(1819 - 1891)
As a child, Herman suffered from extremely poor eyesight. He shipped out of America as a cabin boy on the St. Lawrence. Melville's adventures in this area became the basis for his first novel, Typee-his life among the cannibalistic Typee people; likely a highly fictionalized dramatization of the actual events. Omoo (1847) details the adventures of another whaling journey. His first two novels were notorious successes. The relationship with Hawthorne reawakened Melville's creative energies, and in 1851 Melville published his most renowned novel, Moby Dick. Although now heralded as a landmark work in American literature, the novel received little acclaim upon its release. Melville's most significant works outside of Moby Dick include the short stories that he wrote during this time period, including "Bartleby the Scrivener" (1853) and "Benito Cereno" (1855).
Moby-DickThe Confidence Man (1857), the final novel that Melville would publish during his lifetime. He published some poetry in his remaining years, but these works were of little note. Melville's final years were marked by personal tragedy. His son Malcolm shot himself, and another son died after a long illness. During his final years Melville did return to writing prose, and completed the novel Billy Budd- the story of a sailor who accidentally kills his master after being provoked by a false charge, and five months later he died.
Plot and structure:
Ishmael, the narrator, announces his intent to ship aboard a whaling vessel. He has made several voyages as a sailor but none as a whaler. He travels to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he stays in a whalers’ inn. Since the inn is rather full, he has to share a bed with a harpooner from the South Pacific named Queequeg. At first repulsed by Queequeg’s strange habits and shocking appearance (Queequeg is covered with tattoos), Ishmael eventually comes to appreciate the man’s generosity and kind spirit, and the two decide to seek work on a whaling vessel together. They take a ferry to Nantucket, the traditional capital of the whaling industry. There they secure berths on the Pequod, a savage-looking ship adorned with the bones and teeth of sperm whales. Peleg and Bildad, the Pequod’s Quaker owners, drive a hard bargain in terms of salary. They also mention the ship’s mysterious captain, Ahab, who is still recovering from losing his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage.
The Pequod leaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day with a crew made up of men from many different countries and races. Soon the ship is in warmer waters, and Ahab makes his first appearance on deck, balancing gingerly on his false leg, which is made from a sperm whale’s jaw. He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick, the legendary great white whale who took his leg, because he sees this whale as the embodiment of evil. Ahab nails a gold doubloon to the mast and declares that it will be the prize for the first man to sight the whale. As the Pequod sails toward the southern tip of Africa, whales are sighted and unsuccessfully hunted. During the hunt, a group of men, none of whom anyone on the ship’s crew has seen before on the voyage, emerges from the hold. The men’s leader is an exotic-looking man named Fedallah. These men constitute Ahab’s private harpoon crew, smuggled aboard in defiance of Bildad and Peleg. Ahab hopes that their skills and Fedallah’s prophetic abilities will help him in his hunt for Moby Dick.
The Pequod rounds Africa and enters the Indian Ocean. A few whales are successfully caught and processed for their oil. From time to time, the ship encounters other whaling vessels. Ahab always demands information about Moby Dick from their captains. One of the ships, the Jeroboam, carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom for anyone who threatens Moby Dick. His predictions seem to carry some weight, as those aboard his ship who have hunted the whale have met disaster. While trying to drain the oil from the head of a captured sperm whale, Tashtego, one of the Pequod’s harpooners, falls into the whale’s voluminous head, which then rips free of the ship and begins to sink. Queequeg saves Tashtego by diving into the ocean and cutting into the slowly sinking head.
During another whale hunt, Pip, the Pequod’s black cabin boy, jumps from a whaleboat and is left behind in the middle of the ocean. He goes insane as the result of the experience and becomes a crazy but prophetic jester for the ship. Soon after, the Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby, a whaling ship whose skipper, Captain Boomer, has lost an arm in an encounter with Moby Dick. The two captains discuss the whale; Boomer, happy simply to have survived his encounter, cannot understand Ahab’s lust for vengeance. Not long after, Queequeg falls ill and has the ship’s carpenter make him a coffin in anticipation of his death. He recovers, however, and the coffin eventually becomes the Pequod’s replacement life buoy.
