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Moby-Dick or, The Whale

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"It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it."

So Melville wrote of his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

This edition of Moby-Dick, which reproduces the definitive text of the novel, includes invaluable explanatory notes, along with maps, illustrations, and a glossary of nautical terms.

654 pages, Paperback

First published October 18, 1851

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About the author

Herman Melville

1,868 books3,801 followers
There is more than one author with this name

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for Melville's fall from favor with the reading public — was rediscovered in the 20th century as one of the chief literary masterpieces of both American and world literature.

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Profile Image for Matt.
937 reviews28.6k followers
November 3, 2020
LISA: Dad, you can't take revenge on an animal. That's the whole point of Moby Dick.
HOMER: Oh Lisa, the point of Moby Dick is 'be yourself.'

-- The Simpsons, Season 15, Episode 5, “The Fat and the Furriest”

(Ahoy, Matey! Thar be spoilers ahead).

There, there. Stop your crying. You didn’t like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? You didn't even finish it? I’m here to tell you, that’s okay. You’re still a good person. You will still be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. You won’t be arrested, incarcerated, or exiled. You will not be shunned (except by English majors; they will shun you). Your family and friends will still love you (or at least stand you). Your dog will still be loyal (your cat, though, will remain indifferent).

Moby Dick can be a humbling experience. Even if you get through it, you may be desperately asking yourself things like “why didn’t I like this” or "am I totally missing something” or "how long have I been sleeping?" See, Moby Dick is the most famous novel in American history. It might be the great American novel. But in many ways, it’s like 3-D movies or Mount Rushmore: it’s tough to figure out why it’s such a big deal.

I suppose any discussion about Moby Dick must start with thematic considerations. It is, after all, “classic” literature, and must be experienced on multiple levels, if at all. So, what’s the point of Moby Dick? Is it about obsession? The things that drive each of us in our ambitions, whether they be wealth, hate, prejudice or love? Is it a deconstruction of Puritan culture in colonial America? Is it a Joseph Campbell-style hero’s journey? Is it a good ol' yarn of men against the sea? Is it all of these things?


Is it a colossal bore?


Now, I hate to use that word, the b-word. Boring. It means so little. It means nothing. It is the ultimate grade-school criticism: subjective; vague; and expressing annoyance at having been forced to experience the thing at all. To say something is boring implies that nothing happens, when in fact, something is always happening. Whether or not that happening is exciting is another question.

Having said all that, I found Moby Dick boring in the purest sense of the word. On just about every page, I felt a distinct lack of interest. And this is not a response to the subject matter. I love sea stories. I enjoyed Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Jaws. Normally, a novel about an obsessed man trying to harpoon a terrifying monster would be right in my wheelhouse.

What was the problem? More specifically, what was my problem? (Because despite what I say, most people are going to blame me rather than Melville).

It all comes down to density. I’ve never actually harpooned a whale (or anything, for that matter), but I can only assume that it is slightly easier than finishing this turgid, mammoth work of literature. I found it almost impenetrable. Like reading Hawthorne, except it doesn't end, ever. I tried reading it three different times, and failed. In a meta turn of events, the novel became like my white whale, elusive and cagey, an arch opponent.

I would get through the first few chapters all right. The dinner at the Spouter-Inn. The homo-erotically charged night two men share in bed. Melville’s exquisitely detailed description of his breakfast companions:

You could plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This young fellow’s healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next to him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic yawn, but slightly bleached withal; he doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the Andes’ western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of the fortieth page, when Father Mapple starts to give his sermon, I’d start to get a little restless. A few pages into his fire-and-brimstone screed, my mind would wander. By the end of the chapter, I’d realize that instead of paying attention to the text, I’d actually started to amuse myself by trying to calculate my income taxes in my head. And then I’d quit.

During one of my periodic bouts of self-improvement (which I regularly intersperse with bouts of day-drinking), I decided to finish this damn thing once and for all. To do this, I hit upon a plan: I brought it to work and forced myself to read twenty pages a day at lunch. No more surfing the internet or listening to podcasts. No more chatting with coworkers. Until I finished, I would dedicate the hour to 20 pages of Melville. As a result I: (1) finished the book; and (2) grew to hate lunch (which is really quite a sad turn of events).

What did I learn?

Not too much.

Moby Dick is about a milquetoast named Ishmael who sets out on a whaling ship called the Pequod. Like many literary heroes, he is a bit of an outcast. Also, following in the tradition of Charles Dickens’ tedious first-person narrators, he is a bit of a cipher. Ishmael doesn't do much, except offer endless exegeses on every aspect of whaling, as well as stultifying digressions on topics too numerous to count (don’t miss the chapter about how the color white can be evil!). Ishmael's pedagogic ramblings will soon have you pleading for the whale – or a squid or an eel or a berserk seagull – to eat him, and eat him quickly (but painfully) so the book will end.

The Pequod is commanded by Captain Ahab, the one-legged nut who is obsessed with finding the whale that ate his now-absent limb. He's sort of the 19th century version of the psycho ex-boyfriend who just can't seem to let go the past. Ahab is an interesting character in the abstract. Profoundly, almost suicidally driven. The obvious progenitor of Robert Shaw’s captivating performance as Quint in Spielberg’s Jaws. However, in the context of the book's thees and thous and utterly excessive verbiage and arcane sentence structure, the sheen wears off mighty quick. It’s one of those instances in which I’d much prefer someone to tell me about Ahab, rather than read about him myself. (In other words, I need an interpreter to translate from Ye Olde English to English).

The challenging language permeates Moby Dick. Melville writes in a overly-verbose, grandiloquent style. His book is packed with symbols and metaphors and allusions and nautical terms. There were very few pages in which I didn't have to stop reading and flip to the back of the book, to read the explanatory notes or consult the glossary. There are digressions and soliloquies and even, at certain points, stage directions. It is also a primer on whaling, in case you wanted to learn:

The Pequod’s whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was hoisted against the ship’s side – about half way out of the sea, so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over it, by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith.

Maybe you are familiar with the giant Holfernes and Judith’s girdle. Maybe you want to be familiar with them. If so, by all means, proceed.

Melville’s other notable character is Queequeg, the South Seas cannibal with whom Ishmael shares a bed at the Spouter-Inn (a scene that has launched a thousand dissertations). Ishmael’s best friend on the Pequod, Queequeg expresses the duality of man: outwardly a tattooed savage, he is also purveyor of what might be termed Christian ethics (he gets along with people; he turns the other cheek; and he’s willing to jump into the ocean to save a stranger’s life).

The rest of the cast is too large to get into. Besides, they all run together in my mind. For example, I can’t tell you off the top of my head whether Starbuck or Stubb was the first mate. Frankly, I don't really care. They all end up in the same place. Hint: think Jonah. (Melville really harps on this Biblical allusion, as he harps on everything).

None of this is to say that Moby Dick lacks any charms. There are passages of great beauty. For instance, there is a moment when Pip, the black cabin boy, falls out of one of the longboats and is left in the ocean. Upon being rescued, he is irrevocably changed:

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmate's called him mad.

I’m not going to lie and say I have the slightest idea of what that all means, but it sure is pretty. I suppose that was part of the allure that Moby Dick held for me. Even though I often wanted to quit, every once in awhile, a passage would jump out at me and smack me across the face with its classicalness. Unfortunately, you have to wade through so much, the mind becomes numb.

Moby Dick is quite simply a slog. It is tedious. Detail-laden. Attention-demanding. Then, after 56 billion pages, the climax comes in an instant, and in a matter of a few pages, everything you learned about the ship, the knots that held the sails, the crewmembers, Ahab – everything – is for naught, because it's all gone, and the sea rolls on, as it has for a thousand years. In a way, it's kind of cool to do it that way; I mean, that's life. You don't always get a great death scene. But on the other hand, what a gyp!

I realize my tone is preemptively defensive. After all, I consider myself a high functioning individual. Like you (I assume), I don’t like being told: “You just don’t get it.” Oh no, I get it. At least, I tried very hard to get it. I just didn't like it. And I’ll admit, I didn't like having to try so hard. This complaint is not simply a function of having my brain rotted by soda pop, candy, and first-person-shooter video games. Rather, there is an important argument to be made for clarity. Some say Melville’s stylized prose is elegant; I think it’s tortured. Some find his allusions illuminating; I find them hopelessly outdated. Some discover a higher pleasure in unpacking each complex theme; I just wanted to push Ishmael over the gunwale or hang him from the yardarm.

Melville can gussy things up as much as he wants. He can toss off references to 19th century prizefighters, Schiller’s poetry, and the Bible; he can discourse on civilization and savagery, on man and God; he can teach you every knot needed to sail a whaler; and he can draw out enough metaphors to keep SparksNotes in business for the next hundred years.

Melville can do all these things, but he can’t hide the fact that this is a story about some guys going fishing. That’s it. That simple story is the vessel for Melville’s explorations. Upon this he heaps his complications. Whether Melville’s technique is effective or not, or whether Melville has convinced you that it’s effective, is an open question.

Well, not to me. I think I’ve answered the question.

In short, I would rather be harpooned, fall off my ship, get eaten by a great white shark, and then have the great white shark swallowed by a whale, then read this book ever again.

I can’t get any clearer than that.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,636 followers
January 2, 2023
QUICK UPDATE: James Cameron totally ripped off and plagiarized Melville in the abysmally written Avatar 2. He should have listed Moby Dick in the credits…

I re-read Moby-Dick following my research trips to the whaling museums of New Bedford and Nantucket whaling museums. The particular edition I read from University of California Press is HIGHLY recommended as the typeface is extremely agreeable to the eyes and the illustrations are subtle and instructive without ever interfering or drawing attention away from the story. Perhaps that’s where the latent interest grew deep in my soul as regards the whaling museums and since life offered me recently the opportunity to see and enjoy both, I grabbed at the chance and am so glad to have done so. This reading of Melville is so much more interesting having now a lot more background on the various factors (social, economic, and physical) that informed the writing and structure of the story.

Many modern readers have been turned off of the unabridged Moby-Dick due to the many chapters of background information that Ishmael feels compelled to pass us about whales and whaling. I can understand that some folks want to get on with the story and don’t want to have all this detail. Personally, the whole book seems so much more real to me now. When I try to imagine the life of the 21-28 people on a 3-5 year whaling mission with a back-breaking job punctuated with long periods of boredom and intense periods of turmoil (whether from ocean storms or from the hunt and ensuing processing of blubber), I can appreciate how the story moves at its own pace and during those long hours at sea while the sailors are working on their scrimshaw or scanning the horizon for spouts, that Ishmael is in his cabin writing all this detail down about this job that he is so incredibly proud of. If you remove this description, it removes much of the texture of the book and reduces it to an adventure story rather than a more universal chez d’oeuvre.

Several moments merit mention: Father Mapples’ sermon on Jonah (Chapter 9) which sets the tone for most of the book, the speech of Ahab in recruiting his crew into his diabolical mission against Moby-Dick (Chapter 36) and the heart-breaking acquiescence of Starbuck, and my favorite part so far, The Grand Armada (Chapter 89). The description of the whale nursery with the mothers and children looking up through the water at their hunters was spectacular writing and makes one dream of being out there in one of those flimsy boats to see it.

The writing is by turns ironic, serious, violent, and tender. On one hand, is the famous Shark Massacre (Chapter 66) where Melville weaves in an image of the sharks actually eating themselves in their frenzy – amazing realism and exceedingly violent. On the other hand, the cleverness of Stubb as he manages to steal the sick whale with the ambergris away from the hapless French captain of the Rose-Bud (Chapter 91) was hilarious and I laughed out loud. Even the seemingly dry description chapters often have some high degree of tongue-in-cheek such as the suggestion that the Kings and Queens were all coronated in whale oil (Chapter 25). All of these add a certain unique texture to Moby-Dick and seem to be indispensable to the overall majesty of the book.

It was a breathless ending as one would expect, but there was also a feeling of anti-climax. I think that despite the excitement of the chase and the apocalyptic ending, I enjoyed the build-up of the suspense all from the book to the end. There was a bit of sentimentality towards the end that was not really present during the rest of the text...almost as if Melville was impatient to get to the end, to get the end of Ahab out of his system or something. And the whirlpool that swallows everything but Ishmael is a bit supernatural which shocks after having such vivid realism for the previous 550 pages. It was also strange that after occupying such a central (and tender) role for Ishmael through the first 100-200 pages of the book, Queequeg just disappears from the action. And how is it that, as a green hand, Ishmael suddenly replaces Fedallah in Ahab's boat? That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. But then, I am nit-picking on one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all-time and that probably sounds ridiculous and pretentious perhaps.

