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Thread: Moby-Dick: A Review

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    Moby-Dick: A Review

    I do not like to give away plot details, for it is a tedious activity on my part and may spoil the novel for others; so I'll get right down to brass tacks: I found Herman Melville's Moby-Dick to be prolix, pretentious, and other "p" words.

    Yes, I am aware of all of the symbolism in the book, and most of the symbols are quite interesting and original. There are few cliches in this matter.

    Moby-Dick is even impressive in its ambiguity. The story can be interpreted in various ways, and the author's true beliefs remain largely unknown. No characters are overtly used as mouthpieces.

    However, I disliked Moby-Dick on a less aesthetic level. To put it bluntly: it was boring. Although Moby-Dick begins in one of the most wonderfully written chapters and made me almost laugh a few times in the first 30 pages, it soon became tedious to read. As soon as Melville's ship embarks, the novel digresses into technical descriptions of whaling, filled with too many nautical terms to look up; histories of whales; and one wonders why one should give a s---. He also employs an avant-garde technique of having the characters speak as though it were theater and not prose.

    I truly believe that Melville was insane. He desperately wanted to become an important writer, like his friend the far-superior novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne; so he wrote something so cryptic and unpleasant in order to rise to fame. Judging from the schizophrenic nature of the narrative, he had some problems.

    I am not denying that Moby-Dick is a masterpiece as far as originality and aesthetic merits; I am merely saying that it is impossible to connect to the novel. If he had only omitted the needless expository prose about whaling, we would have been left with a novel just as deep but not as dreadful to read.


    Any comments?

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    I found Moby Dick boring too.

    What makes it worse is that it has so much potential. "The story of a crazed beast, and the whale who haunted him." It could have been a great tale of rage and obsession.

    Instead it got bogged down in detail.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Admin
    I found Moby Dick boring too.

    What makes it worse is that it has so much potential. "The story of a crazed beast, and the whale who haunted him." It could have been a great tale of rage and obsession.

    Instead it got bogged down in detail.
    Whew! That was close. I thought you were going to... get mad.

    Yes, we could have easily done without the chapters on cetaceaology or however you spell it and on how to cut up whales.

    One of the biggest dissappointments I've read in a while (although not as absolutely G-DAWFUL as Henry James's The Ambassadors), it made me almost cry.

  4. #4
    You have to remember when this book was written to fully appreciate it. When I first read it, I found there were parts that bored me as well, such as the chapters describing whales. But there were no movies or televisions in this time, and many people had not seen whales or how whaling was done, etc. It was necessary for Melville to go into lengthy descriptions so that readers of the time would fully understand what he was talking about. You find this in many of the books of this time period, although maybe not to this extent. I don't agree that it is impossible to connect with the book, I think you only have to remember why he wrote it that way to fully appreciate the book. Also, is those parts really bore you, you can skip over them, since they are not really essential to the stroy. I have to agree with Melville when he wrote to Hawthrone that he had written a "wicked story." Moby Dick is an excellent story, and the only thing I can say is that I'm sorry that you can't fully enjoy one of the greatest books I have ever read, although i do understand your point.

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    Oh, Moby Dick is boring, but it's also "wicked" because it's one of the finest examples of the character of early American literature. And, hey, it's filled with lots of wild homoerotic images that make for great discussion.

    On a more serious note, I agree that it's particularly important to understand the cultural context in which the novel was written. Although Moby Dick doesn't fall into the category of colonial literature, it's shaped by the experiences of writers like William Bradford, Edward Taylor and Mary Rowlandson. Colonial literature is dominated by Puritan ideology, but confronting it is the mysterious, dark and very dangerous American wilderness. I mention Rowlandson (instead of Anne Bradstreet) because The Captive is a great example of how these two forces--the physical world of the wilderness and the spiritual world of Puritanism--intersect and interact. Remember, while the pilgrims suffered terrible religious persecution in England, a tremendous number suffered much worse (disease, starvation, hypothermia) in an effort to "colonize" (live on and off of) a land on which few human beings had ever stepped. The wilderness is other, alien, an unknown that scares the pants of the Puritans. They try to fight and conquer that fear with faith. The desire to control the unknown, civilize the uncivilized, is specific to American literature, American culture and American life.

    I believe one reason Melville provides readers with so many details about whaling is because he wants to firmly plant his characters and his readers in a physical world, a horrible physical world at that (boy, whaling is such enjoyable, easy work, ain't it?). That world, I think, is contrasted with the spiritual world that guides Quequeg. And then Melville throws in this monstrous, mean-*** whale and Peg Leg, who's clearly missing a little more than just a limb. I prefer the idea that Ahab's missing leg, his obsession with his missing leg and with capturing the beast who bit it off, is a representation of a man who's lost his faith. If he can catch that whale, he can resolve his spirituality with his physicality and be a nice whole person again. I like that theme, but that's just one way to look at it. Of course, there's also the man versus nature theme too. A lot of critics also like the idea that Melville wanted to explore spiritual faith: if we can conquer the unknown, then we can be the masters of our universe as well as our fate, in which case some people, perhaps Melville, might question why we need God.