Ahab orders a harpoon forged in the expectation that he will soon encounter Moby Dick. He baptizes the harpoon with the blood of the Pequod’s three harpooners. The Pequod kills several more whales. Issuing a prophecy about Ahab’s death, Fedallah declares that Ahab will first see two hearses, the second of which will be made only from American wood, and that he will be killed by hemp rope. Ahab interprets these words to mean that he will not die at sea, where there are no hearses and no hangings. A typhoon hits the Pequod, illuminating it with electrical fire. Ahab takes this occurrence as a sign of imminent confrontation and success, but Starbuck, the ship’s first mate, takes it as a bad omen and considers killing Ahab to end the mad quest. After the storm ends, one of the sailors falls from the ship’s masthead and drowns—a grim foreshadowing of what lies ahead.
Ahab’s fervent desire to find and destroy Moby Dick continues to intensify, and the mad Pip is now his constant companion. The Pequod approaches the equator, where Ahab expects to find the great whale. The ship encounters two more whaling ships, the Rachel and the Delight, both of which have recently had fatal encounters with the whale. Ahab finally sights Moby Dick. The harpoon boats are launched, and Moby Dick attacks Ahab’s harpoon boat, destroying it. The next day, Moby Dick is sighted again, and the boats are lowered once more. The whale is harpooned, but Moby Dick again attacks Ahab’s boat. Fedallah, trapped in the harpoon line, is dragged overboard to his death. Starbuck must maneuver the Pequod between Ahab and the angry whale.
On the third day, the boats are once again sent after Moby Dick, who once again attacks them. The men can see Fedallah’s corpse lashed to the whale by the harpoon line. Moby Dick rams the Pequod and sinks it. Ahab is then caught in a harpoon line and hurled out of his harpoon boat to his death. All of the remaining whaleboats and men are caught in the vortex created by the sinking Pequod and pulled under to their deaths. Ishmael, who was thrown from a boat at the beginning of the chase, was far enough away to escape the whirlpool, and he alone survives. He floats atop Queequeg’s coffin, which popped back up from the wreck, until he is picked up by the Rachel, which is still searching for the crewmen lost in her earlier encounter with Moby Dick.
Ishmael: narrator; a junior member of the Pequod’s crew, casts himself as the author, recounting the events of the voyage after he has acquired more experience and studied the whale extensively. Despite his centrality to the story, Ishmael doesn’t reveal much about himself to the reader. We know that he has gone to sea out of some deep spiritual malaise-nepokojnosť and that shipping aboard a whaler is his version of committing suicide—he believes that men aboard a whaling ship are lost to the world. He is intelligent and well educated- art, geology, anatomy, legal codes and literature, yet he claims that a whaling ship has been “[his] Yale College and [his] Harvard.” He seems to be a self-taught Renaissance man, good at everything but committed to nothing.
Ahab: both an ancient and a modern type of hero. His overconfidence leads him to defy-vzdorovať common sense and believe that, like a god, he can enact-uzákoniť his will and remain immune to the forces of nature. He considers Moby Dick the embodiment of evil in the world, and believes it´s his inescapable fate to destroy this evil.
Moby Dick: an impersonal force, one that many critics have interpreted as an allegorical representation of God, an all-powerful being that humankind can neither understand nor defy/ God is unknowable and cannot be pinned down/. Moby Dick cannot be defeated, only accommodated-prijať or avoided.
Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask: provide philosophical contrasts with Ahab. Starbuck, the first mate, is a religious man, Sober and conservative/Ahab rather places himself than some external set of principles/. Stubb is jolly, easy going, and popular in moments of crisis. He has worked in the dangerous occupation of whaling for too. He believes that things happen as they are meant to and that there is little that he can do about it/ Ahabbelieves that he can alter-zmeniť this world/. Flask simply enjoys the thrill of the hunt and takes pride in killing whales/Ahab thinks and interprets/. Flask has a confrontational attitude. He has a nickname “King-Post,” because he resembles a certain type of short, square timber.
Queequeg - Starbuck’s skilled harpooner and Ishmael’s best friend. Queequeg was once a prince from a South Sea island who stowed away on a whaling ship in search of adventure. He is a composite of elements of African, Polynesian, Islamic, Christian, and Native American cultures. He is brave and generous, and enables Ishmael to see that race has no bearing on a man’s character.