What I loved about this book: the atmosphere, the excruciating detail, the variety of dialogs...you feel like you are also on the deck of the Pequod when Starbuck and Ahab converse...ok that reminds me of another thing I found annoying. Albeit, the last soliloquy of Ahab is one of the best in Moby Dick, it seems almost out of character for him: the whole book he is this dark, moody almost one-dimensional character and suddenly we seem him shedding a tear and opening his heart to the one that nearly shot him, the First Mate Starbuck. Perhaps I am too influenced by television but it seems a bit incongruent this time around.

One aspect that just stuck out for me this time around was the latent homosexuality of the narrator, Ishmael. Besides the obvious coziness between him and Queequeg, the description of his hands deep in spermaceti squeezing pieces of oil but also friends of other sailors performing the same task seemed highly sexualized to me. I really hadn't thought about this aspect of Melville at all and upon doing a bit of research learned that he and Nathaniel Hawthorne of Scarlet Letter fame and to whom Moby-Dick is dedicated may have been lovers. Here is a letter from Melville to Hawthorne. It doesn't actually change my perception or understanding of the book, it is just a curious aspect that added a certain depth or texture to some of the passages such as the one I cited.

There is definitely something universal about this story where Ahab clearly feels above morality and is brutally crushed by his pride. The sad thing is that the entire crew pays the ultimate price for their adherence to his obsession. The last two encounters that are described with other boats are masterful: the contrast with the wild abandon of the Bachelor and the rejection of the forlorn Rachel were both perfect set up for the final acts of this tragedy.

I'll put this aside for now and come back to it in a few years. If this inspired you to reread this masterpiece, please let me know in the comments...and if I have any further thoughts, I'll be sure to share them here my mateys!

This is still one of my favorite books but I also read Bartleby the Scrivener, The Confidence Man, and Billy Budd from Melville which were so great! Need to re-read this one yet again. And please don't bother with the unabridged version - go for the whole whale!
Need to reread this again..

For my French speaking readers, there was a recording at Maison de la Radio in Paris which will be broadcast on France Culture on 27 October 2019 where a translated abbreviated version of this masterpiece was put to music. Although I have an issue with "appel-moi Ishmael" not being the opening line, the production was fantastic and the music was quite moving (despite occasionally drowning out the voices of the actors).
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,350 followers
August 26, 2016
“Where the White Whale, yo?”

Ah, my first DBR. And possibly my last, as this could be a complete shit show. Approaching a review of Moby-Dick in a state of sobriety just wasn’t cutting it, though. So let’s raise our glasses to Option B, yeah?

I fucking love this book. It took me eight hundred years to read it, but it was so, so worth it. Melville’s writing is impeccable. The parallels he draws, even when he’s seemingly pulling them out of his ass, which I swear to God he’s doing, because who can find this many parallels to draw when talking about a whale, are just perfect. He can compare any and every aspect of the whale—did you know this whole book is about a whale?—to the human condition. And he does so in a way that is humorous and poetic. It is pretty remarkable, I tell you.

So here’s the thing: I had zero interest in whales before starting this book. But holy hell if I haven’t been googling the crap out of them lately. I mean, it’s the mark of a superior writer (isn’t it?) to command one’s attention—not just to hold it but to carry it forth hither and thither—for seven hundred pages of a book about a whale. It’s impressive, really, when you think about it. And yet, this book suffers a severe level of under-appreciation on TEH GOODREADS. It has an average rating of 3.33, which is extraordinarily dismal by this website’s standards (and with almost a quarter million ratings so far, it is unlikely to migrate much from that figure). So in an attempt to understand what it is people hate about this book, I filtered the community reviews to show 1-star results, and here is what I’ve discovered:
• This book would have been great, admits Anulka, if it weren’t for that darn tootin’ whale interfering with the story.

• The language is too much for Gil Michelini, who believes words have their place (after all we are not heathens!), but they simply do not belong in this novel.

Marlan’s complaint is that there is too great a lack of story here, so much so that it feels crammed in. It’s like trying to squeeze a cookie into a breadbox.

• Some have experienced extreme aversions to this book. It has made Colleen seasick, quite frankly; it has totally messed up Edwin’s mind; and it has made Robert want to light himself on fire. Even Liz has acknowledged a preference for drowning if such an option existed as a substitute for reading Moby-Dick.

• Tracy Dunning would recommend renting the cartoon version, which far surpasses the actual text in storytelling capability.

• Still others have been befuddled by this novel’s ability to hoodwink its readers into thinking they like it (when in fact they don’t), a bizarre phenomenon Esther Hansen can personally attest to.

• Finally, Keya offers a sobering perspective, which is that people are only reading this book to read it, meaning that if they weren’t reading it, then it would simply be a book not being read. Truly, Yogi Berra couldn’t have put it better himself.

But Keya does bring up an interesting point here: why doesn’t Ahab just “get over it” and live his life? I mean, should that be so hard? In some sense, the White Whale is nothing more than a stand-in for everything that has gone wrong in Ahab’s life. He mounts this campaign against the stand-in but isn’t that sort of disingenuous? After all, it’s not the whale that’s responsible for his miserable life. Ahab claims to be an instrument of fate, but fate in this case seems nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oh, fuck, my fingers hurt from the backspace.

Look, here’s the bottom line. I was afraid this book would be long and boring. And now I wonder how many people hesitate reading it because of its bad rap. Well I’m here to tell you, Potential Reader, this book might be long but it is by no means boring. (Therefore, it is long and exciting? TWSS?) I implore you to ignore the negative reviews! Melville has a talent for flowing, humorous prose, and there is so much of it here to enjoy.

So go find your White Whale.

(P.S. Gin rules.)
Profile Image for Jamie.
Author 5 books169 followers
August 3, 2008
So, Herman Melville's Moby Dick is supposed by many to be the greatest Engligh-language novel ever written, especially among those written in the Romantic tradition. Meh.

It's not that I don't get that there's a TON of complexity, subtlety, and depth to this book about a mad captain's quest for revenge against a great white whale. And on the surface it's even a pretty darn good adventure story. And, honestly, Melville's prose is flowing, elegant, and as beautiful as any writing can possibly be. It's magnificent, actually.

It's just that any enjoyment or satisfaction I got out of the book was overshadowed by the tedious, largely pointless stretches of encylopedic descriptions about the whaling industry. Melville strikes me as one of those people who would corner you at a party and talk incessantly about whaling, whaling ships, whales, whale diet, whale etymology, whale zoology, whale blubber, whale delacies, whale migration, whale oil, whale biology, whale ecology, whale meat, whale skinning, and every other possible topic about whales so that you'd finally have to pretend to have to go to the bathroom just to get away from the crazy old man. Only he'd FOLLOW YOU INTO THE BATHROOM and keep talking to you about whales while peering over the side of the stall and trying to make eye contact with you the whole time.

Look, it's not that I don't get it. Or at least some of it. I get, for example, that Ishmael's description of the absurdities of whale classification systems provide a backdrop against which to project the recurring theme of mankind's doomed quest for complete understanding of truths that are ineffable and forever hidden (sometimes literally) under the surface. I get that. I just wish the guy didn't feel like he had to take it to such absurd lengths. I do not need twenty pages about how to properly coil a harpoon line! I can see why most people don't make it through this book without judicious skimming.

Still, I feel like I accomplished something and that I can now nod sagely the next time someone makes an oblique reference to Captain Ahab, mentions the Pequod, or refers to something as "that person's Great White _______." And chances are they skimmed more than I did, anyway.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 25, 2018
i tried.

Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an eye-splice or loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the tub, and hanging over its edge completely disengaged from everything. This arrangement of the lower end is necessary on two accounts. First: In order to facilitate the fastening to it of an additional line from a neighboring boat, in case the stricken whale should sound so deep as to threaten to carry off the entire line originally attached to the harpoon. In these instances, the whale of course is shifted like a mug of ale, as it were, from the one boat to the other; though the first boat always hovers at hand to assist its consort. Second: This arrangement is indispensible for common safety's sake; for were the lower end of the line in any way attached to the boat, and were the whale then to run the line out to the end almost in a single, smoking minute as he sometimes does, he would not stop there, for the doomed boat would infallibly be dragged down after him into the profundity of the sea; and in that case no town-crier would ever find her again.
Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is taken aft from the tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is again carried forward the entire length of the boat, resting crosswise upon the loom or handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs against his wrist in rowing; and also passing between the men, as they alternately sit at the opposing gunwales, to the leaded chocks or grooves in the extreme pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden pin or skewer the size of a common quill, prevents it from slipping out. From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then passed inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box-line) being coiled upon the box in the bows, it continues its way to the gunwale still a little further aft, and is then attached to the short-warp - the rope which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but previous to that connexion, the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.

i tried. but any book with that passage, and thousands of passages just like it, can never get five stars from me. and probably not even four. not because i think it is shitty writing, but because when i was growing up, i was told that girls just wanna have fun, and that was not giving me any fun at all.

everyone said, "nooo, karen, you were eighteen when you read this the first time, and you just didn't give it your all - you are bound to love it now, with your years of accumulated knowledge and experience."

and that sounded valid to me, and it's like when i turned thirty, and i decided to try all the foods i had thought were "from the devil" and see if i liked them now that i was old. i thought that revisiting this book might have the same results and discoveries. but this book remains like olives to me, and not like rice pudding, which, have you tried it? is quite good.

but no.
turns out that when i was eighteen, i was already fully-formed.

and it's not that i don't understand it - i get the biblical allusions, i understand the bitter humor of fast fish loose fish, i am aware of the foreshadowing and symbolism - i went to school, i learned my theory and my close-reading, but there are passages, like the one above, that i could not see the glory in. all i could see was the dull.

and the bitch of it is that it started out fine - good, even. i was really getting into the description of the docks and the nantuckters, and it was giving me good new-england-y feelings. and then came that first chapter about whale-anatomy, and i was laughing, remembering encountering it during my first reading and being really angry that this chapter was jaggedly cutting in on the action. and, honestly, it was really good at the end, too. but the whole middle of this book is pretty much a wash. a sea of boredom with occasionally interesting icebergs.

at the beginning, he claims that no one has ever written the definitive book about whales and whaling, so - kudos on that, because this is pretty damn definitive. it's just no fun. maybe i would like it better if it had been about sharks?? i like sharks.

i know you wouldn't know it to look at me, but i don't have a problem with challenging books. i prefer a well-told story, sure, and i am mostly just a pleasure-reader, not one that needs to be all snooty-pants about everything i read, but i've done the proust thing, and while he can be wordy at times (hahaahah) his words will, eventually, move me, i understand them, and i appreciate being submerged into his character's thought-soup. viginia woolf - dense writing, but it is gorgeous writing that shines a light into the corners of human experience and is astonishing, breathtaking. thomas hardy has pages and pages of descriptive nature-writing, but manages to make it matter.

i just wasn't feeling that here. the chapter on the way we perceive white animals, the whale through various artistic representations, rigging, four different chapters on whale anatomy; it's just too much description, not enough story; it seemed all digressive interlude.

and you would think that a book so full of semen and dick and men holding hands while squeezing sperm and grinning at each other would have been enough, but i remain unconverted, and sad of it.

maybe if i had read this one, it would have been different:

oh, no, i have opened the GIS-door:

i am only including this one because i totally have that shark stuffie:

maybe i am just a frivolous person, unable to appreciate the descriptive bludgeoning of one man's quest to detail every inch of the giant whale. or maybe all y'all are wrong and deluded.

heh. dick.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,645 followers
March 13, 2022
The narrator of this flabbergasting marine saga is an impecunious but very erudite young man possessing a sarcastic sense of humour and having a tongue-in-cheek attitude to life…
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.

Often Ishmael tends to speak in a metaphysical vein and somewhat on the agnostic side…
Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.

The novel is packed with bizarre personages – even all the secondary characters are weird… Elijah is a gloomy prophet… Three harpooners: Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo are three pagan magi… And the biblical names of the main participants literally seal their fates: Ishmael – an easy rover, Ahab – an evil ruler, who turned a gigantic sperm whale into his sinister deity and deadly antagonist…
Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out beyond the ship’s ever-pitching prow. There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance.

