Moby Dick Analysis

Topics: Books

Literary Analysis of Moby Dick by Herman Melville


The narrator in the beginning, Ishmael, announces his intent of becoming a whaler, and thus the story begins. Ishmael signs on to the Pequod under Captain Ahab, to hunt the legendary white whale, Moby Dick. After leaving the port in Nantucket, Ahab’s smuggled-on crew of harpooners emerge, one of which is valued for his prophetic abilities. The Pequod meets the Jeroboam, and doom is predicted for all that hunt Moby Dick.

During another whale hunt, the slave boy Pip is left for dead, and goes insane, becoming the insane jester of the ship.

Ahab meets a fellow victim of Moby Dick, and has a harpoon forged, baptizing it with the blood of the ship’s three harpooners. Feldallah predicts Ahab’s death by hemp rope, Ahab dismisses it, thinking he won’t die at sea. Ahab continues to push forward, and the first mate Starbuck, considers murdering Ahab in his sleep, but doesn’t.

Pip is now Ahab’s constant companion. The Pequod meets two other whaling ships, being warned off Moby Dick’s trail each time and ignored. The whale is sighted, ships lowered, and Ahab’s ship is destroyed, and the second day Feldallah is killed.

On the third and final day of the chase Moby Dick rams the Pequod, sinking it, and taking Ahab with it. The crew in the whaling boats are killed in the vortex created by the sinking ship and Moby Dick, and are pulled under to their deaths.

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Ishmael alone survives, having caught hold of the coffin life-buoy from the Pequod. This book really made me think about humanity and how easily it is damaged, and for that, I enjoyed it. Herman Melville and his times Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, the son of a wealthy merchant family, which later lost its money.

Melville received the best education his father could afford, at the New York Male School. Melville possessed a roving disposition, and desired to support himself, independent of his family. He worked as a cabin boy on a New York ship bound for Liverpool, and after returning, wrote Redburn, based on his experiences while workingas professor at the Albany Academy. After three years as a professor, he embarked on a year and a half long whaling voyage. He deserted the ship and lived among cannibals, an experience on which he based Typee.

He escaped with an Australian trader, and was imprisoned in Tahiti before returning to the U. S. These experiences were the inspiration for Moby Dick. After serving as a seaman in the U. S. navy, he married Elizabeth Shaw, and had four children. He lived for 13 years after marrying her, during which he wrote Moby Dick. The novel was originally not accepted, but the greatness of the novel was realized during the Melville Revival in the 1920s. Melville’s works fell on many unwelcoming ears; The ‘London Athenaeum’ reviewed it as being “[A]n ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact.

The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition. The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English; and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed. ” Characters Ahab is a obsessed soul, much like the heroes of old Greek and Shakespeare. Ahab’s one fatal flaw is his obsession with the whale that took his leg, and the removal of the embodiment of evil from the world. Ahab’s obsession is best shown when he tells the captain of the Rachel “I will not do it [help him search for his lost son].

Even now I lose time. Good bye, good bye. God bless ye, man, and may I forgive myself, but I must go. ” (579) As the captain of the Pequod, Ahab had the opportunity to save several fellow humans lives, and could not, or at least would not, because of his obsession with Moby Dick. He is sad man, as seen when Starbuck “saw the old man; saw him, how he heavily leaned over the side; and he seemed to hear in his own true heart the measureless sobbing that stole out of the centre of the serenity around. (590) Ahab realizes he is obsessed, but chooses to push on, feeling that he is responsible for freeing the ocean of this evil. Ahab is thoughtful in a sad manner, but also proud and egotistical, believing only he is capable of taking on Moby Dick. Ahab is a good human being, despite the detriments that are presented because of his physical and psychological scars. He wishes he could help Captain Gardiner find his lost son, but feels that it is his ultimate duty to pursue Moby Dick and kill him, removing his evil from the world.

While it seems that he is being coldhearted and leaving the son of Captain Gardiner to die, he is truly doing what is right for the good of the world. In his own mind, he has been charged with this monumental task, and can not allow the evil to threaten anyone else. This obsession is only reinforced when he meets the captain of the Jeroboam, who lost an arm to Moby Dick. Ahab sincerely believes that the best thing he can do is remove Moby Dick from existence, and so focuses on this goal of ultimate good, that he becomes blind to the damage he is doing, and the danger he is placing his crew in.