    Did I just write all that. Sorry. Hey, on a lighter note, anyone ever read Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine? Contemporary American literature. Many of Erdrich's characters are Indian (Cherokee, I think), and in one scene an old Indian woman walks into her kitchen to find her grandson reading Moby Dick. When she asks what the novel is about, her grandson answers, " A while whale." The grandmother replies, "What do those whites have to wail about?"
    Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tadpole
    Oh, Moby Dick is boring, but it's also "wicked" because it's one of the finest examples of the character of early American literature. And, hey, it's filled with lots of wild homoerotic images that make for great discussion.

    On a more serious note, I agree that it's particularly important to understand the cultural context in which the novel was written. Although Moby Dick doesn't fall into the category of colonial literature, it's shaped by the experiences of writers like William Bradford, Edward Taylor and Mary Rowlandson. Colonial literature is dominated by Puritan ideology, but confronting it is the mysterious, dark and very dangerous American wilderness. I mention Rowlandson (instead of Anne Bradstreet) because The Captive is a great example of how these two forces--the physical world of the wilderness and the spiritual world of Puritanism--intersect and interact. Remember, while the pilgrims suffered terrible religious persecution in England, a tremendous number suffered much worse (disease, starvation, hypothermia) in an effort to "colonize" (live on and off of) a land on which few human beings had ever stepped. The wilderness is other, alien, an unknown that scares the pants of the Puritans. They try to fight and conquer that fear with faith. The desire to control the unknown, civilize the uncivilized, is specific to American literature, American culture and American life.

    I believe one reason Melville provides readers with so many details about whaling is because he wants to firmly plant his characters and his readers in a physical world, a horrible physical world at that (boy, whaling is such enjoyable, easy work, ain't it?). That world, I think, is contrasted with the spiritual world that guides Quequeg. And then Melville throws in this monstrous, mean-*** whale and Peg Leg, who's clearly missing a little more than just a limb. I prefer the idea that Ahab's missing leg, his obsession with his missing leg and with capturing the beast who bit it off, is a representation of a man who's lost his faith. If he can catch that whale, he can resolve his spirituality with his physicality and be a nice whole person again. I like that theme, but that's just one way to look at it. Of course, there's also the man versus nature theme too. A lot of critics also like the idea that Melville wanted to explore spiritual faith: if we can conquer the unknown, then we can be the masters of our universe as well as our fate, in which case some people, perhaps Melville, might question why we need God.

    Did I just write all that. Sorry. Hey, on a lighter note, anyone ever read Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine? Contemporary American literature. Many of Erdrich's characters are Indian (Cherokee, I think), and in one scene an old Indian woman walks into her kitchen to find her grandson reading Moby Dick. When she asks what the novel is about, her grandson answers, " A while whale." The grandmother replies, "What do those whites have to wail about?"
    Thank you for your thoughts. I will probably read it again in a few years to see what I'll make of it then.

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    I will only say I mostly disagree. My favorite Mellvile is Bartalby the Scribner though. To me Melville has deep phychology but he is somewhat dry and grey for this reason he goes to much into details to fill out the emptiness. Tolstoy is somewhat dull since he mostly lacks a good scence of sarcastic humer and trys to make up for it with history to make everything seem more "important". Well to my mind Dostoevsky is fully superior to them both although the former two are most excelent also.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeno
    I will only say I mostly disagree. My favorite Mellvile is Bartalby the Scribner though. To me Melville has deep phychology but he is somewhat dry and grey for this reason he goes to much into details to fill out the emptiness. Tolstoy is somewhat dull since he mostly lacks a good scence of sarcastic humer and trys to make up for it with history to make everything seem more "important". Well to my mind Dostoevsky is fully superior to them both although the former two are most excelent also.
    Why are you trying to change the topic? Who mentioned Tolstoy?

    Anyway, Dostoyevsky's characters are too eccentric and seem to say what they say simply to illustrate ideas.

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    Dostoevsky's characters are defined as 'character-idea'. They do represent ideas, sometimes they don't do much else...