And above all there is Moby Dick – an albino leviathan – monstrous Baal – the remorseless instrument of doom…
“Corkscrew!” cried Ahab, “aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie all twisted and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his spout is a big one, like a whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile of our Nantucket wool after the great annual sheep-shearing; aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like a split jib in a squall. Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye have seen – Moby Dick – Moby Dick!”

Gods – even if they are a pure fiction – still reign over human destinies.
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
January 19, 2023
I'm going to hold off on rating / sharing my feelings, because I am very much so still in the processing stage over here with this one.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews50 followers
August 16, 2021
(Book 896 from 1001 books) - Moby-Dick = The Whale, Herman Melville

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is a novel by American writer Herman Melville, published in 1851 during the period of the American Renaissance.

Sailor Ishmael tells the story of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that on the previous whaling voyage bit off Ahab's leg at the knee.

The novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891, but during the 20th century, its reputation as a Great American Novel was established.

William Faulkner confessed he wished he had written it himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world", and "the greatest book of the sea ever written". "Call me Ishmael" is among world literature's most famous opening sentences.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «مابی دیک نهنگ سفید»، «موبی‌دیک (نهنگ سفید)» - هرمان ملویل (امیرکبیر) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه دسامبر سال 2002میلادی

مترجمها خانمها و آقایان: «صالح حسینی در 776ص»؛ «پرویز داریوش در 422ص»؛ «ایاز خدادادی در 324ص»؛ «علی فاطمیان در240ص»؛ «پروین ادیب در 209ص»؛ «رضا روزبه در 200ص»، «محمد شاطرلو در 183ص»؛ «علی اصغر محمدزاده سال 1335؛ در168ص»؛ «نوشین ابراهیمی در 157ص»؛ «خسرو شایسته در 133ص»، «سهیلا احمدی در 120ص»؛ «نفیسه دربهشتی در 120ص»، «محمد طلوعی در 113ص»؛ «مجید ریاحی در 113ص»؛ «راضیه ابراهیمی در 111ص»؛ «الهام دانش نژاد در 80ص»؛ «کوثر محمود محمد در 72ص»؛ «محمد همت خواه در 59ص»؛ «نعیمه ظاهری در 48ص»؛ «محمدرضا جعفری در 32ص»، «سیدرضا مرتضوی در28ص»؛

راوی که خود را «ا��ماعیل» می‌نامد، از «منهتن» برای پیوستن به کشتی شکار نهنگ، به «نیوبدفورد» آمده‌ است؛ مهمان‌خانه‌ ای که او به آن مراجعه می‌کند بسیار شلوغ است، و او مجبور می‌شود، یک تخت را با مردی خالکوبی‌ شده، به نام «کویکوئگ» از «پلی‌ نزی» شریک شود؛ این مرد یک زوبین‌ انداز است، و پدرش پادشاه جزیره ی «روکوووکو» است؛ صبح روز بعد «اسماعیل» و «کویکوئگ» به خطبه ی «پدر ماپل»، درباره ی «یونس» گوش فرا می‌دهند، و سپس راهی «نانتاکت» می‌شوند؛ «اسماعیل» با صاحبان کشتی «پکوئود»، «بیلداد» و «پلگ»، قرارداد امضا می‌کند؛ «پلگ» درباره ی ناخدا «ایهب» می‌گوید: «احساسات انسانی خود را دارد»؛ صبح روز بعد آن‌ها با «کویکوئگ» نیز قرارداد امضا میکنند؛ مردی به نام «الیاس» پیشگویی می‌کند، که اگر «اسماعیل» و «کویکوئگ» به «ایهب» بپیوندند، به سرنوشتی وخیم دچار می‌شوند؛ در حالی‌که مایحتاج، در کشتی بارگیری می‌شوند، چهره‌ هایی سایه‌ وار سوار کشتی می‌شوند؛ در یک روز سرد «کریسمس»، «پکوئود» بندر را ترک می‌کند؛ و ...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 24/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Lea.
119 reviews451 followers
July 19, 2020
“And God created great whales.” —Genesis.

And Melville created a great American novel!
What a classic of American literature. I was postponing this review because at the same time there so too much to be said about this complex work and yet I feel it’s quite hard to grasp the core of its brilliance.

First of all, this book was so unevenly written that I was wondering at times a) am I reading the same author b) is this the same book. In its versatility, it is the most unique book I’ve ever read, and Melville made his point - he plays around throughout different literary genres, but proves he can write stupendously in most of them. This book can be characterized as fiction, but also scientific and historical text, with sparks of poetry and some chapters that read like a stage play. This doesn’t even feel like a novel, rather a prose-epic. At times, the constant change in writing styles can be conflicting as you don’t really know what kind of book you are reading. Writing style is somewhat simple yet it gets more convoluted and dense, especially towards the end. Melville can write ironically, humorously, seriously, profoundly, tenderly, violently - as a writer he is insanely talented. Ishmael's voice is particularly appealing, with a charming mix of skepticism and hope, seeing the light and funny side in the darkest of events. I was sad his voice faded through the novel, and through the whole novel he is an odd narrator - sometimes describing events he couldn’t possibly see. At times the writing can be dry, especially in the famous encyclopedic sections about cetology, but I wasn’t bothered with it at all because of both literal and metaphorical meaning of the chapters, and the structure of this book really beautifully describes how the mind of a person that obsesses over the topic work. I was a little bored on, what at times seemed endless, descriptions of ship and whaling. There is a disproportion between the experimental parts and parts focused on plot and characters (it seems there is more plot in the first 100 pages than in the rest of the book) and one could say that this is a poorly constructed novel. But in a way, Moby Dick can get a pass because I got a sense that like Frankenstein's monster, the novel took life for itself, independent of Melville, as it is almost uncontrollable. The novel is insane as Ahab himself!

I have a theory - the book can be read as Ishamel’s internal adventure in the psychic realm - characters can be read as his internal representation of archetypes and the whale as the representation of ultimate invincible nature, inscrutability of the universe, that man can’t understand or conquer. The dichotomy of land and ocean is important here - the ocean is chaotic, undefined, and boundless while the land is solid, material and defined. Land symbolizes the static knowledge, while ocean ever-changing and evolving process of meditation and thinking. And the ocean seems to be superior in significance to the path of our protagonist.
Ishmael's ultimate quest for meaning and Ahab chase for the whale both contain a universal journey for the ungraspable phantom of life. The whale can also be a symbolic representation of what man perceives as cruel God, and Ahab the figure of a disobedient idolatry king that thinks he can defeat the force of God. Still, I think the book would be misinterpreted if read only in an allegorical sense, in the end, I feel Melville wanted to write a book about whales. But he made a strong philosophical point in the process - even a physical creature of a Moby Dick can be endlessly ruminated upon and explored, so how can any philosophy or religion claim to have ultimate truth about something as abstract as the meaning of life.
The book seems to be imaginative protest against monolithic monotheism - there is no right way to draw or describe Moby Dick so the author has to go to all the perspectives he can to grasp particles of truth, and throughout the process broadens the perspective on different cultures, gods and taboos and sets you in the peculiar game of interpretations. And in the end, there is no ultimate meaning or comfort from the interpretations - at the same time, the answer is to reject and accept everything.

'’Indefinite is God’’

That is what I experienced as Melville’s world-view - meaning that could not be found in only one perspective, and you have to be brave enough to explore every possible stance on whatever subject in an attempt to understand it but there is no definite answer. Most men try to find the truth and impose on it its own meaning as Ahab did - his obsession with a personal interpretation of Moby Dick with oblivion to whale’s totality was his fatal flaw of the character. But the narrator, Ishmael, or Melville himself, who is brave enough to go to every possible source of knowledge without any prejudice - is the only one who survives the attack of Moby Dick. Ahab is forcing the universe to an answer, which leads to disaster, while Ishmael is an authentic truth seeker and he confronts the indefinite head-on, and survives. Melville also shows a strong stance on determinism. Fate is already written in the stone, the premonitions announce the destiny of the ship and its passengers, and free will can’t change its course. Characters also seem to be out of control of themselves - Ishmael goes on the sea because he feels like it as he is completely dominated by urges and emotions, and even Ahab who seems strong-willed admits in the end that he is not in the jurisdiction of his actions, he knows he is destructive to himself and everyone around him but still has to pursue the path of destruction. But Melville seems to praise the joyous acceptance of tragic fate as his quote says: "Whatever my fate, I'll go to it laughing."

This book will have something for every reader - a parable of religious-moralistic character, political allegory, a study on the ethical distinction, American imperialism and colonialism, individualism, democracy, transcendentalism, existentialism, madness, all displayed while describing whale hunting. Whale hunting is described humanely and you really get a grip on violence and sorrow that fill this business, not shying away from its terrible nature. I feel that there is not one field that this book doesn’t touch while writing about whales - myth, science, history, religion, ethics, metaphysics. I don’t think that a similar book was ever written or I will be written in the history of mankind. And I honestly, only Melville can pull this one.

This is the kind of book I want to ruminate upon in my older age, and I feel I will appreciate it much more at a later time. But even now I think it is unforgettable work that will linger in my mind long after first read. It took me some time to read the book, some passages are one’s you have to read several times to fully grasp. And I want to give credit, some of my reflections were influenced by Hubert Dreyfus brilliant lecture on Moby Dick that can be found on youtube. If you’ve read the book I highly recommend it.

The book itself has also the highest recommendation, but only for the brave readers open to the indefinite mysteriousness of the world!
Profile Image for Nayra.Hassan.
1,259 reviews5,634 followers
September 3, 2022
قد تعتبره دكتاتورا غبيا استعبدته فكرة واحدة للنهاية
او تعتبره مجرد"غلبان"آخر فاقد الإيمان و الرضا
انه كابتن إهاب العنيد البائس..مرهوب الجانب ذو الساق الواحدة
الذي وهب حياته لقتل الحوت الأبيض العظيم الذي افقده ساقه

هى قصه أخرى عن المصير الذي تدخره لنا الأقدار🔚
..و عن الرضا بالمكتوب
تحثنا موبي ديك على توسعة افقنا و النظر للامور بعين "الاخر"إنه ا قصة أخرى عن الفهم الذي يأتي بعد فوات الاوان.

عن العمر الذي يضيع في سبيل رغبات و هواجس هامشية⏳
..تلتهم أيامنا و تلقي بنا سجناء في جب الحقد و البؤس و الضياع

قرأتها مختصرة و كانت أول رواية إنجليزية جادة اقراها ..تركت لدى انطباع رجالي خشن بلسلوب ميلفل الفلسفي الكثيف.. و لكني صنفتها ضمن رف الانتقام المفضل لدي..ثم قراتها بالعربية مختصرة ايضا...لافهم هدفها اخيرا.. هناك نسخ نادرة تزيد على الف صفحة للقراء الصبورين المخضرمين فقط بالطبع

بالنسبة لي سيظل موبي ديك يرمز للطبيعة التي مهما انتصرنا عليها ستنتصر علينا في النهاية
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
970 reviews6,875 followers
August 28, 2023
Love it or hate it, whenever someone asks if Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is worth reading I always enthusiastically say yes you should, yes it's worth it, yes, yes like some weirdass library Molly Bloom. An epic seafaring quest—one that is a prime example of how a major theme in literature is Don’t Get on Boats (my rant on that here)—to fight the emptiness and meaninglessness of the world symbolized by the white whale. Even if we the reader may be like Cpt. Ahab trying to find our own sense of purpose in our pursuit of the novel, it is a voyage of beautiful prose worth setting out on. C’mon, who doesn’t want to hang out and possibly die horrifically with this complete fucker:
Sure, I see how you can find the middle sections on whaling facts to be dry, but the ending of this slaps. It’s as hard hitting as a whale ramming a boat like, say, the Essex which inspired this novel (Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is an excellent read on the tragedy). If you don’t end up liking it, you aren’t alone as the reviews upon its release in 1851 are rather harsh (you can read some excerpts here) and at the time of Melville’s death it had sold only a third of what his first novel, Typee, had done, but it has since become a heralded classic with many other “classic” authors spouting praise (William Faulkner wrote ‘I wish I had written [Moby-Dick]’) and had a rise in popularity following WWI with expatriates living in 1920’s Paris describing it as ‘a sort of cunning test by which the genuineness of another man’s response to literature could be proved.’ But also it is because both Moby-Dick the novel and the symbolism of Moby Dick the whale (the title is hyphenated, the whale is not and the reason might be as much a hunt as for the whale himself), have become so analyzed and debated over and over again on the many themes such as the power of nature and the frailty of humans, the dangers of monomania and self-assuredness (some critics cite Ahab as a criticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas of self-reliance or what Melville wrote as his ‘transcendentalisms, myths & oracular gibberish), and more. Perhaps it is partly the way Moby-Dick is interpreted as a map through the soul of the early US and its issues around race, religion and false promises, all told in a powerful prose that flows like the waves on the sea. This book has lasted for a reason and there’s likely nothing new to say about it but I’m gonna ramble at ye.

