intended as a book with meaning. As American literature of the period is relatively sparse, generations of students in that great nation are now forced to struggle with essays on the meaning of this that or the other in Moby-Dick. Personally, I do not think the book has a hidden agenda or a moral message: the author proposes and the reader responds. The white whale is sometimes God, sometimes Nature, sometimes Fate, and sometimes, well, just a whale. Is Ahab's pursuit of it a courageous stand against the indifference of destiny or a devilish refusal to accept God's will? We can all decide for ourselves (personally, I cannot help admiring him), and much depends upon whether or not he is acting freely. Free will is a central theme and anyone who has never wondered if all our actions are preordained will probably not see the point in Moby-Dick.
A few years ago I had to do some reading on transcendentalism, a nineteenth-century philosophical movement akin to pantheism in which the natural world was seen as part of an intricate grand design. My professional interest in transcendentalism was its relationship to early theories of biological evolution, but I realized incidentally that Moby-Dick was a transcendentalist work; at least I thought it was. A brief look on the internet soon revealed lots of academic explanations of why Moby-Dick was an anti-transcendentalist work. I imagine there are in fact any number of ways of interpreting Melville's great work; part of the pleasure is that the reader is not tasked to uncover a hidden, "correct" meaning, but is merely given the facts and invited to think things over. In the course of the book Melville provides all the information he can on whales: scientific, biblical, historical, legendary, anecdotal, and allegorical. Only by putting it all together can we discover for ourselves any meaning that the whale might have.
If all this seems presumptuous, then Moby-Dick is probably not the book for you. If, like Ishmael, you are of a contemplative disposition, and are inclined to see everything as a symbol of something else, it might be just the thing to keep the mind ticking over during that long sea voyage.
Penned in the mid 1800s, American author Herman Melville's classic novel is about Ahab, the monomaniacal captain of the whaling ship the Pequod, who puts the lives of himself and his crew jeopardy in a crazed attempt to kill a vast, albino whale who mauled him many years ago on a previous hunt, leaving him with an ivory stump for a leg. As a huge fan of the 1956 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck, I thought I would give the original novel a go, and though it took some getting through I'm really glad I did.
Told from the perspective of a sailor known only as Ishmael, the story documents their voyage around the world chasing after the the much-feared and celebrated white whale, on a ship populated with a colourful and varied crew that includes Starbuck, Ahab's first mate and a straight-laced and intellectual Quaker, the earthy and good-natured second and third mates Stubb and Flask, Pip, a young African boy who acts as ship-keeper and the harpooners, namely the Maori Queequeg, American Indian Tashtego, African Daggoo and Arabic Fedallah. Whilst it's true that these latter characters are portrayed as racial stereotypes, they are presented so in a way that is not derogatory, but rather paints them as mysterious, powerful and awe-inspiring. Much like in James Fenimore Cooper's contemporary novel 'The Last of the Mohicans', there is an emphasis on the contrast between Christianity and paganism throughout, and the book is thick with symbolism, dealing at length with themes of religion and philosophy, obsession and revenge, the nature of man and man's relationship with the natural world throughout its dense, 500-odd page duration.
The story itself is dramatic, tense and excitingly told, with truly brilliant characterisation, especially in the tragic yet fearful and somehow pitiable figure of Ahab, his relationship with Starbuck, who is torn between loyalty to his obsessive captain and the safety of himself and his crew, and also in lesser characters such as the innocent and playful cabin boy Pip and the simultaneously terrifying and immensely likable harpooner and cannibal Queequeg. The dialogue is simply superb, Shakespearian in its style and quality and play-like with stage directions and extended soliliquoys employed frequently throughout. One of my personal favourite lines of dialogue is one in which, when Starbuck is attempting to sum up the courage to overthrow Ahab before he can lead them all to a watery grave, Ahab responds in affectionate yet deterministic, fateful, and ominous tones...
"Starbuck, of late I've felt strangely moved to thee; ever since that hour we both saw - thou know'st what, in one another's eyes. But in this matter of the whale, be the front of thy face to me as the palm of this hand - a lipless, unfeatured blank. Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenany; I act under orders. Look thou, underling, that thou obeyest mine..."