Tashtego - Stubb’s harpooner, Tashtego is a Gay Head Indian from Martha’s Vineyard, one of the last of a tribe. Tashtego performs many of the skilled tasks aboard the ship. Like Queequeg, Tashtego embodies certain characteristics of the “noble savage”. He is, however, more practical and less intellectual than Queequeg: Tashtego craves rum.
Daggoo - Flask’s harpooner, physically enormous African. Like Queequeg, he stowed away on a whaling ship that stopped near his home.
Fedallah - A strange, “oriental” old Parsee (Persian fire-worshipper)- around his head is a turban made from his own hair, and he wears a black Chinese jacket and pants. He is an almost supernaturally skilled hunter and a prophet-veštec to Ahab. Fedallah keeps his distance from the rest of the crew, who view him with unease.
Peleg - A well-to-do retired whaleman of Nantucket and a Quaker. As one of the principal owners of the Pequod, Peleg, along with Captain Bildad, takes care of hiring the crew. When the two are negotiating wages for Ishmael and Queequeg, Peleg plays the generous one, although his salary offer is not terribly impressive.
Bildad - Another well-to-do Quaker ex-whaleman from Nantucket who owns a large share of the Pequod. Bildad is (or pretends to be) crustier-popudlivý than Peleg in negotiations over wages. Both men display a business sense and a bloodthirstiness unusual for Quakers, who are normally pacifists.
Father Mapple - A former whaleman and now the preacher-kazateľ in the New Bedford Whaleman’s Chapel. Father Mapple delivers a sermon on Jonah and the whale in which he uses the Bible to address the whalemen’s lives. He is an example of someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness or revenge.
Captain Boomer - The jovial captain of the English whaling ship the Samuel Enderby. Boomer lost his arm in an accident involving Moby Dick. Unlike Ahab, Boomer is glad to have escaped with his life, and he sees further pursuit of the whale as madness. Gabriel - A sailor aboard the Jeroboam. Part of a Shaker sect, Gabriel has prophesied- prorokovať that Moby Dick is the incarnation of the Shaker god and that any attempts to harm him will result in disaster. His prophecies have been borne out by the death of the Jeroboam’s mate in a whale hunt and the plague that rages-zúriť aboard the ship.
Pip - A young black boy who fills the role of a cabin boy or jester-šašo. Pip but becomes important in the novel when he goes insane after being left to drift alone in the sea for some time. Like the fools in Shakespeare’s plays, he is half idiot and half prophet, often perceiving-vnimať things that others don’t.
(time) • 1830s or 1840s
(place) • Aboard the whaling ship the Pequod, in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans
Point of view:
Ishmael narrates in a combination of first and third person, describing events as he saw them and providing his own thoughts. He presents the thoughts and feelings of the other characters only as an outside observer might infer them.
Past tense. Melville has created a profound and philosophically complicated tale and set it in a world of largely uneducated working-class men; Ishmael, thus, seems less a real character than an instrument of the author. No one else aboard the Pequod possesses the proper combination of intellect and experience to tell this story. Indeed, at times even Ishmael fails Melville’s purposes, and he disappears from the story for long stretches, replaced by dramatic dialogues and soliloquies from Ahab and other characters.
Etymology: Moby-Dick begins with the etymological derivation of the word “whale.” Before presenting this etymology, the narrator presents the person who prepared the etymology, “a late consumptive usher to a grammar school,” a sort of failed schoolmaster who occupies himself with dusting off his old books. The etymology itself offers a quotation from the sixteenth-century explorer Hackluyt that emphasizes the importance of the unpronounced “h” in “whale.” One dictionary claims that the word derives from hval, the Swedish and Danish word for roundness, another that it derives from Wallen, the Dutch and German word verb meaning “to roll.” These etymologies are followed by the word for whale in thirteen other languages.
Extracts: The “extracts” are quotations from various sources- from biblical passages, Shakespeare and Dryden, scientific treatises, explorers’ accounts, and popular literature. They suggest the wide range of things that the whale has represented at different times.