My favorite book is Moby-Dick. No frou-frou symbolism. Just a story of a man who hates an animal. And that's enough.
-Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

Greil Marcus has said that Moby Dick has lasted as ‘the sea we swim in.’ It has been a staple of pop culture for a long time, and likely still long to come. In music Moby Dick gave us that epic John Bonham drum solo, that Umphrey’s McGee jam, or even Melville’s great-great-great-musician nephew, Moby, who acted a dick towards Natalie Portman. Bob Dylan went on about the book in his Nobel Lecture and references it in many of his songs.The character’s became code names for The Baader-Meinhof Gang in prison (ironically, Moby Dick was their code for the State which, like in the book, outlived them all) and the doom-fated character Starbuck’s namesake has become a major coffee chain and a character in Battlestar Galactica. It has been many films, and film references, such as the other whaling ship, Rosebud, being a key name in Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane (he would attempt, but never finish a 1971 film adaptation). The coffin surfacing in the flood in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a direct reference, and recently there was a whole scene as a blatant allusion to the book in the second Avatar film. It was also a major source for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), with Khan going to his death quoting the book: ‘From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee… for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee…
Gregory Peck as Ahab in John Huston’s 1956 Moby Dick film, with a screenplay written by Ray Bradbury

While pop culture is full of references to Moby-Dick, the novel itself is overflowing with allusions to other great works of literature. Ahab himself is often argued to be a composite reference to Oedipus, Narcissus, Prometheus and his biblical namesake. Ahab—who is temporarily afflicted—comes across the head of a sperm whale hanging from the ship (‘it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert’) and demand of it ‘tell us the secret thing that is in thee,’ a pretty on-the-nose reference to Oedipus (also he frequently uses his spear as a crutch and to murder whales, not unlike Oedipus murdering his own father with his walking stick). Also the whole prophecy thing that occurs to Oedipus and Ahab, because the two chariots that will lead to his death bit is pretty excellent when it comes about. The tale of Narcissus is directly referenced in the first chapter and foreshadows Ahab’s own fate, failing to see that the evil he sees in the whale is a ‘wildly projected’ image of himself (well and the whole drowning aspect). The Prometheus bits are my favorite though, with Ahab often associated with fire such as his flaming spear and, with respect to him symbolizing the white whale as a god of sorts, stealing from the whales the oil for fire (for which he was punished). King Ahab was punished for worshiping false gods (whales as gods again).

But I want to get back to Prometheus for a moment because I have my own Prometheus confession. Silence please. Well…when I was at the university, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would go the the Barnes and Noble and see the literary part of the world. I was interested in Moby-Dick, but like, whew, should I spend my money on a book? Just then there was a big flash of lightning, a store shaking crash, and we were plunged into darkness as the power went out. People screamed, I ran outside to see the storm, to see the powerline that had been struck, “only to realize” I had “accidentally” (emphasizing the air-quotes while scanning the room for who might be a cop) left with Moby-Dick still in hand under the cover of dark. I’M NOT PROUD OF IT, OKAY (im gonna be real with you—not that bad, honestly) but it had pictures and I did read it all rather quickly sitting under a bridge off campus by the river (would recommend reading this in your early 20s when you A. are old enough to get a lot of it, B. have disposable time to read in big chunks and C. an attention span). Anyways, like Prometheus, I would later find myself chained to a rock AKA the customer service desk of a different Barnes and Noble for several years to be pecked at daily by customers and management alike. They didn’t have to bother with my liver, my good friend alcohol was ravishing that enough on its own. SO I GOT MINE, everyone can back off now.

But this book is just teeming with symbolism and themes. When Bob Dylan delivered his Nobel Lecture, he spoke on how this was one of three books that really shaped him ‘and the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs either knowingly or unintentionally.’ One of the themes I frequently discussed with a coworker when she read this last year was the representation of race. She pointed out there are some problematic issues but how it’s interesting to remember this book was pretty progressive at its time. We see racism as a major sin, such as the ship, The Pequod, taking it’s name from an indigenous tribe in Massachusetts that perished under the arrival of Europeans and thus makes the Pequod a symbol of death and doom (*jazz hands* fooooooreshadowinggggg!). Melville has often referred to the novel as an allegory, and one prevailing interpretation with critics is that it functions as an allegory for te racial relations around slavery that would lead to the Civil War. Melville lets us know he’s not down with slavery, such as when Pip realizes the price of a dead whale is significantly more than his own price as a living slave and promptly has a mental breakdown. It should be noted that Ishmael’s close friendship with Queequeg (it could be argued it pushes towards the erotic) is highly subversive and the latter fellow and his skills are a critique on the belief of white superiority.

There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of man,’ states Ahab, and many interpretations of the novel focus on the whale as an evil. I believe Ahab sees Moby Dick this way (a projection, as previously mentioned), and we can certainly view this story as an expression of the fragility of humans in the face of the awesome power of nature. Don’t fuck with nature, it’s going to win. However, so much of this is wrapped up in an investigation of applying meaning, applying symbols and needing purpose in the terrifying face of meaninglessness. The white whale (based on a similar ship-killer whale named Mocha Dick) is no accident, with white often believed to be an absence of color and calling to mind a cold, apathetic nothingness. It is a lack of good or evil, and Ahab is falsely applying evil here, trying to create a destiny and fight against a perceived villain to be the main character hero of his own invention. We also see this all as humans defenselessness against fate. Whales are big, don’t mess with them. You’ll see…

Okay, I’ve spun quite the yarn here and really, just give this a go. Even if you don’t like it, it’s still pretty cool to say you’ve read it. And there are SO many amazing scenes, I promise. Like, okay, I can’t talk about this book without mentioning when Ahab makes everyone do shots out of the cavities in their spears. And that ending. It’s wild. It’s a big book, it’s full of themes and complex symbolism and tons of literary allusions and it may rock you like a ship upon stormy seas, but it’s worth the voyage. And, hey, at least you can read about whales noshing on sailors, that’s pretty fun.
Profile Image for Persephone's Pomegranate.
56 reviews170 followers
January 21, 2023
My uncle took me fishing when I was a child. He did all the fishing while I just hung around, observing. During one such trip, I had a fishing rod in my hand. I didn't want to catch anything. The thought of catching a live fish was unbearable. I was a scaredy-cat (and an imaginative one) with a penchant for melodrama. And then it happened. I felt a strong tug on the rod. It was the worst experience of my life. I just stood there, frozen, unable to reel in the fish. My spot might as well have been Amity Island, and the fish might as well have been Jaws (ah, the mind of a child). I was scared and feeling sorry for the damn fish at the same time. Worst of all, people were staring at me.


It was not my destiny to be a master fisherman. I wish Captain Ahab had come to the same realization as I did. His pride led to his downfall.

Moby Dick is the ultimate tale of man versus nature. What could be more formidable than a sperm whale - the ocean's largest predator? A being so powerful not even the mighty orca, the ocean's most skillful killer, can defeat it. Who would dare hunt such a creature?



The name orca comes from the Latin phrase Orcinus orca, which translates as 'of the kingdom of the dead.' Great white sharks have the word 'great' as part of their name. Then there are sperm whales. Couldn't they think of something more dignified? I know why they're named that way, but come on.

Whaling was a highly lucrative business. Bloody and dangerous, but lucrative nonetheless. Told from the sailor Ishmael's perspective, the story follows Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod who embarks on a quest for vengeance against a giant sperm whale who maimed him.

Ahab is a man who doesn't know when to quit. I would have noped out of there after the first encounter, but that's not Ahab. He's not like other girls. He wants to kill Moby Dick no matter the cost. Ahab's fury and hatred are almost as big as his ego. He is consumed by his desire to defeat the white whale. It's his only obsession.

I have mixed feeling about this novel. I understand it's an important piece of literature. It's filled with metaphors and double entendres. It's just not my cup of peppermint tea.

Why was the whale called Dick? He's just swimming in the ocean, snacking on squid, sharks, and fish, minding his business. He sunk a few ships, but only because he was defending himself. Ahab is the Dick of the story.

I find the real story of Moby Dick much more fascinating than the fictional one. Moby Dick was inspired by a real-life white sperm whale named Mocha Dick. His story is as fascinating as it is tragic.

Is the sea a harsh mistress? Or are some people just stupid?

Check the weather forecast before you go sailing, don't hunt giant marine mammals, pack sunscreen, and put on 'Beyond the Sea.'


Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,496 followers
August 3, 2016
There once was a grouchy alpha whale named Moby Dick who -- rather than being agreeably shorn of his blubber and having lumpy sperm scooped out of his cranium like cottage cheese -- chose life. Unlike so many shiftless, layabout sea mammals of his generation, Moby Dick did not go gentle into that good night. This whale, in short, was not a back-of-the-bus rider. He assailed a shallow, consumerist society, which objectified him only as lamp oil or corset ribbing, with the persuasive argument of his thrashing tail, gaping maw, and herculean bulk.

In his seminal (in more ways than one) animal rights saga, Herman Melville conjures an aquatic, rascally Norma Rae out of an elephantine albino whale. Reasonably enough, Moby Dick (hereafter M.D., despite possible confusions with the profession) is irritable when people are chasing him, stabbing him with harpoons, and trying to kill him. Thus, in an act which would be protected by law as self defense in most enlightened nations, M.D. bites off part of the leg of one of his many hunters, the humorless Captain Ahab.

Gall alert! Gall alert! Ahab has the nerve to hold a fucking grudge against the whale for this entirely ethical dismemberment. (He also holds a grudge for some incidental damage incurred to Lil' Ahab as a very weak corollary of his lost limb, but I'm not even getting into that. Judge Wapner would've never stomached that half-baked reasoning, so neither will I.) Now mind you, M.D. doesn't, like, come ashore in Nantucket, rent a lowrider horse-drawn carriage, and try to put a cap in the ass of that one-legged old bitch-ass captain who wanted to decapitate him. So, I mean, who's really the petty one in this equation?

The novel Moby-Dick eschews a first-person whale narrator in favor of Ishmael, a bit of a rube who shows up in New Bedford with big dreams of a whaling career. (Whaling was the Hollywood of that era.) He meets this reformed cannibal harpooner named Queequeg who hails from the South Seas, has lots of tattoos, and moonlights as a decapitated-human-head salesman. So basically he's rough trade. Ishmael and Queequeg become fast-friends and do all kinds of jovial homoerotic things together, like cuddle in bed and curiously espy each other undressing -- despite their pronounced cultural differences. I think Ishmael acts as a keen ethnographer when he highlights the variances: Queequeg, the savage, idol-worshipping, hell-condemned, unenlightened, "oogah-boogah" heathen, and Ishmael, the... white guy. Yet their love endures. It's as if all the sexual currents in Neil Simon's Odd Couple were suddenly foregrounded.

Ishmael and Queequeg find employment on the whaler Pequod, helmed by none other than the killjoy Captain Ahab himself -- he of prosthetic whalebone leg, abbreviated schlong, and legendary grudge-holding. So the Pequod embarks upon a three or four year whaling adventure around the globe, ostensibly in search of valuable whale oil, but in fact -- as we later learn -- to bring about Ahab's vengeance against the Marxist whale M.D., who refuses to be expropriated by the Man.

Interestingly enough, as the journey goes on, Ishmael's character seems to evaporate. In other words, he gradually shifts from a compartmentalized first-person narrator to an omniscient third-person narrator. He seems almost to have rescinded his identity (or he only rarely invokes it) in the latter part of the novel, as if -- while we have been distracted by gloppy whale sperm and passing ships -- he morphed into the Star Child. This transformation is, of course, intentional and creates a sense of broadening perspective throughout the novel -- of transcending the menial and specific to embrace a grand, universal tragedy.