Then there are the words Ahab uses to describe his disposition towards the whale, which he has come to see as personifying all that he resents and despises about the world and his life:
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee".
Its all immensely powerful stuff, and makes for an incredibly exciting read, but the actual story itself only makes up a small proportion of the book. Much of the text is given over to philosophy, mixing this with every aspect imaginable concerning whales and mid 19th century whaling; there are whole chapters given over to anatomy, taxonomy, references to whales in the literature of antiquity, whale hunting and processing techniques, the uses of whale oil and even one chapter on the abstract philosophical ramifications of the albino whale's whiteness. Though ultimately rewarding this stuff tends to be slow-paced and can be quite a slog to read through, though it does add to the momentum and gravitas of the central story.
There is an abridged version of the book available which omits these sections to concentrate on the main story, and is less than half as long as a result, but I would advise against reading this as though quite a heavy undertaking the original version of 'Moby Dick' is well worth the perseverance, and is a book which I consider to be the best I have ever read.
Regarded as one of the finest works of western literature ever committed to page Moby Dick is, on the surface at least, the tale of Ishmael and his voyage upon the whaling ship the Prequod, captained by Ahab and seemingly bound for oblivion. There is much more to this book than what floats on the surface of the page however, as almost everything portrayed is densely laced with additional symbolistic meaning.
I did not want to read this book. It seemed a precipitous and overall unpleasent prospect. A dry, old out-dated tome about whales. And it seems that this is a fairly common conception. Any doubts I had were soon allayed once I began reading.
Let us begin at the beginning and one of the most famous opening lines in literature.
"Call me Ishmael."
We are introduced to Ishamel and learn more about his peculiar ambition of joining a whaling boat as the first few chapters wash over us. We're soon introduced to Queequeg a harpoonist of the vessel Prequod, a ship Ishmael is desirous to join the crew of. The two become firm friends. At this point one could be forgiven for thinking that this is how the tale will continue, through the eyes of Ishmael, and that would be no bad thing. Hes certainly an interesting character. Soon enough both are aboard the Prequod captained by the near legendary figure of Ahab and are setting off into the unknown. And it is to Ahab that the book quickly shifts focus. Captain Ahab is a man governed by his singular desire for revenge against the white sperm whale that wrecked his previous ship.
Obssession is a major theme in this book. Possibly the principle theme. Captain Ahab will hunt Moby Dick to the very ends of the earth and is willing to sacrifice everything in his unholy pursuit of this beast. Ultimately the whole crew become caught up in, and at the mercy of Ahabs blind fury and lust for revenge against a white sperm whale.
Moby Dick. The White Whale. Seemingly a force of pure malevolence that destroys any ship that comes near. What then can we make of this. Is Ahabs struggle accross time with this whale a depiction of "The folly of fighting fate" or "Mans struggle against nature." Well ultimately we will never know and nor does it especially matter for reading, absorbing and coming to your own conclusions is kind of the point. (Not like Lost, that show has no point.)
This is a symbolistic novel. Everything in it has some extra meaning to it that may not at first appear obvious. You need not grasp the deeper depths of the story to appreciate it though. You can just read it as a straight forward whaling voyage story and still find enjoyment. But there is depth here such as I have never seen in a book.
You will soon discover that Melville likes to reference things in his work. Now its unlikely that you will 'get' many of his references unless, that is, you are well aquainted with the ins and outs of various ancient mythologies and religious texts. That said, this is far from essesential. It doesn't hamper understanding of the plot one jot if you don't get any of these references. I would however recommend Wikipedia as a reading aid. To sum up then; these references add a sense of grandeur and consequence to the events portrayed whether you understand them or not.
Characterisation seems to be a secondary concern for Melville. He seem more concerned with the epic, presenting everything on a grand scale. Dialogue is mostly kept to a minimum. Introductions to three of the main characters is handled with customary aplomb. We are given only cursory descriptions of the personalities of First Mates: Starbuck*, Stubbs and Flask and left to garner other personality details through snatched conversation and actions. Ahab of course is characterised by his single-minded purposefullness. This means we are not bogged down in trying to remember the personalities of the many characters and free to just go with the flow.
