Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Moby Dick



Moby Dick is now considered one of the greatest novels in the English language and has secured Melville's place among America's greatest writers. Written in 1851, it is the story of Ishmael’s whaling voyage. It contains many examples of alliteration, allusion, similes, and metaphors; it also presents an ironic argument against Transcendentalism and the power of man. This book contains reflections of Melville’s own whaling voyages and many collections of compiled whaling knowledge: the history of whaling, scientific whale groups, usage of whaling tools, etc. Altogether this book is a literary masterpiece. --Submitted by Anonymous

You may think that you know the story of Moby Dick, but until you have read this book, you cannot understand its power. The power comes from the rich descriptions of whalers, those who worked the ships, the history of whaling, the knowledge of whales, and how in the 19th century they were so crudely hunted and butchered on the open seas. Danger in many forms lurks throughout this book, long before we even hear about Moby Dick or Captain Ahab, but these dangers merely set the stage for the cataclysm to come. Just who is this Ishmael? Surely not just some simple merchant mariner looking for a new experience on a whaling ship. It may not make sense that a simple seaman such as he can be someone who seems historian, biologist, journalist, psychologist, and even well-taught in classical literature. In the end he is our window to this incredible adventure, which we experience as vividly as if we were there ourselves.--Submitted by Gregory Pittman.

Fan of this book? Help us introduce it to others by writing a better introduction for it. It's quick and easy, click here.

Recent Forum Posts on Moby Dick


I looked up spermaceti, the high quality oil the whalers extract from the heads of sperm whales. I was surprised by just how much of the whale was made up of the stuff. 9773 Wikipedia says there are two theories about what it is for. The first is that it is used in echo location. Spermaceti has a higher speed of sound than water, but I don't know how that helps. In one of Melville's chapters on cetology, he talks about the whales' eyes being so far on either side of its head, that it must make forward vision rather difficult. I think he mentions the whales' ears. IIRC he says he does not think they have a sense of smell, or maybe just no nostrils. He does not seem to know about whale sonar. When I read about the harpooners blinding the whales, I thought: poor things, even if they survive the hunt they will starve and die. However, maybe they do not actually need their eyesight that much. Their eyes are relatively small while their echo location organs are huge. Wikipedia's other theory is that the spermaceti is used for buoyancy control. By heating or cooling it, they can change its density. Counting against the theory is research that the whales do not have the biological apparatus to perform the heat exchange, and that the change of density is too low to make much of a change to buoyancy until the organ gets to a very large size. However, spermaceti would appear to be a phase change material at useful temperature. It melts and solidifies between 25°C and 35°C/ 77°C to 95°F. I am not saying we definitely should resume hunting sperm whales so we can use their spermaceti in high efficiency central heating systems; I am just airing the possibility for discussion :reddevil:

Penalties of mutiny

The Pequod is not a military ship.Their voyage is a purely mercantile venture. So what would be the penalties if Mr Starbuck and the crew did mutiny against Captain Ahab? What if the three mates said they arrested him and put him in the brig because of his pottiness? Presumably, they can't be keelhauled or flogged because they are not a naval crew. So what would happen?

Was Melville alluding to wars with Native Americans in Moby Dick?

Maybe this is not a very original observation. In chapter 87, The Grand Armada, The Pequod and its crew come across a mass of whales. There's a sort of circle of them, inside of which there are mother whales with their babies. It seems like the whales on the perimeter are trying to protect the more vulnerable whales in the centre. I believe other herd animals do this as well, but it seems rather human. Captain Ahab believes Moby Dick has a malign cunning, that his actions are deliberate, that he is not just thrashing about. In another chapter Ahab meets the captain of an English whaler, who lost his arm to Moby Dick. The captain tells Ahab that Moby Dick bit through a harpoon line that had been launched at another whale, as if Moby Dick had tried to save that whale. Captain Ahab thinks so. In that case, if Ahab believes Sperm Whales to be intelligent creatures, who live in communities and look after each other, doesn't that make what they are doing pretty close to murder? They certainly don't doubt their method of hunting the animals is very cruel. I wonder whether Melville was thinking about what the white settlers had been doing to Native Americans. There you had a people who might have seemed rather alien with different beliefs, language and culture. Some Native Americans may have behaved very violently and made themselves feared and hated, but from their point of view they were defending themselves against aggresors. I looked up 'Pequod'. According to Wikipedia, they were a Native American tribe who were wiped out in a war with white settlers and other Native American tribes. Maybe it is not a fair analogy because the white settlers in New England did actually have talks with the local Native Americans, and sometimes made alliances with them, where as we still cannot talk to whales.