Here's the bottom line. Moby-Dick is an American classic that sounds as though it would be absolutely torturous to read. A six-hundred-page nineteenth-century novel about the pursuit of a whale? You've got to be kidding. Did I mention that there are chapters after chapters that merely detail the processes and (often gory) procedures of whaling? I know. Try to control yourself before you run out to the bookstore or library, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This novel is magnificent. It proves what I have held true ever since I started writing myself -- that any subject at all, from whittling to colonoscopies to Riverdance to bagpipe playing, can be enthralling in the hands of a competent writer -- a writer like Melville, who simultaneously locates the universal in this seemingly very particular narrative and makes even the occasionally perplexing rituals of whaling seem fascinating.

Also, it's a captivating historical document chronicling M.D.'s groundbreaking role in the nascent Whale Power movement. Eat tailfin, honkies!
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
576 reviews7,780 followers
July 13, 2014
OH MY HOLY MOTHER FUCK. This novel, this FUCKING novel. Phenomenal. Astounding. Groundbreaking. One of the greatest novels ever written. Yeah there's like 200 pages of whale anatomy and the history of whales in literature and whales in art and whale classification and I LOVED EVERY SINGLE WORD OF IT. So it's five-stars. Yes, five-stars. A five-star rating here is as rare as seeing the White Whale itself! READ THIS RIGHT FUCKING NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW.
Profile Image for Fernando.
685 reviews1,127 followers
December 27, 2018
“¿Y si Ahab abandona de súbito la búsqueda? Es probable que la pierna inexistente le duela para toda la vida."

"Moby Dick" fue, es y será mi libro preferido de toda la vida. Esta es en realidad la tercera vez que lo leo dado que la magia que se desprende de sus páginas me hechiza sin soltarme. Más allá de que en la cima de mis escritores preferidos se yergue solitariamente y sin competencia mi admiradísimo Franz Kafka y que le sigue muy de cerca Fiódor Dostoievski, quien me enseño muchas maneras de ver la inmensidad de la vida, es Herman Melville también uno de mis autores predilectos y siempre recurro a sus libros para leerlos constantemente. Es mi manera de sostener mis horizontes literarios en un estándar alto.
Este gran autor fue parte fundamental del incipiente despegue literario de los Estados Unidos a principios del siglo XIX junto con Nathaniel Hawthorne o Edgar Allan Poe, por nombrar algunos, y aunque ya tenía varios libros publicados en su haber como "Taipí", "Omú", "Mardi" o "Redburn", todos ellos muestra fiel de su pasado como tripulante de barcos balleneros (en los que hasta llegó a convivir entre caníbales), es a partir de este libro en el que adquiere el desarrollo total de sus facultades narrativas para plasmarlas en un libro épico, único e inolvidable.
Cuando terminó de escribirlo, dentro de una de las tantas cartas que le escribía a su fiel amigo Hawthorne (a quien le dedica "Moby Dick"), le expresa: "He escrito un libro perverso, pero yo me siento tan inocente como un corderito". Evidentemente, Melville sabía que había tocado la cuerda justa de su genialidad y que sólo era cuestión de tiempo para que su libro fuera recordado por siempre.
También sostuvo una idea durante el proceso de escritura de "Moby Dick" en la que afirmaba que "Para escribir un libro de proporciones importantes hay que elegir un tema de proporciones importantes" y no se equivocó. Lo que comenzó como el esbozo de una novela corta fue transformándose en un volumen poderoso y extenso. Se le fue de las manos hasta transformarse en una mole equivalente a la Ballena Blanca que surca los mares en los que el Pequod de Ahab la persigue.
En cierta forma, este libro es de esos que yo denomino "universales", puesto que son tantos los temas que trata acerca de todo aquello lo que nos define como seres humanos y estas características nos son mostradas desde mil ángulos distintos.
"Moby Dick" es una novela polifónica y con esto me refiero a ese estilo de novelas que inventó el gran Fiódor Dostoievski en donde cada personaje funciona como un ente independiente con su voz y sus ideas dentro de la novela, pero que a la vez, unido a los demás hacen funcionar el argumento de la novela de manera conjunta mientras el autor por momentos los deja actuar, quedándose en un costado.
Como toda novela de esta naturaleza genera adhesiones y rechazo en el lector. Ya en su momento (1851) cuando fue publicada, "Moby Dick" naufragó en el olvido casi instantáneamente empujando a Melville a un auto exilio del que nunca se recuperaría. Al año siguiente publicaría "Pierre, o las ambigüedades", que hace fiel eco de su nombre por lo inclasificable y de manera post mortem se publica "Billy Budd, marinero", esta sí muy bien recibida por la crítica.
Para ese entonces, Melville, que prácticamente estaba fuera de la literatura, se dedicó a escribir poesía mientras trabajaba como un siempre empleado administrativo (casi bartlebiano) en la Aduana de Nueva York.
Si uno eliminara los capítulos a los que podríamos llamar "descartables", nos quedaríamos con una novela de menos de trescientas páginas en vez del ladrillo de más de setecientas treinta que uno tiene que leer.
Melville se toma gran parte del libro para contarnos acerca de todo lo que rodea al mundo de los barcos balleneros y es esto lo que hace que muchos lectores lo abandonen. Los capítulos como "Cetalogía", en donde Melville hace un detalle de todas las ballenas que existían en esa época, parecen interminables como también en, "De las ballenas pintadas", "La ballena como plato", "La cabeza de cachalote: estudio comparativo", "El gran tonel de Heidelberg", "Cisternas y baldes", "La cabeza del cachalote: estudio comparativo", que son algunos que enumero, aunque estimo que deben ser más de veinte.
En cierto modo es una lástima, dado que la historia narrada es maravillosa y estos apartados distraen o aburren al lector que no está al tanto de la obra melviana.
Yendo precisamente al libro, lo más importante de él son sus personajes, y a mi modo de ver, junto con Moby Dick es fundamentalmente Ahab el motor de la historia. Es el personaje más logrado de Herman Melville e iguala a otros grandes de la historia literaria. Ahab, es un personaje forjado por Melville con todo el andamiaje trágico de Shakespeare y la profundización psicológica de Dostoievski. De hecho es que fuera de Dostoievski el personaje más dostoievskiano de los que me he encontrado.
De todos modos, el nombre de Ahab ha sido escrito en la literatura con letras de oro.
Este poderoso personaje tarda bastante en aparecer en la novela (más precisamente en el capítulo 28), para mostrarse con intermitencias en la mitad del libro y hacerse omnipresente durante los capítulos finales en donde se desata la tragedia, dado que en realidad "Moby Dick" es una novela de fuertes connotaciones trágicas pero dotadas de muchas capas en las que Melville inteligentemente trabajó para darle un concepto de obra total.
Su constante inclusión de alegorías y simbolismos son incontables y lo más curioso es que los simbolismos son generados en forma inconsciente por el lector. Cuando Ahab descarga con profunda circunspección filosófica sus soliloquios existencialistas lo que hace es generar un clima de negros presagios y esperanzas funestas, puesto que íntimamente sabe que si bien Dios dispone las cosas, es el Destino el que sellará su suerte.
Dos de los capítulos más elevados y filosóficos del libro son un monólogo existencialista maravilloso de Ahab en el capítulo "La sinfonía". El otro es "La blancura de la ballena", el más metafísico de todo el libro, en el que Melville nos ofrece estudio profundo sobre la simbología del color blanco.
Así como Ahab es una de las piezas fundamentales del libro, Ismael, quien es el narrador casi omnisciente, es el que llevará la batuta y el ritmo de la narración. Él abre la historia con esperanza y él la concluye con melancolía y nostalgia y en el medio, desfilan otros tantos personajes maravillosos como los son su fiel amigo Queequeg, ese salvaje tatuado y experto arponero que se transformará en su hermano del alma así también como los tres oficiales principales, el primero Starbuck (de quien la gran cadena internacional de cafés fundada en Washington toma su nombre agregándose una "s"), quien es el que más enfrenta a Ahab, Stubb con su inseparable pipa y Flask, quien tiene toda la pinta de no estar en su sano juicio.
Junto con Queequeg conoceremos a los otros dos famosos arponeros del Pequod, Tasthego, un indio de complexión colosal y Dagoo, un negro enorme dispuesto a enfrentarse a todo y a todos. También en un uno de los capítulos iniciales, antes de que Ismael se embarque, nos encontraremos con el Padre Mapple, quien da su sermón desde un púlpito transformado en la quilla de un barco y como no puede ser de otra manera, nos hablará del único personaje bíblico que tiene relación directa con una ballena, Jonás, del que además Melville utilizará un capítulo para que su parábola sea considerada históricamente, o sea que el autor intenta demostrar cuál fue el periplo real de Jonás a partir de su huida.
Volviendo al padre Mapple y a Ahab, un dato muy interesante es ver la más famosa película basada en el libro, dirigida por John Houston en 1954 y para la que el gran autor norteamericano Ray Bradbury escribió el guión, nos encontraremos con el afamado Orson Wells haciendo el papel del sacerdote.
La película cuenta con el mejor Ahab fílmico de toda la historia, me refiero a Gregory Peck con su potente voz y su traje de cuáquero. Es imposible no asociar esa voz a la del "viejo trueno" de la novela cuando uno la lee. Peck actuará nuevamente en una serie de Moby Dick de 1998 como el Padre Mapple y en donde el actor Patrick Stewart encarna el papel de Ahab.
Para no irnos por las ramas, no quiero dejar de mencionar a un extraño y misterioso personaje que se llama Fedallah, un parsi fantasmal que aparece de la nada y que oficia de socio inseparable de Ahab o del negrito Pippen, "Pip", el grumete del Pequod que aporta la cuota de frescura e inocencia a tanta tragedia.
En muchos capítulos del libro son constantes las referencias de Melville a personajes bíblicos y a la propia Biblia en sí. Por ejemplo en un contrapunto entre Peleg y Bildad, quienes son los propietarios del Pequod con Ismael le hacen saber a este que Ahab fue un rey bíblico muy poderoso.
Pero también muy cruel, a punto tal que cuando fue asesinado, los perros no lamieron su sangre. Pareciera que este rey influye sobre el capitán Ahab quien por momentos es despótico, cruel y cínico respondiendo a su obsesión monomaníaca: la de cazar y dar muerte a Moby Dick, la temible Ballena Blanca que le arrancó una de sus piernas.
Para la creación de este cachalote asesino, Herman Melville se inspira en suceso real en el que un cachalote también albino hunde al Essex en 1820, frente a las islas de Mocha en Chile (Melville fantaseó con el nombre de Mocha Dick para su libro) luego de una cruenta persecución.
Moby Dick que es la representación del mal en esta novela es el partenaire perfecto para Ahab, a quien le arrancó la pierna para disparar todo el odio y rencor ilimitado de este capitán que recorrerá el mundo con el objetivo de la venganza que enceguece sus días a bordo del Pequod, cuyo objetivo era la de cazar ballenas para comercializar su esperma, o sea el aceite que se aloja en la cabeza del cachalote y que era el medio para iluminar las casas del siglo XIX, aunque también son muchos los productos que se extraían de las ballenas.
De este modo el Pequod zarpará de la ballenera isla de Nantucket (en la cual hoy se emplaza un museo ballenero), siguiendo hacia las Islas Azores, las Islas Canarias, Cabo Verde, el Río de la Plata, el Cabo de Buena Esperanza, el Mar meridional de China, la zona ballenera de Japón, para encontrar su destino final en los Mares del Sur, luego de tres días de intensa caza a Moby Dick en donde la novela alcanza su punto más álgido y fatal.
"Moby Dick, o la ballena", esta novela imponente, eterna, inabarcable, enorme, la que Faulkner quiso escribir y nunca pudo, que se desarrolla durante tres tercios del libro a bordo de un barco, que posee la más bella y rica narrativa que Herman Melville pudo sacar de sus entrañas es hoy una recompensa a este autor que cuando la publicó pasó inadvertidamente para ser re descubierta recién 73 años después de su publicación, quedará para siempre entre los mejores clásicos de la historia.
Herman Melville, que escribió casi siempre libros sobre historias de barcos, como sus colegas Robert Louis Stevenson y Joseph Conrad tiene hoy el sitial que se merece en la historia de la literatura.
Dijo una vez Jorge Luis Borges sobre Moby Dick: "En el invierno de 1851, Melville publicó Moby Dick, la novela infinita que ha determinado su gloria. Página por página, el relato se agranda hasta usurpar el tamaño del cosmos: al principio el lector puede suponer que su tema es la vida miserable de los arponeros de ballenas; luego el tema es la locura del capitán Ahab, ávido de acosar y destruir la ballena blanca; luego, que la Ballena y Ahab y la persecución que fatiga los océanos del planeta son símbolos del Universo".
Supo reconocer su gran amigo Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Es una obra épica digna de Homero. Será una epopeya americana".
Me quedo con esta última frase. Creo que resume notablemente lo que Herman Melville y "Moby Dick" significan para la literatura mundial. La profecía de Hawthorne se hizo realidad y es por todo ello que siempre será mi libro preferido.
Profile Image for Luffy (Oda's Version).
764 reviews764 followers
June 14, 2021
Is there a polite version of saying 'I hope you're roasting in hell since you died Herman Melville!'? If there's not, there should be...Screw you, Melville.