Ahab functions as the driving force of the novel, bring up action and moral deliberation. Starbuck is the first mate of the ship, and serves as a foil of sorts to Ahab, a philosophical comparison to Ahab’s megalomaniac choices and personality. Starbuck, unlike Ahab, has family, and is a religious man. He is sober and conservative, and relies on his faith to determine what he should do and how to do it. He often tells Ahab that no good will come of his single-minded pursuit of the whale, arguing that the crew, in particular his own, safe return to family is the most important thing. Tis my Mary, my Mary herself!… the boy’s hand on the hill! ” (592). Starbuck is once again using his family and the impact that his death would have on them to try and convince Ahab that it would be better to let go of his obsession with Moby Dick. Flask simply enjoys the thrill of the hunt and takes pride in killing whales. He serves to show the other side of Ahab to the extreme. Flask is a “short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him” (129).

Flask shows how an obsession can consume the individual, to the point where they not only live and breathe that obsession, but fail to see that it is a bad thing that they are obsessed, instead enjoying it. Ahab knew that he was obsessed, to the point where he was beginning to lose himself. Flask, on the other hand, shows how that obsession can become a way of life, and how inhumane the obsessed individual can become. Point of View The novel is split into three main parts, the introduction and lead-up, the main story, and the epilogue. The first part is written in first person, with Ishmael as the narrator.

It is reminiscent, written in past tense, as it occurred “some years ago” (3). Ishmael seems to be somewhat autobiographical, in that Melville worked on a whaling ship for 18 months before being seperated from it. The way in which Ishmael is introduced gives the reader the impression that they are reading an autobiography, which in point of fact, they kind of are. Melville opens the book by making it clear that he had experienced parts of the story. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – nevermind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse… (3). We know that Melville experienced the same conditions, and joined a whaling ship under those conditions, as he makes Ishmael. This makes it clear that Ishmael is an autobiographical representation of Melville’s experiences, if a little exaggerated. The second part forms the rest of the novel, and is in third person, with the exception of a few chapters, such as 44, that are written in second person. This part is written in both past and present tenses, leading the reader to the conclusion that it was abandoned and come back to many times.

In this part the narrator is omniscient, so “these chapters sometimes, but not always, contain information that Ishmael can’t logically know, and yet, they still seem to use his voice or tone” (Team). The Epilogue is written in first person again, bringing Ishmael back from oblivion. It is written much the same as the first part, in a reminiscent manner and with a personalization that leads the reader to believe that Melville is using Ishmael as an autobiographical outlet. Setting The novel is set on the oceans.

As Ishmael put it, you could look over the side of the Pequod and see “nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there’s a squall coming up” (16. 37). The Pequod sails over three oceans, and meets many other ships. However, the setting is always at open sea. This creates the atmosphere and feeling of singularity and loneliness, heavy with fear, doubt, and anger, because when sailing, the ocean appears to stretch on forever, leaving one feeling small and insignificant, which can instill fear into that individual. On top of this, there is the ever present nervous tension that whalers experience, knowing hey could easily die while chasing a whale. Form, structure, and plot Moby Dick is organized into 135 chapters and an epilogue, all of which follow a basic chronological order of events, although within the chapters themselves there are repeated references to past events, some of which were never seen in the novel because they occurred before Ishmael introduced himself and began the voyage that forms the story. There are also multiple allusions to the Bible, Shakespeare, and other well-known literary works of that time in the majority of the chapters.

The novel is obviously written with the use of stream of consciousness, a literary device that presents the thoughts and feelings of a character as they occur. This is a good thing, as far as drawing the reader into the story, but it also reveals that Melville abandoned the work and returned to it, multiple times. These gaps, which are often created in works that employ the stream of consciousness that are written in spurts, can be extremely noticeable and create confusion for its readers. This confusion is entirely unnecessary for the reader to experience, however, because the plot is fairly simple and straightforward.

Melville’s story appears complicated, but it is rather simple when one overcomes the confusion that is created by stream-of-consciousness writing. There is no initial conflict, although we know that the entire chain of events was set into motion by the loss of Ahab’s leg to Moby Dick. The action rises almost imperceptibly until the chase of Moby Dick begins, and the action climaxes with the sinking of the Pequod. Style and diction Herman Melville makes his ideas come alive by writing in stream of consciousness, and the use of words associated with sailing and whaling, and vivid imagery.