Etymology & Extracts: By providing an etymology and extracts from other texts Melville indicates that Moby-Dick will be more than a mere adventure novel. The novel is based on a thorough study of humankind’s attempts to understand the whale but it also attempts to make a serious contribution to the body of knowledge. Moreover, the range and variety of extracts suggest that whales are much more important to Western culture than people recognize.
One thing that the extracts clearly do is display the novel’s commitment to intertextuality (the referencing of other literary works)= establishing the literary worthiness. The extracts imply that Moby-Dick is equal to other literary masterpieces such as Shakespeare’s plays and Paradise Lost to works of natural science. Moreover, there is the novel’s ambition to deal with a variety of human experiences.
Ironic, celebratory, philosophical, dramatic, hyperbolic
The limits of knowledge: Throughout history, the whale has taken on an incredible multiplicity of meanings. Ishmael makes use of nearly every discipline in his attempts to understand the nature of the whale. Each of these systems of knowledge, however, including art, taxonomy, and phrenology, fails to give an adequate account. The multiplicity of approaches that Ishmael takes and the frequent references to the limits of observation (men cannot see the depths of the ocean), suggest that human knowledge is always limited and insufficient. The ways of Moby Dick, like those of the Christian God, are unknowable to man, and thus trying to interpret them is inevitably fatal.
The deceptiveness-klamlivosť of fate: We have the impression that Pequod’s doom-osud is inevitable. Many of the sailors believe in prophecies, and some even claim the ability to foretell the future. A number of things suggest, however, that characters are actually deluding-klmať themselves. Ahab, for example, clearly manipulates the sailors into thinking that the quest for Moby Dick is their common destiny. Moreover, the prophesies of Fedallah and others seem to be undercut in Chapter 99, when various individuals interpret the doubloon in different ways, demonstrating that humans project what they want to see when they try to interpret signs and portents.
The exploitative nature of whaling: The Pequod seems like an island of equality and fellowship- crew includes men from all corners of the globe and all races who seem to get along harmoniously. The conditions of work aboard the Pequod promote a certain kind of egalitarianism-rovnotárstvo- men are promoted, paid according to their skill. However, each of the Pequod’s mates, who are white, is entirely dependent on a nonwhite harpooner, and nonwhites perform most of the dirty or dangerous jobs. Flask actually stands on Daggoo, his African harpooner, in order to beat the other mates to a prize whale. Ahab is depicted as walking over the black Pip, who listens to Ahab’s pacing from below deck, and is thus reminded that his value as a slave is less than the value of a whale.
Whiteness: it represents to Ishmael the unnatural and threatening: albinos, creatures that live in extreme and inhospitable environments, waves breaking against rocks. These examples reverse-prevracajú the traditional association of whiteness with purity. Melville’s characters cannot objectively understand the White Whale. Ahab believes that Moby Dick represents evil, while Ishmael fails in his attempts to determine scientifically the whale’s fundamental nature.
Surfaces and depths: Ishmael knows that nothing is possible to entirely examine, noting that only the surfaces of objects and environments are available to the human observer. As the whale swims, it hides much of its body underwater and no one knows where it goes or what it does. The depths are mysterious and inaccessible to Ishmael. This motif represents the larger problem of the limitations of human knowledge. Humankind is not all-seeing; we can only observe.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
The Pequod symbolizes doom; Named after a Native American tribe in Massachusetts that did not long survive the arrival of white men. It is painted a gloomy black and covered in whale teeth and bones= violent death. Adorned like a primitive coffin, the Pequod becomes one.
Moby Dick, on an objective level, symbolizes humankind’s inability to understand the world. Moby Dick possesses various symbolic meanings for various individuals. To the Pequod’s crew, the legendary White Whale embodies evil, tales about the whale allow them to confront their fear, manage it, and continue to function. Ahab, on the other hand, believes that Moby Dick is a manifestation of all that is wrong with the world, and he feels that it is his destiny to eradicate-zničiť this symbolic evil.
White Whale can be read as an allegorical representation of an unknowable God. As a profitable commodity, it fits into the scheme of white economic expansion and exploitation in the nineteenth century. As a part of the natural world, it represents the destruction of the environment.