Everything is constantly flowing in Moby Dick. The Prequod becomes a living, breathing entity much like the whale it pursues. What with the never-ending mechanical workings of the ship, the to-ing and fro-ing of the crew and the vital business of keeping watch for whales you eventually feel like a member of the crew yourself, watching things at ground level, even sharing in the breathless excitement when one of the animals is sighted. Such levels of immersion in a book is rare, and as a reading experience this should be treasured and savoured because literature doesn't get much better.
Its hard to get accross the utter magninficence of Melville's prose. The stunning, soaring, poetic beauty of the words printed on the page. I hate to gush but I assure you its warranted. You will often find yourself pausing just to say to yourself;
"Damn, somebody wrote this?"
At times I was so pathetically in awe of the power and genius of some passage or other, that I wanted to write down quotes just so that I could remember them.
This is a an epic tour-de-force of a novel. A work of profound and almost faultless brilliance near unparralled in terms of achievement in literature.
Its not all plain sailing though. Melville seems to think he's underselling you with his descriptions of events within a sphere few will be familliar with, (whaling) and feels the need to devote large sections and even whole chapters to bland straight- description and explanation of terms and procedures. This is all quite unnessecary and the reader is just left hanging on, desperate to get back into the main story.
But if this book can bore you so, and plumb such lowly depths, surely then it must have some truelly incredible highs. If, that is, I am so unequivocally convinced of its greatness.
And I am.
*-Starbucks is actually named after the character in this book. This came after the name Prequad was mooted and understandably rejected. Nobody would buy coffee from "Prequads."
Sadly the word classic nowadays seems to turn people off books automatically, it suggests difficult reading, a struggle, a study rather than an enjoyable story. For the most part i discourage this, many classics I have encountered i have found enjoyable, some even page turners, worthy of their term classic as an appraisal, a suggeston that these novels will never go out of fashion, they will always have a place in readers hearts.
However i do find it very difficult to count Moby Dick in this category, it epitimses the first suggestion, it is dull, difficult to read and incredibly academic based. the story itself i found readable, vaguely exciting but the characters were difficult for me to relate too, pretty obviously really a young woman of the noughties trying to relate to a middle aged fisherman in early America is not always the simplest of things. However i equally found it difficult to empathise, there is little outpouring of emotion in this novel, things are just as they are.
The studies of whales also i feel interuppted what could have been an alright read for me, giving me not-so-valuable insight into what a whale looks like, does and how it lives. It of course should be taken into consideration that readers at the time may have been intrigued by this, having not been able to see such creatures themselves, howevermodern day most people have on telivision at least. I suppose i cannot blame Melville for this, it simply is modern knowledge making a lot of what he wrote unsurprising, even mundane. However it is wonderfully descriptive and poetic in its nature, brilliant as a base for essays!
Basically i will stop myself now before i just begin to get annoyed with the novel for the soul reason that i did not enjoy it, so to get to the point;
It is undoubtably a well written literary novel, and incredibly academic on the study of whales. I feel it is interesting how he describes the beauty and power of these creatures, whilst the narrative pushes forward to result in the death of the most beautiful, powerful whale of all. Many readings can be made of the religious symbolism of the novel, when it is considered from a metaphorical point of view it does indeed give us a scathing report of religious belief.
And for its time it addresses many interesting, some may consider quite modern problems, such as racism, xenophobia and even the actual hunting of whales and how this could be problematic. For me however, its simply too academic, too harsh, and too brief in its actual narrative for me to ever find this an enjoyable read! But at the end of the day, books sold by Lozz: 0 books sold by Melville , well blooming millions to be honest! So i guess he wins out in the end, pity hes not here to see it.