Once on Imdb (books section), I saw some yahoo saying to a naysayer of Moby Dick "It's your loss". The naysayer replied sarcastically. "My loss? On no. What will my boss and my wife and friends think of me when I tell them I gave Moby Dick 1 star?". That's my feeling as well.

This book is only for the pedants, the elite of snootiness, many of whom will be real behemoths intellectually. I persevered with this book just to know how awful a classic can be. I can assure you folks, they don't make them like this anymore.

I don't think I got it. Okay, I admit that. The problem with Moby Dick is not that it's boring. But it's that 99% of people will find it tedious enough not to read it entirely. It's hypnotic in its lack of actual plot. It wouldn't get published today.

Has there been a movie adaptation of Moby Dick? The closest to it is Jaws. That was a masterpiece. Not this book. This book is an editor's nightmare. It is the type of book, that when part of a curriculum of a class will prevent the student from loving books. Unforgivable.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
August 24, 2023
I was that precocious brat who first read the whale-esque sized Moby-Dick at the age of nine. Why? I had my reasons, and they were twofold:
(1) I was in the middle of my "I love Jacques Cousteau!" phase, and this book had a picture of a whale on the cover.

(2) It was on the bookshelf juuuuust above my reach, and so obviously it was good because it was clearly meant to be not for little kids¹, and that made my little but bloated ego very happy.
¹ So, in retrospect, were War and Peace and Le Père Goriot and The Great Gatsby. In retrospect, there may have been an underlying pattern behind my childhood reading choices.
From what I remember, I read this book as a sort of encyclopedia, a bunch of short articles about whaling and whale taxonomy and many ways to skin a whale and occasional interruptions from little bits of what (as I now see it) was the plot. It was confusing and yet informative - like life itself is to nine-year-olds.

What do I think about it now, having aged a couple of decades? Well, now I bow my head to the brilliance of it, the unexpectedly beautiful language, the captivating and apt metaphors, the strangely progressive for its time views, the occasional wistfulness interrupted by cheek. The first third of it left me spellbound, flying through the pages, eager for more.

Just look at this bit, this unbelievable prose that almost makes me weep (yes, I'm a dork who can get weepy over literature. I blame it on my literature-teacher mother. So there.)
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."
Bits like this is what made me stay up at night, pouring over the pages. I could finally see what my nine-year-old past self did not care about (and appropriately so, in the light of literal-mindedness and straightforwardness that children possess) - Melville's constant, persistent comparison of whaling to life itself, using bits and pieces of whaling beliefs and rituals to illuminate the dark nooks and crannies of human souls, to show that deep down inside, regardless of our differences, we all run on the same desires and motives and undercurrents of spirit.
"Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form."
The elusive White Whale is what we are all chasing, in one form or another, different for all of us, different in how we see it and approach it and deal with it. It's what we all pursue - the difference is how. Melville gives us one of the extremes, the views of a single-minded fanatic, of one who puts everything aside, sacrifices everything (and everyone else) for the sake of a dream, of a desire, of a goal; the person who is capable of leading others unified in his focused, narrow, overwhelmingly alluring vision. We can call Ahab a madman. We can also call him a great leader, a visionary of sorts - had he only used the charisma and the drive and the single-minded obsession to reach a goal less absurd, less suicidal less selfish. Had he with this monomaniac single-mindedness led a crusade for something we think is worthwhile, would we still call him a madman, or would we wordlessly admire his never-altering determination? Isn't the true tragedy here in Ahab focusing his will on destruction and blind revenge, leading those he's responsible for to destruction in the name of folly and pride? Is that where the madness lies?
"...For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men."

Moby-Dick, the elusive and largely symbolic whale - until, that is, the last haunting three chapters where the chased idée fixe becomes terrifyingly real and refuses to humor Ahab's life goal - is a force of nature so beautiful, so majestic and breathtaking, so lovingly described by Melville over pages and pages (even though, in all honesty, he breaks up the fascination by trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade the reader that the amazing whale is just a fish).

Really, the idea of a mere human considering it his right, his goal to stand up to the majestic nature force, armed with a destructive deadly weapon, and bring it to the end after a long chase in the ultimate gesture of triumph - that idea is chilling in its unremarkability. Humans taming and conquering nature, bending it to our will and desires, the world being our oyster - all that stuff. It is not new. It is what helped drive the industrial expansion of the modern society. It is what makes us feel that we are masters of our world, that our planet is ours to do whatever we, humans, please. But Moby-Dick, finally abandoning his run from Ahab and standing up to him with such brutal ease is a reminder of the folly of such thinking and the reminder that there are forces we need to reckon with, no matter how full of ourselves we may get.
Why only three stars, you ask, when clearly I appreciate the greatness of the classic? Because the metaphors and parallels and meandering narration at times would get to be too much, because I quite often found my mind and attention easily wandering away in the last two-thirds of the book, needing a gargantuan effort to refocus. This what took of a star and a half, resulting in 3.5 sea-stars grudgingly but yet willingly given to this classic of American Romanticism.
"Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan."
Profile Image for Robin.
495 reviews2,737 followers
December 1, 2019
Holy mackerel! I made it! I survived these cold, salty, surprisingly DRY waters. I didn't completely drown (though several times I needed CPR), I didn't perish at sea, tricked by the siren call of "literary masterpiece".

I've avoided the whale for years now, and would have continued to swim around it, to ignore its thick spine shaming me from my bookcase... but I have this friend, this very kind and dignified friend who bought me a copy a few years ago (it being his very favourite book of all time). "Have you read it yet?" he would ask, periodically. And I would hang my head. "NO... but I will! Soon! I promise!" And then I wouldn't. Because... truth be told, I was afraid. Because I'm not interested in blubber or harvesting of blubber, or whaling ships, or, let's be honest, most any book over 400 pages. And this one? 707 pages. 7-0-7.

I don't know what I was expecting, other than blubber and a bunch of dirty sailors. It was a lot more than that, though, and also, at the same time, only that. The beginning was fascinating, unexpected - a gay love story between Ishmael and Queequeg. An intriguing introduction to Ahab, the monomaniacal captain of the Pequod.

And then... (cue lullaby music, followed by a deep, deep coma)... 500 or so pages of encyclopediaic description of EVERYTHING pertaining to whales and whaling and the slaughtering of them, and the nobility of slaughtering them. He speaks lovingly of these leviathans, but he's equally passionate about their destruction. I was absolutely dying of boredom during these parts, and I know that those who love the book say that these parts just serve to make every other part more real and substantiated, and maybe that is true. But I dare say that the huge leeway that Moby-Dick's fans give this endless exposition of fact after fact after fact is given out of some unique, inexplicable soft spot people have for the book. I swear, anyone writing in 2019 who tried this literary torture technique would a) never be published in the first place and b) not receive the heartfelt adoration that Dick-lovers everywhere seem to have.

And I understand that this was written in 1851, and people's reading needs and tastes have changed. Folks in 1851 didn't have Wikipedia, and couldn't look up all about the whale's spout, tail, etc. Couldn't look up an in-depth description of how to behead a creature who doesn't have a neck. This was a great exercise in observing how our needs as readers have evolved... and HOW.

Highly sexualized language throughout (the name of the whale - a SPERM whale, at that, is just the beginning - there was, and I kid you not, a scene in which Ishmael says Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze that sperm, all the morning long.) brought back some life after what felt like years of reading a scientific textbook. Then, the magnificent ending - Biblical, Shakespearean, action scenes of the highest calibre. So what if the characterization is almost non existent? So what if Queequeg sort of disappears after sharing Ishmael's bed for the first 100 pages? I was IN, my heart was pounding, I felt the love, I was carried away by the grandness, awash....

And damn it, SO GLAD IT'S OVER.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,036 reviews666 followers
December 4, 2013

So... I just finished it a couple of days ago and pretty much everything else pales in comparison.

About three hundred pages in, it was already in my top ten favorite novels of all time, and it didn't disappoint (much)as I continued reading. I actually deliberately drew out getting to the ending so I could savor the last few hundred pages or so. Damn. What a doozy.

What can really be said about this book which hasn't been said before?

A couple of major points that bear mentioning...

* It's dense. The language is deeply referential, complex, allusive and encyclopedic, poetic in almost an archaic way. You have to slow down a bit and reread the sentences in order to get their maximum impact. You can read it, it just means that if you really want to get the full experience, you should kick the can more slowly down the road.
I'd heard about the whaling chapters getting tedious and academic, and to a good degree they are, but honestly I didn't find that form of density that bad a reading experience. Melville's pretty good at keeping that part of the writing suitably compelling and informative, even if you're not terribly interested in the digressions into the specific subject matter.

* It's funny. there's a sort of slapstick humor in places, some rough and curt observations and one-liners. Ishmael, to the extent that he is in fact the narrator (more of a cypher, really, as things wear on) is a picaresque for sure. I found him charming, somewhat goofy, adventuresome, good natured, and rather high-spirited, which was a bit of a surprise. I liked him quite a bit. I also noticed part of the way through that he doesn't actually 'say' his name is Ishmael, he merely suggests (or demands) that you call him by that name. Interesting, no? And there's some back story on him but really not very much. You draw some inferences by his speech and his circumstances and his range of references, but like I said he's more or less ephemeral.

* It's gay. Not in that annoying, overly-politicized kind of reading, but there is a strong, rather overt current of homosexual...uh...tension? preoccupation? Interest? I'd heard some sarcastic remarks before about the kind of interaction between Ishmael and Queequeg in the beginning, when they meet by accident in a room at an inn, but I was struck by how sort of undisguised it was. I have no issue or particular disapproval with it, morally or whatever, it was just surprising how unexplained and irreducible the homoerotic overtones were. There's an entire chapter, much later on, which can, in all honesty, be referred to as a kind of circle-jerk. I'm not kidding. Andrew Delbanco, in his brilliant and eloquent biography, quotes one of Melville's critics on this particular point. It's not hyperbole.

O and, for what it's worth, there are no women whatsoever. Not even as cameos, at least that I noticed. It's a bit of a shame, actually, since this would have been interesting. But yeah, not a woman in sight- occasionally the family of one character or another might be mentioned, but nobody makes a flesh and blood appearance.

* It's postmodern as all hell. The references to external texts are heavy, complex, and do create a sort of meta-reading experience of its own. Ishmael is a sort of neo-Platonist, it's true, and this is represented at various points. But nothing in this book is left to cool for very long, part of the tale involves his deep reckoning with that very philosophy, as applied to the perils and concrete realities of the world as experienced in an everyday way. The awareness on the part of Ishmael (and Melville himself, more on that in a moment) of his predecessors, literary and historical, is profound and constantly at play.

Melville has a very interesting and difficult balancing act in terms of the narrative voice. Ishmael is the host for about a third or more and then it sort of becomes an invisible, 'Melvillean' voice leading you along. Not to mention the deepening presence of Ahab as the story starts to heat up. He definitely becomes the central voice for much of the narrative and textual fabric of the story. And then there's quite a few extremely de-centered, Joycean passages where you aren't exactly sure what is real and what is taking place in a kind of polyphonic ensemble of dislocated, more or less decontextualized voices yammering on about god-knows-what. And then there's the profound, unsettling meditation on the very whiteness of the whale itself....

* It's American, all right. I wouldn't necessarily want to pin the Great American Novel medal on it, much as I loved it. I'm not convinced that there is, or can be such a thing. It is essentially an American novel, though, and so much of our national identity is contained herein.