Queequeg’s coffin symbolizes both life and death. Queequeg has it built when he is seriously ill, but when he recovers, it becomes a chest to hold his belongings and an emblem of his will to live. He carves his tattoos onto the coffin’s lid. The coffin further comes to symbolize life, in a morbid way- When the Pequod sinks, the coffin becomes Ishmael’s buoy- bója, záchranné koleso, saving not only his life but the life of the narrative that he will pass on.
Genre: Novel; Epic, adventure story, quest tale, allegory, tragedy
My own interpretation:
major conflict • Ahab dedicates his ship and crew to destroying Moby Dick, a white whale, because he sees this whale as the living embodiment of all that is evil in the universe. By ignoring the physical dangers that this quest entails-znamenať, setting himself against other men, and presuming to understand and fight evil on a cosmic scale, Ahab arrogantly defies-vzdorovať the limitations imposed-uvaliť upon human beings.
rising action • Ahab announces-oznámiť his quest to the other sailors and nails the doubloon to the mast- stĺp; the Pequod encounters various ships with news and stories about Moby Dick.
climax • In Chapter 132, “The Symphony,” Ahab interrogates-spytovať himself and his quest in front of Starbuck, and realizes that he does not have the will to turn aside from his purpose.
falling action • The death of Ahab and the destruction of the Pequod by Moby Dick; Ishmael, the only survivor of the Pequod’s sinking, floats on a coffin and is rescued by another whaling ship, the Rachel.
foreshadowing • Foreshadowing in Moby-Dick is extensive and inescapable: everything from the Pequod’s ornamentation to the behavior of schools of fish to the appearance of a giant squid is read as an omen of the eventual catastrophic encounter with Moby Dick.
Important Quotations Explained
1. How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.
This passage comes at the end of Chapter 10, when Ishmael is forced to share a bed with the tattooed “savage” Queequeg at the Spouter-Inn. At first horrified, Ishmael is quickly impressed by Queequeg’s dignity-dôstojnosť and kindness. The homoerotic overtones of their sharing a bed and staying up much of the night smoking and talking suggests a profound-hlboký, close bond-väzba born of mutual dependence and a world in which merit-kvalita, rather than race or wealth, determines a man’s status. Ishmael’s willingness to describe his relationship with Queequeg “honeymoon” symbolizes his openness to new experiences and people.
2. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.
Chapter 41- the chapter from which it comes shares its title with the White Whale and the novel itself. While many sailors aboard the Pequod use legends about particularly large and malevolent whales as a way to manage the fear and danger inherent in whaling, they do not take these legends literally. Ahab, on the other hand, believes that Moby Dick is evil incarnate. His belief that killing Moby Dick will eradicate evil evidences his inability to understand things symbolically. Instead of interpreting the loss of his leg as a common consequence of his occupation and perhaps as a punishment for taking excessive risks, he sees it as evidence of evil cosmic forces persecuting him.
3. There is a wisdom that is woe-žiaľ; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges-roklina, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop- vzlietnutie the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar-vznášať sa.
end of Chapter 96, as Ishmael snaps out of a hypnotic state brought on by staring into the fires of the try-works. This passage is a warning against giving in to escapism—fantasy, daydreaming, suicide—and suggests that woe and madness can be profitable states for one with enough greatness of soul. For one who is intelligent and perceptive—whose soul is “in the mountains” and greater than the average person’s—such states of mind provide a higher plane of existence than contentedness- spokojnosť and sanity- zdravý rozum do for a normal person. In other words, Ahab may be insane and “for ever . . . within the gorge,” but his inherent greatness makes even his destruction more important than the mere existence—the “soar[ing]”—of other, more banal individuals.
4. 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. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!
Ahab utters these words—his last—after Moby Dick destroys the Pequod, in Chapter 135. These words, Shakespearean in tone, are meant to match the dramatic nature of the situation in which they are spoken. The whale is “all-destroying but unconquering”: its victory has been inevitable, but it has not defeated Ahab’s spirit. In an ultimate demonstration of defiance, Ahab uses his “last breath” to curse-prekliať the whale and fate. He is, spiritually, already in “hell’s heart,” This final climactic explosion of eloquence-výrečnosť and theatricality is followed by an overwhelming silence, as the whale disappears and everything and everyone but Ishmael is pulled below the ocean’s surface.