    (as for moby dick, i havent read it).
    dead on the inside, i've got nothing to prove
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    plz O plz put it away!!1 ucdawg12's Avatar
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    Sorry for bringing up an old topic, but I just finished this book, the first piece of literature(or any book for a matter of fact) that I have read outside school and I must say I absolutely loved it. I have read some classics in school such as huck finn and lord of the flies, both which I liked but this blew them out of the water. I really appreciated how well melville was able to connect all these tasks of whaling with the mysteries of the sea and the unknown. I agree some parts where dry, such as the cetology chapter, but near the end there was so much enthralling, deep plot it totally made up for the few(in my mind) dry spots. I really really enjoyed this book I feel so bad that it was misunderstood by people 150 years ago but kids like me in high school can really appreciate it for all its worth.

    The only question left in my mind is, how was this rediscovered, I read something that it became popular in the 20s, but did some librarian just get bored and decide to randomly pick a book off the shelf, and manage to discover what it really was? What if there are other great stories like this just waiting in the basement of some colonial house.
    "O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small."

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    Originally posted by ucdawg12

    The only question left in my mind is, how was this rediscovered, I read something that it became popular in the 20s, but did some librarian just get bored and decide to randomly pick a book off the shelf, and manage to discover what it really was? What if there are other great stories like this just waiting in the basement of some colonial house.
    Actually, I think that's how his "Bartleby the Scivener" was discovered.

    I read Moby Dick last semester and enjoyed the story very much, but like everyone else, had a hard time with the dryer parts. My instructor also didn't give us a whole lot of time to read it in which didn't help, but I did sense a connection between the dry parts and the meat of the story. I think if all the description wasn't there, the actuall story wouldn't seem as exciting.

    I plan to reread MD during one of my breaks, especially since reading Bartleby this semester. I really enjoyed that one!
    Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in geardagum,/Þeodcuninga þrum gefrunon,/hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
    Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,/ monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,/ egsode eorlas, syððan ærest wearð/ feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,/ weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,/ oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra/ofer hronrade hyran scolde,/gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs god cyning!

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    Right in the happy button IWilKikU's Avatar
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    I would like to add Moby to my list of summer projects, but it already includes W&P, Crime and Punishment, Catch-22, Foucoult's Pendulum, and anything else I happen to pick up and read. I'm afraid to add another biggie like MD.
    ...Also baby duck hat would be good for parties.

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    You oughta throw in Don Quiote for good measure.
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    Well if nothing else, Moby Dick had a hand in naming a pretty good coffee house: “Starbucks.” (What a flippant way to start a comment on what is arguably the great American novel.) I took my time reading Moby Dick (took me a couple of months during the summer of ’96) and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was a great adventure story, a time-machine, an encyclopedia, and a totally American, deeply psychological (as well as psychotic) novel.

    I agree with R. E. Lee, the first 30 pages were grand. In fact, the first chapter hooked me. I realized that I had been transported into a totally alien place and time as I read about the introduction of Ishmael and Queequeg. I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t read the book, but it was a real crack-up. It also kicked off one of the greatest friendships in all of American literature.

    As mentioned earlier in this tread, the language can be tedious. A good warm-up exercise for Moby Dick is Melville’s short story, “Benito Cereno.” Another good book to help in contextualizing Moby Dick is a recent nonfiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick, “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.” The “real world” sinking of the Nantucket Whaleship Essex was a huge story in the whaling community of 19th century New England and a huge influence on Melville. The ship was apparently rammed several times by an enormous sperm whale. The crew was then faced with the decision to make a run for Fiji or embark on an up-wind into-the-current journey back to South America in their open life boats. Out of a fear for a perceived threat of cannibalism in Fiji, they went for South America. Ironically, the few sailors who made it wound up turning to cannibalism in order to survive. When finally rescued a few miles off the coast of South America, the emaciated and delirious captain of the Essex was clutching (and wouldn’t let go of) the gnawed down femur bone of one of the crew.
    Some people call me Maurice
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    "Also, is those parts really bore you, you can skip over them, since they are not really essential to the stroy."

    Eek. Most authors have a reason for having anything in their work. If you're seriously reading a work it's probably not good to get into the habit of skipping over things, unless you've already read it, as you compromise what the author was working towards. A lot of novels have boring or dry parts. I figure it's the task of the author to know if s/he's overdoing the dry or boring parts to the point it overtakes what they were intending to accomplish, but it's still usually there for a reason.



    Out of all the stuff that happens in "Love Medicine", that white whale joke sure wasn't sticking out in my mind. It's always nice to be able to think about something for a second and then go "Ohhh yeah, heh, I do remember that." I was just thinking back to that book the other day though, when I read Erdrich was up for some award around here for something else she has written recently.



    And there's a lot of talk around these boards about Tolstoy and "War and Peace" and whatnot, but what about his shorter novels/stories, like "Master and Man" (I think it was called)? That sticks out as one of the best little bits I've ever read, and with no filler involved.

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