Were the mates superfluous in the whale boats?

I was a little surprised whaling crew seemed a bit more tolerant of difference than I expected for the time and place. The crew is multi-racial. Next to the captain and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd mates, the next highest ranking crew were the harpooners. One was a Native American, one was a West African and one was a New Zealand Maori. In one chapter, Melville criticizes the way the boats go after the whales. The harpooner is expected to row like mad with the other four rowers while the mate steers the boat. When they close in with the whale, the harpooner has to stop rowing, get up and throw his harpoon at the whale. Then he changes places with the mate and the mate finishes off the whale by repeatedly stabbing it with a lance. Melville thought this was inefficient as the harpooners often missed because they were exhausted from rowing. He thought the harpooner should not have to row, but that after throwing his harpoon at the whale, should proceed to finish it off with the lance. I wonder if the reason they did not do this is because it would transfer too much status from the mates to the harpooners, who were, after all, just savages, recruited from around the world for their ability to throw a spear with great power and accuracy. You cannot have two crew members out of six not rowing, and what would you need the mate for? Maybe it was not a question of racism, more the officers seeking to protect their own prestige.

Who's in the crew?

I wondered how many men were on board the Pequod. The Pequod has three boats, which is some clue. Ishmael was offered a 300th share of the profits, while Queequeg was offered a 90th. However, there's the shareholders to consider and the officers will get a greater share than the men. Therefore I reckon the crew is much less than a hundred. There is: Captain Ahab, Starbuck, the first mate, Stubb, the second mate, Flask, the third mate, Queequeg, harpooner, Daggoo, harpooner, Tashtego, harpooner, 1st Nantucket sailor, 2nd Nantucket sailor, Dutch sailor, French sailor, Pip, Iceland sailor, Maltese sailor, Sicillian sailor, Long-Island sailor, Azores sailor, China sailor, Old Manx sailor, 3rd Nantucket sailor, Lascar sailor, Tahitian sailor, Portuguese sailor, Danish sailor, 4th Nantucket sailor, English sailor, Spanish sailor, St Jago's sailor, 5th Nantucket sailor, Belfast sailor, Dough boy, Ishmael, the narrator Is that everyone? The sailors are mentioned in chapter 40. That may only be one watch though.

Looking for Moby Dick quote

Hi, I read this book some time ago and am trying to find this quote which had the following idea: Those who are a carrier of hate to pour it unto something else are consumed themselves by the hate without realizing it. Those aren't the exact words Melville used but that was the general idea of the quote. Could someone familiar with the book please reference me this quote? Thanks in advance. Alvaro

Moby Dick?

I'm about fifty pages into Moby Dick. Queequeg has been introduce and Ishamel is in the whalers chapel. It is a very strange book. Is this a common reaction?

Anyone know the source of this reading?

The start of this music has a reading from the intro of Moby Dick. I like the way it's read very much, more than the eBooks I've heard, so I am hoping it might be from a publicly known/available source. Please check and let me know if you can identify it. Thanks!

Moby Dick - Greatest American Novel Yet Written?

As I'm re-reading Moby Dick, I have formed ipinion about the novel, and that opinion is that it's the greatest piece of American literature that I've ever read. It's so dense, so beautiful, so dark, so funny . . . just so great. So, what do you think?