Moby Dick is brilliant, Upon openning Moby Dick you are instantly greeted by a page of smallish (as in my case) writting that would appear quite inhibitive and an unnatractive read. When however, you begin to read you unleash a great deal of imagery that simply flows methodically off the pages into the very core of your brain. Melville's uniqe style of writting has been personally crafted in a beautiful manor that creates a hospitable set of reading conditions. I am sure you will enjoy reading Moby Dick and you will certainly not fail to astound yourself by the rate at which you progress subconciously through a large book such as is this. I know I was surprised! I found Melvilles' writting techniques to create a lot of third person images around which the story's happenings and events are orientated. There is also a surprising amount of action and movement present which will simply leap out at you from the book. I must admit I did enjoy reading this book and just loved Melvilles' somewhat excessive use of external contrasting examples as well as his metaphoric referrances. And at a last point, fans of the extremely talented artist and musician Moby who released the album 'Play' may be surprised to hear that Moby is Melville's great grandson. Thunderchild
'Moby Dick' is neither as fat as 'War and Peace' nor as dense as 'Ulysses', but it is probably, like them, one of the great unread books. I know at least two people who were supposed to have studied it at university at the same time as me, who still cling to copies with uncracked spines. I think it's a love it hate it situation. The book's opening consideration of why men are drawn to sea is enough to put you off if what you want is a finely wrought story. 'Call me Ishmael' couldn't be a more different opening to a novel than the one you get in 'Pride and Prejudice', say, where you're instantly launched into precise and measured story. 'Moby Dick' rambles horribly, and has a tendancy to get very episodic, especially given Melville's fondness for description of whaling. Nevertheless, its cumulative power, its imagery (the whale signifies all kinds of different things to different people) and the truly great creation that is Ahab make it addictive after a while. I think it's one of the great first-person novels, and one to puzzle over once you've finished. Obviously, you may prefer something more clean-cut (and shorter), but my Oxford's classic is under 600 pages, and if you only ever read short books, you're really going to miss out.
Moby Dick is a novel which doesn't have the best of reputations, I know of many people who found it to be dull. Unfortunately I have to join with them and say this is not a particularly good book. Melville is a skilled writer, his prose is descriptive and often evocative, but his narrative is weak and he takes too many asides. Frequently I wished he'd make up his mind as to whether this was a novel about a man's confrontation with the full force of nature, or an outline to the practises of whalers. Obviously a book about whaling will go some length to describe whaling practises, but Melville takes this to a near obsessive level. The novel follows the last voyage of the Pequod a whaling ship under the command of Captain Ahab. Much of the tale is recounted from the point of view of Ishmael, a young man, unfamiliar with whaling though an experienced sailor who unfortunately chooses the Pequod for his first whaling voyage. Ahab is a man obsessed with revenge on the great white whale, Moby Dick who cost him a leg in a previous encounter. The mysterious and morbid captain harshly rules over his boat as he searches for the legendary whale. We follow the ship on its voyage and encounters with whales and other whalers and get to experience the fatal obsession that drives on the captain. Insights are given into the world of whaling throughout the novel, but frequently these asides descend into unnecessary and distracting detail. The events aboard the ship, highlight the fragile nature of life at sea, especially upon a whaling boat where accidents seem a way of life. It all leads up, a little too slowly for my liking to the final confrontation with Moby Dick. There are moments of greatness in the novel, certain chapters and passages are very effective. When the whalers put out their rowing boats and chase down the whales are particularly notable, Melville manages to create an atmosphere of the confussion and panic of the moment. The final confron
tation with Moby Dick stands out as Ahab drives his crew to destruction. There are moments of philosophical insight and reflection on the nature of amn and religion, but I felt these proved to be minor insights in general. Asides into whaling can be interesting, the dangers the men put themselves under and the techniques used at the time are fascinating, but the passages are frequently overlong and distract from the main thrust of the novel. Melville's biology is amusing to us today, as he miss classifies Whales as fish instead of mammals, but at the time an uncertainty as to which they are is unsurprising. I can't really recommend this book, it took a fair amount of effort to drive myself through it. The quality of language is excellent, I always enjoy the styles of writing present in the classics. Melville's lack of focus loses a lot for me though. The copy I read was only one pound, so if you have any interest in it you won't have to break the bank to try it out.