There's the concern for the everyman, the relentless obsession with personal freedom and individuality, the drive for economic power and mercantile processes, the sort of omniscient Darwinism that pervades the ostensibly democratic structures and mentality of the participants- I know Ahab's autocratic, that could hardly be in doubt, but he's not the only one giving orders, even if he's the top dog. There's a really deep sense of raw nature as an all-against-all on the boat itself, besides the fact that they are in direct competition with other ships for a possibly very lucrative and by no means guaranteed payday.
There's some very interesting and complicated racial dynamics, and the almost unconscious tacit acceptance of charisma as the main selling point for political power.

The religious overtones are heavy and loaded in all possible meanings of the term, though, as Harold Bloom is wont to say, America (or Ishmael or Ahab or the narrator Melville himself as he appears perhaps separately from the author-ness) is, very much like the Pequod, obsessed with religion, even thinks its religious, though it is not itself a religious country. And if there's any religion as a guiding light, it's decidedly of the Old Testament kind. The god of Moby-Dick ain't handing out any loaves and fishes, that's for sure.

* Ahab's Ahab. He was everything I thought he'd be and more. I was actually impressed by what a complex character he turned out to be. I knew he'd be monomaniacal but there's some very interesting, tender moments he has both alone and with others which I was not expecting.

* It's...gasp...Shakespearean. You know how Shakespeare's language has that same rich density, that chiming music of cognition where the metaphors stream by like scales of notes as the characters soliloquize themselves into being? Yeah. It's got that. And there's even, as the story continues, quite a few stage directions, to boot. Melville had freshly discovered Shakespeare right around the time he'd begun work on it and it shows.

A friend of mine had read it recently and we agreed that Moby-Dick sort of makes it so that you almost can't really read any novels after it. In its wake, if you will. I personally am still feeling the reverberations.

It's like an atom bomb for your brain.

If that's the kind of thing you think you might enjoy, by all means please do give it a whirl.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,950 reviews615 followers
January 21, 2023
Moby Dick is a novel by Herman Melville based on his experiences on whaling ships.
It tells of the voyage of sailors searching for an albino sperm whale that had taken the leg of the captain of the whaling boat, Ahab.
Whaling is described as particularly dangerous, to the point that changing your will is an activity like any other:
And now, I thought, unconsciously rolling up my sleeves, let's go for a calm and serene plunge into death and desolation; every man for himself and God for all. "
I enjoyed this novel because I had observed this hunt from an internal point of view; the reader follows the events from the gaze of Ismael, a sailor who wishes to go whaling on a whaling boat in Nantucket, a village known for this activity.
I took less pleasure in reading the end of the book, which I only understood after rereading it.
Will they succeed in catching this chimera?
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,079 followers
May 5, 2021
Few texts, I have found, are as joyous to read as Moby-Dick. I could count them on one hand. An almost intoxicating abundance of narrative pleasure. Did Melville not know that the whale is a mammal? So far it seems he does not, though he understands they’re vertebrates like us. Astonishing that I could have forgotten this since my third reading. This is my fourth.

Melville’s use of asides and soliloquy can only be described as Shakespearean. And the speeches of Ahab, too, in his stentorian throes, remind very much of the Bard. Then the ecstatic “Midnight, Forecastle” chapter seems so close in its dark frivolity to the night-town sequence in Ulysses. I wonder if Joyce knew it? Then there’s the idea of sperm whales as aggressive, which is not at all the case; they are placid animals. Not sure of their attitude though if you try to kill them. They just might take exception to your barbs.

Chapter 55 “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales” is funny. The author critiques a number of errant depictions of whales, among them Perseus Descending by William Hogarth. Melville complains: “The huge corpulence of that Hogarthian monster undulates on the surface, scarcely drawing one inch of water. It has a sort of howdah on its back, and it’s distended tusked mouth into which the billows are rolling, might be taken for Traitor’s Gate leading from the Thames by water into the Tower.” (p. 250)

Regarding Chapter 64 “Stubb’s Supper” there is something close to minstrelsy in the cook’s speech to the sharks, made at the insistence of Stubb, one of the mates. I could not help thinking it’s meant by Stubb to demean the black cook’s character. Melville gives the cook the freedom to speak his mind, and there’s no indication that he’s a slave, but rather a freeman who signed for the cruise like everyone else. Stubb puts him through his paces. It’s cruel; he’s ninety. We’re it not for the book’s general celebration of ethnic diversity—see Ishmael’s warm meeting with Queequeg, with whom he sleeps at the inn before sailing—were it not for this celebration of diversity throughout one might take offense here.

Whale killing is tragic, and an entirely worthy subject for one of our greatest writers.

“As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot holes of noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale’s eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see. But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and little merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all. Still rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely discolored bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on his flank.

“‘A nice spot,’ cried Flask; ‘just let me prick him there once.’

“‘Avast!’ cried Starbuck, ‘there’s no need of that!’

“But humane Starbuck was too late. At that instant of the dart an ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more than insufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with swift fury blindly darting at the craft, bespattering them and their glorying crews all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask’s boat and marring the bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy gurgling‘s the spray column lowers and lowers to the ground—so the last long dying spout of the whale.” (p. 331)

Published in 1851, it is not the most up-to-date reference work on whales. The narrator seems not to have believed that the sperm whale could in its numbers ever be driven to the edge of extinction. Moreover, the book was published before On the Origin of Species. Melville acknowledges the whale’s anatomical similarities with man, but he never sees that the whale like mankind is a mammalian. Several other mistakes of this magnitude also. But we don’t read Moby Dick for the science, do we? You read it for the prose. And that is an unalloyed joy!

Last note, I would be grateful to anyone who could explain to me Melville’s use of the semicolon in Moby Dick. There’s no rhyme or reason that I can see.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
September 25, 2015
In 1819 in Manhattan, a strange trial was commencing. A merchant of that great city had been found in possession of barrels of spermacetti, the fine-quality oil which may be obtained from the head of the Sperm Whale. When an inspector demanded he pay the proper taxes on his goods, the merchant, who apparently made a hobby of science, declared that he had no fish product in his possession, and so the tax did not apply. He was duly arrested and, contending the charges, a trial was begun to determine, once-and-for-all, if whales were indeed, fish.

This was becoming an increasingly important question in the wake of Linneaus' great work and the recent codification by numerous biologists of the many families in which plants and animals numbered their descent, which would soon culminate in the great discovery of Darwin. Is it possible there was some familial connection between whales and dogs? Or more troublingly, between these alien monsters of the deep and humans? It was important to determine an answer, but it is singularly strange that the venue chosen to answer this question was not the halls of academia, or even the wild world of the working naturalist, but a courthouse, with judge, lawyers, and jury arguing the question.

Certainly, numerous scientists were brought in to testify, and so were experienced whale-hunters, who tended to give contradicting accounts. As D. Graham Burnett puts it, in his book on the trial, Trying Leviathan , these were men with 'lay expertise'--they dealt everyday with the subject at hand, but had no grasp of the history or theory behind it. One might point to the difference between the man who drives a car every day to work, and the man who knows how a car is built.

So it is somewhat strange that, thirty-two years later, Moby Dick seems to show us relatively little progress on this question. Melville first declares that whales are definitely fish (though he does not discount their mammalian structures), laments the many futile attempts to depict them accurately, and then embarks on an attempt to classify members of the species which is hardly scientific.

His approach was not a modern, thoroughly-researched analysis of the subject as it stood, but a conceptual exploration, and in the end, a flawed one, a failed experiment, and not the only one in Melville's great work.

There are mistaken details, dropped plotlines and characters, vast shifts in style and tone, changes in point-of-view, as if several different sorts of book were combined together. This is not a classic lauded for its narrow, precise perfection, but for its wide-reaching, seemingly-fearless leaps into waters both varied and deep.

Reading Melville's letters, it is clear he knew his experiment was not an entire success, but he pressed on boldly despite his doubts, refusing to write anything less grand just because he feared it might, in some parts, fail. It is a difficult thing for an author not to give in and write something smaller and safer, something certain. It is Achilles' choice: to live a small and easy life, which will be long and passing pleasant, or to strike at the skies, to die in the flame of youth, and become a song. Like Ahab, Melville attempts something grand, dangerous, and unknown.

'Like Ahab'.

It is a phrase we hear, which we understand, something pervasive. There are a number of reasons that Melville's great work, ignored and sneered at in his lifetime, is now preeminent. For all the flaws of his book, it is still full of remarkable successes.

It begins with several strange, ominous notes, like a Beethoven symphony, calling us to attention, with the mystic and dark theology of "There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within". But then it strikes away--there are still some dark shadows which flit across the scene, but for the most part, we are following Ishmael, in all of his funny, bumbling, pretentious, self-deprecating little adventures. It is, at the first, fundamentally a Sea Story in the old tradition, and we should not forget that it is a grand Romance, not serious-minded realism.

One thing I was not prepared for was this book's often subtle and sometimes uproarious humor. Sadly, that part seems to be missing from its great reputation. As a Romance, it is not precisely concerned with developing holistic character psychology, it is enough to have types and archetypes, though they are often twisted. The individual pieces on the board act less like individuals and more like different aspects of one mind, the central mind of the book itself, of which each character forms a small part.

So if relationships are sometimes rushed, or lapse, or are unfinished, those may be flaws in pacing, but each relationship is building together, contributing to the vision Melville gives us of his little world, so they are hardly pointless elements. It is more that Melville takes shortcuts here and there to tell the central story, for as he himself points out, to tell the whole story of Moby Dick is more than any one author could do.

Much has been made of the vast symbology of the book, probably too much. It is not an allegory, there is no one thing that the whale stands for, or Ahab, or the ship. They are all parts of a story, and while we may understand them by thinking about evil, or good, or fate, or faith, to try to boil them down to some simple meaning is to miss the point, and to turn a great story into nothing more than a fable. It is a mistake to go in asking 'what does this represent', it does the book a disservice. Asking this question is not necessary for us to understand the work.

Melville's bleak vision captured the imagination of the emerging post-modern thinkers who had seen the world wars tear apart concepts and assumptions which been long unchangeable and taken for granted. But it is not that this is a dark, hopeless book, but rather that it is a book which lacks simple, familiar answers. It does not wallow in the notion of hopelessness, but rather seems troubled by the fact that hope so often leads us to an inescapably hopeless place.

In the thirties and forties, this book became a sort of 'test' for intellectuals. It gives no easy answers, yet it displays a wide array of ideas, conclusions, conflicts, and worldviews. So when one literary critic asked another what he thought of Moby Dick, he was asking what he was able to create from this basic toolset of ideas which had no simple, right answer.

Unfortunately, this open-endedness has given the book an undeserved reputation of being inaccessible and requiring some vast store of knowledge in order to 'get' it. It is fundamentally a story about characters, and the only thing required to get it is to be a human being with an interest in other human beings. In fact, at one point, Melville makes a parody of the idea of the text which is full of allusions that only experts will understand, with the tale of 'Darmonodes and the elephant', which is not actually a real reference to anything, but was made up by Melville to tease those who are obsessed with dissecting every allusion.

Certainly, it does slow down around the middle, when we start getting various explanations about the history and methods of whaling, but the book is not a series of dry explanations, these are the collected stories and ideas of men. Though Melville, himself, only worked as a whaler for less than two years, he researched and compiled many different accounts to create his book. And these explorations of whaling, like the characters, all contribute to our understanding, they build meaning and help to color certain words and actions.

There are some terms which Melville likes to re-use throughout, and some of these seem to be stylistic oversights, but his repeated use of the term 'monomania' (monomaniacal, monomaniac) is a reference to a specific psychological condition, which is how Melville intends it to be taken, instead of as a simple description, so I don't count this as a 'favored word' of the author's but an example of specific use of a term.

Another of his experiments is to play around with the voice of the book, which starts as a first-person narrative by Ishmael, but also includes Shakespearean soliloquies and choral scenes (complete with stage directions) and a number of scenes which it seems impossible for Ishmael to have witnessed. As with most of the book, these are not obscure, nor do they make the action difficult to follow, they are just more example of Melville's playful experimentation.

Indeed, there is much of Shakespeare here, from the speeches of personal intent to the broad humor, the crew's sing-song banter, the melodramatic, grandiose characters, the occasional half-hidden sex joke, and the references to Biblical and Greek myth. But being a modern author, Melville's writing is easier to comprehend, particularly because much of his styling and pacing has passed into the modern form of books, movies, and television.

There are also some particularly beautiful passages where the prose begins to resemble poetry, and between the grotesque, funny characters and the thoughtful, careful writing in some scenes, I began to compare the work to The Gormenghast Novels, though while Peake maintains this style throughout, Melville often switches back and forth between styles and tones.