ABC1(8 and 15 May, 8:35 to 10:00 p.m.)

The following is a revision of some thoughts on Herman Melville after watching Moby Dick on ABC1(8 and 15 May, 8:35 to 10:00 p.m.). Kerry Saunders, a Peabody Journalism Award winner, was interviewed by Alan Saunders back on 30 June 2007 and he stated in that interview that Moby Dick(1851) was a metaphor for the American ship of state which was driving toward destruction, the destruction seen a decade later in the Civil War(1861-1865). The book was also a metaphor for the emptiness of reality part of what came to be called existentialist philosophy, a philosophy that was emerging and would emerge with Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Kierkegaard(1813-1855).-Ron Price, 15 May 2011. THE HEALING ROAD I first came across the ideas of sociologist Emile Durkheim while studying sociology at university from 1963 to 1967. Many of his ideas I have always thought were relevant to a Baha'i perspective. One thing he wrote certainly reflects my experience of intellectual, artistic and literary pursuits, what 'Abdu'l-Baha called "learning and the cultural attainments of the mind." Just as Baha'i administration was taking its first form under the guidance of Shoghi Effendi in the 1920s, Durkheim wrote that "the love of art, the predilection for artistic joys, is accompanied by a certain aptitude for getting outside ourselves, a certain detachment or disinterestedness….We lose sight of our surroundings, our ordinary cares, our immediate interests. Indeed, this is the essence of the healing power of art. Art consoles us because it turns us away from ourselves." After forty years of pioneering I find here my peace and supper as if after a very long day's work. Yes, Herman, this is its own reward. Just a simple artistry in these poems, part of my search for the right idiom and the best ways of meet life's lot. I do not feel like Frost, and stricken, intensely conscious, suspicious of my struggle. A healing came, to me, at last, Herman, at long last…………. And all that gloom, and obsession, temper, rage, depression softened with the years and at last an easy sleep without the pain—dulled it was, life's sharp-ragged edges…../ And my style could lighten and take an easier road without that heat and load; it could brighten. Ron Price 22 September 2002 --------------------------------- ONE HAD TINTED CRIMSON In the year after the Bab was martyred Herman Melville published Moby Dick. Some have regarded this book as the greatest work in American fiction. Melville began writing this book in the late 1840s, perhaps 1849 at the earliest. He said he loved all men who dived. Any fish could swim near the surface, but it took a great whale to go down five miles. Melville also thought that comfortable beliefs needed to be discarded. He could not himself believe and he was uncomfortable in his disbelief.-Ron Price, a summary of an essay and an encyclopaedia article on Melville. Melville must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius.....Melville has succeeded in investing objects.....with an absorbing fascination...Moby Dick is not a mere tale of adventure, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.---Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, 25 October 1851; and London John Bull, 25 October 1851. My Revelation is indeed far more bewildering than that of strange that a person brought up among the people of Persia should be empowered by God....and be enabled to spontaneously reveal verses far more rapidly than anyone….-The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, p.139. They both went down deep into the ocean of mystery, some mystic intercourse had possessed them with subtle-penetrating grandeurs, intensities, strangenesses, absorbing fascination, profound reflections, a whole way of life in their words, a certain eccentricity of style, an object of ridicule, a kind of old extravagance, bewildering, and that very transcendental tendency of the age, that 19th century age. But One had musk-scented breaths... written beyond the impenetrable veil of concealment...oceans of divine elixir, tinted crimson with the essence of existence…..Arks of ruby, tender.... wherein none shall sail but…..……… the people of Baha...1 Ron Price 18 February 1999 1 The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, pp.57-8.

Post a New Comment/Question on Moby Dick

Quizzes on Herman Melville
Related links for Herman Melville

Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Herman Melville written by other authors featured on this site.

Sorry, no links available.

Herman Melville

Sorry, no summary available yet.