There is a lot of dialect use to allow the reader to get the full mental picture of the people in the novel. In consequence, the language comes off as flowery: “a sweet an unctuous duty! … and spiralize” (455). The language of this novel is often rough around the edges, but not to the point of being lewd. The choice of words and dialect for each character is such that you can infer, with some accuracy, the social status and region that that particular character is supposed to be from. Their education, however, is more difficult to assume.

Although Ahab’s language is not the best, we assume him to be educated to a higher level than other characters, such as Flask. This is due to the subject and content of his speeches, that we assume him to have a superior education. Themes (at least 3, at least 2 critical reviews of the novel which reinforce selections) There are four major themes in Moby Dick, defiance, friendship, duty, and death. Defiance is best shown by looking at Ahab, who is constantly trying to defy God, or the rules of nature, or the so-called “evil authority” of Moby Dick.

After Starbuck tells Ahab that it is blasphemous to seek revenge on a brute such a a whale, when it was only following instinct and protecting itself, Ahab responds that he would “strike the sun if it insulted me” (178). Ahab continues on to explain how Moby Dick represents an authority with power over Ahab that must be removed. Ahab’s refusal to accept this authority is constant throughout the novel, showing the theme of defiance. “It [the novel] is about one man’s maniacal obsession with vengeance.

It’s about finding an object on which to pin all your anger and fear and rage, not only about your own suffering, but also about the suffering of all mankind. It’s about the inability to understand that you can’t punish the natural world, and that Nature isn’t specifically malicious, just impersonally brutal. It’s about the way that the desire for revenge can eat away at you until it becomes something inhabiting your body, something separate from your own personality. ” (Team).

Ahab’s refusal to understand that nature is not responsible for the bad things that happen to one, and that that person has to put it behind them, and give up on revenge, is perhaps his biggest act of defiance. The second theme, friendship, is primarily found when looking at Ishmael and Queequeg, who meet under awkward circumstances while sharing a bed at the Spouter Inn. Their friendship starts of on rocky straits, after Queequeg threatens Ishmael’s life. However, having similar backgrounds, they begin talking and come to accept each other. “They smoke together, and are clasped in each other’s arms.

The friendship is finally sealed when Ishmael offers a sacrifice to Queequeg’s little doll, Gogo” (Selby 37). Friendship and camaraderie are felt by all members of the crew, as described in the scene about the crew’s actions when dealing with whale blubber. Duty is shown in both Starbuck and Ahab. Starbuck is a religious man, and feels duty to both God, and his family. Ahab feels duty to find and kill the white whale. The entire crew has allotted duties, as shown when the first “Nantucket sailor, who objected to them, sings a song of a practical character, descriptive of the work expected of whalemen, which is indicative of duty” (Gleim 143).

Unfortunately for the entire crew, Ahab is the captain, and so his duty is the one that is the first duty fulfilled. While Starbuck and Ahab often clash over which duty is the right one, and which one is to be fulfilled, Starbuck’s wiser choices are pushed aside because of Ahab’s superior rank, leading to death of the entire crew. Death is also a constant theme for the duration of the novel. The inn-keeper at the beginning of the novel is named Coffin, and in the end the only surviving piece of the Pequod is the coffin lifebuoy.

While death is not the most prominent, or thought about theme, it is also fairly obvious. Throughout the novel both whales and whalers die, and in the end everyone buy Ishmael dies. This theme is fairly easy to see when thought about. Conclusion This novel is definitely a classic in my opinion. It has managed to outlast many generations, and is still esteemed as a great novel and reflection on humanity, obsession, and death. I would say that, while this novel is one of my favorites, it is definitely not my favorite.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, would be my favorite. But Moby Dick definitely comes in as a close second. I enjoy novels that make the reader think about humanity, and reflect on his or her own individuality, flaws, and possible ways to improve oneself. Moby Dick most certainly does that. Bibliography Shmoop Editorial Team. “Moby-Dick Narrator:. ” Shmoop. com. Shmoop University, Inc. , 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Dec 2010. Nick Selby. “Herman Melville, Moby Dick. ” Columbia University Press, 1999 William S. Gleim. “The Meaning of Moby Dick. ” Kessinger Publishing, 2006

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Moby Dick Analysis
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