So, with all his mad switching about, his vast restlessness, Melville reveals that his own is more of a 'polymania'--an obsession with varying things--and while this does mean that his work has many errors, many experiments which didn't quite pan out, it also means that the book as a whole is completely full of remarkable, wonderful, funny, poignant, charming, exciting, thought-provoking, philosophical, historical, and scientific notions, so that even taking the flaws into account, there is just such a wealth of value in this book, so much to take away from it. And yet, don't worry about taking everything away--that's a fool's errand--Melville did his best to write what he could, trying not to worry about whether it was all perfect, so the least we can do is to be bold enough to read it as it is, and take what we can from it, without worrying whether we've gotten all of it.

Walk the beach, and do not worry about picking up every stone you see, but take a handful that please you and know that it was worth your while.
Profile Image for Candi.
624 reviews4,719 followers
February 24, 2017
"Aye, aye! And I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! To chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out." - Captain Ahab

Stripped of its multitude of digressions, Moby-Dick is at heart a fantastic adventure and literary treasure brimming with symbolism and some of the most colorful and memorable characters ever encountered. So why only 2.5 stars generously rounded up to make a full 3? Well, simply because the departures from the main narrative were often mind-numbing and effectively brought the momentum of the plot almost to a stand-still for me. Interspersed at frequent intervals among the compelling, fictional aspects of the book are a plethora of non-fictional descriptions of the whaling industry, the various species of whales, the anatomy of the whale, descriptions of whaling lines, whale processing (gruesome but sometimes interesting), whale paintings, whale writings, and whale ships. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as interested as the next whale enthusiast (insert a bit of sarcasm here) in the real, nitty gritty details of this magnificent beast and the fundamentals of the trade, but I felt like I was reading a textbook half the time.

So, maybe I’m not a non-fiction kind of gal and true facts are not my cup of tea? Well, I don’t think this is the case. What initially prompted me to read Moby-Dick – aside from being able to say I actually accomplished this feat – was my reading of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. A little over a year ago, I hesitantly picked up this non-fiction book as part of a group read. I didn’t really think I would make it through that one, much less actually enjoy it. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how engrossed I became in that true account of another fated whaling expedition. I learned a lot without ever feeling like I was dozing off in the middle of a grand lecture hall. When I realized that Herman Melville was inspired by that tragic story to write his own mythical tale, I was convinced to give it a try.

All grumbling aside, there is much to admire and even enjoy in Moby-Dick. For one, when in the moment, the chase is one of the most thrilling scenes in all of literature. I couldn’t get enough of this and it seemed so short-lived compared to how long I waited for it to arrive. It’s not to be missed, however! As I mentioned from the start, the characters are wonderful – so well-drawn and easily identifiable. Captain Ahab, Queequeg, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, Ishmael, Pip, Fedallah and the rest won’t soon be forgotten. Then, of course, there’s Moby-Dick. "It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me… yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honourable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood." Many scenes are comic in nature, especially one in the beginning involving a couple of very unlikely bedfellows! Last but not least is perhaps the whole point of the book – Captain Ahab’s obsession with the White Whale. His single-minded determination to seek revenge on one of nature’s creations at the expense of the entire crew is extraordinary. Like a man possessed, Ahab is consumed by this destructive purpose despite the vehement forewarnings of the scrupulous first mate, Starbuck. "Vengeance on a dumb brute! That simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous." I won’t say much more here, in case you succumb to your curiosity and venture to pick up this tome. I will say that the climax of the novel is stunning and I truly did enjoy the ending!

I can’t really recommend this book to any particular group of readers. If you feel the urge to read this, I won’t discourage you. If you begin and throw in the towel, I won’t blame you. If you perchance reach the last page and proclaim this a masterpiece, then I’d congratulate you! My idea of the most rewarding experience would be to read Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea (My Review), combined with the abridged version of this book – I wish I had thought of that before!
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,447 followers
February 22, 2023
Există oare cărți importante, capodopere, cum ar veni, neglijate de public și critică? Dacă luăm aminte la soarta romanului Moby-Dick (1851), s-ar zice că da. Herman Melville nu a vîndut mai mult de 3000 de exemplare (din Moby-Dick ) în toată viața lui (a murit în 1891, uitat de toți), iar criticii contemporani ori i-au adus reproșuri (romanul ar fi un amestec de ficțiune și informații lipsite de relevanță) ori l-au neglijat cu totul. Abia peste 70 de ani, criticii își vor revizui judecata. Cel dintîi care a sesizat măreția cărții a fost D.H. Lawrence...

Dacă inspectăm literatura critică, ne apucă durerile de cap.

Unii au văzut în Moby-Dick un roman de aventuri (cînd l-am citit prima dată, aceasta era interpretarea dominantă), alții au descifrat o tragedie zguduitoare: căpitanul Ahab e mînat de hybris, lucru vădit, de altfel. Cei mai subțiri dintre exegeți au coborît / urcat pînă în abisurile teologiei și au prezentat romanul lui Melville ca pe o confruntare cu Dușmanul absolut. Pentru acest motiv, am ales să menționez numai două interpretări. Nu fac un secret că optez pentru prima.

E. M. Forster a spus apăsat, în mai multe rînduri, că Moby-Dick se referă cu maximă precizie la „capturarea unei balene”, cu toate că tocmai eşecul acestei vînători îl preocupă pe Melville.

Nu ar fi inutil, am impresia, să citim încă o dată afirmaţia lui Forster: „That is what the book is about, and Moby-Dick was about catching a whale”. Fraza lui Forster e îndreptată, dacă nu greşesc, împotriva acelor exegeți care văd în Moby-Dick o alegorie complicată. Dar însuși Herman Melville a spus, într-o epistolă, că nu a intenționat să construiască o alegorie. E îndrăzneț, prin urmare, să pretinzi că ai înțeles mai bine intenția lui Melville decît Melville însuși (deși se poate). În rezumatul său succint, E.M. Forster tocmai asta sugerează. Moby-Dick descrie încercarea nesăbuită de a vîna o balenă albă, cu numele Moby-Dick, și sfîrșitul tragic al acestei încercări. Așadar, lectura lui Forster e simplă, literală.

În pofida afirmației lui Melville, repet, unii istorici literari au văzut în Moby-Dick o confruntare cu Răul, ca stihie intenţională, ispitirea demiurgului malign. Eu văd, mai degrabă, în romanul lui, o confruntare cu implacabila indiferenţă a naturii. Cruzimea ei este fără intenţie, nedeliberată. Natura e crudă, fiindcă e crudă, nu fiindcă ar intenţiona să fie aşa...

P. S. În lectura lui Borges (care nu ține seama de avertismentul lui Forster), Moby-Dick descrie, în realitate, o coborîre în infern, o nekya:
„Nu s-a relevat pînă acum, din cîte ştiu, o afinitate încă şi mai profundă, cea a lui Ulysse din infern [e vorba de Ulysse în viziunea din Infernul lui Dante, 26: 90-142, n. m.], cu altă căpetenie nefericită, Ahab din Moby-Dick. Primul, ca şi celălalt, îşi atrage propria pierzanie după nenumărate nopţi de veghe şi mult curaj; trama generală este aceeaşi, deznodămîntul este identic, ultimele cuvinte sînt aproape la fel”.
Profile Image for Axl Oswaldo.
332 reviews167 followers
December 3, 2022
Review on second reading:
Rating second read: 3 stars

Is it sacrilege to say that the book in translation was way better than the book in its original language?

A friend of mine told me one day that reading a book in its original language and reading the exact same book but this time in translation is like reading two different books. I was so skeptical about this because the translation is supposed to be like a bridge between you and any novel you want to read. But, alas!, he was (sort of) right. And no, this has nothing to do with the translation I read first, though sometimes you can pick up a book with a poor translation and I would agree that that makes a lot of difference, in fact, that might end up ruining your whole reading experience – as for this particular case, I don't believe there was something wrong with the edition I picked up back in 2021, but the other way around: I feel like I actually read Moby Dick, the real Moby Dick, and it was partly because of the translation that I ended up loving this book, I even sent an email to the translator and thanked him for his great job and somehow making this book one of my all-time favorites, literally the number one back then. So, was Melville himself who ruined this second reading experience for me?
Of course not! Well, perhaps just a little bit.

I must confess that reading Moby Dick in its original English was rather hard, both language wise and content wise, whereas reading the book in translation was complex—yes, I would agree on that—yet mostly readable, understandable, and quite enjoyable. The content was by no means an obstacle when I read the book the first time, though I had to look up some words—nautical terms, sea vocabulary, and whatnot—that I'd never come across before, words that I didn't know in Spanish, and words that, perhaps at this point, I have even forgotten.
This second time I was so naïve and optimistic, I genuinely thought I could read Moby Dick in English, when I just started reading in English two years ago—I know, such a bad decision. Since Moby Dick was our pick in September for our book club—September and I'm finishing it in November, holy cow!—I thought it would be a great idea to read it along, so I said to myself 'you already read it once, and you loved it, you understood the story, you enjoyed the non-fiction chapters the most, go, warrior, and pick it up again, what on earth is the worst thing that could happen?' Well, it turns out that I ended up hating one of my all-time favorite books. Nothing much, right?

Honestly, my main problem with Moby Dick was a particular thing that is impossible to translate into Spanish, therefore I didn't know that the book was written in this way until I picked it up again: thou, ye, thy, thee, and repeat, thou, ye, thy, thee, and again. Yes, I had no idea that Melville's writing style in Moby Dick was like the King James Bible or any random Shakespeare's play (here I might be mistaken). It works, maybe, but reading a huge book written in this way was utterly painful and quite overwhelming. Even when I sort of got used to the language, even when I watched a couple of videos to understand how to use those pronouns, the verb conjugation, and the like, I couldn't get the point. Was it supposed to be symbolic? I don't know, but this time I found the dialogue very unnatural and somewhat unrealistic, but, who knows, perhaps my impressions happen to be like that only because of my deep disappointment. On the other hand, the non-fiction chapters were again those that I enjoyed the most, this time slightly more to my surprise, and mainly, again, because of the content—the cetological chapters are still vividly in my head.
I admit I was unprepared for reading a book like Moby Dick in my second language, but even so I can't help but think that the author and his prose didn't make things easier. It was the other way around, basically. Now, I just have to live with this—the fact that Moby Dick is not anymore what I thought it was—and be prepared for the third time, that, for the record, I'm pretty sure won't be in the near future by any means.

“But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there’s that in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.”


Review on first reading:
Rating first read: 5+ stars

Moby Dick, one year later...
Review in English below

Best book I read in February 2021

Actualización un año después: Así es amigos, un año ha pasado desde que terminé este libro y sigo sosteniendo lo que dije el 03 de febrero de 2021: Moby Dick es el libro de mi vida.
No hay ninguna otra historia, al día de hoy, que sea tan especial para mí como lo fue esta novela.

Durante este año, por cierto, algunas veces me apetecía volver a leer Moby Dick y lo sacaba del librero, lo habría en una página aleatoria y leía, ya fuera el capítulo completo si era de los cortos, o apenas unas páginas si me tocaba uno de los más extensos; pero siempre con el mismo entusiasmo como cuando lo leí la primera vez.

A veces solo tenía ganas de recordar mis frases favoritas, y sin haberlas marcado en el libro, hoy por hoy aún recuerdo el capítulo y, en casos extremos, la página exacta de donde se encuentra la frase que busco. Por ejemplo, mientras escribo esto tengo aquí mi edición junto a mí, abierta en una de mis frases favoritas de toda la obra:

“¿Qué era América en 1492, sino pez suelto en el que Colón plantó la banderola española? ¿Y Polonia para el zar? ¿Y Grecia para los turcos? ¿E India para los ingleses? ¿En qué se va a convertir México para los Estados Unidos? Son todos peces sueltos. ¿Y los derechos del hombre, y las libertades del mundo? Peces sueltos. ¿Y las mentes y las opiniones de los hombres? Peces sueltos. ¿Y el principio de la libertad religiosa? Un pez suelto. ¿Y los pensamientos de los filósofos para los plagiarios? Peces sueltos. ¿Y qué es este enorme globo, sino un gigantesco pez suelto? ¿Y tú, lector? Un pez suelto, un pez agarrado.”

Sin duda seguiré visitando esta magnífica obra de arte de cuando en cuando, releerla sería todo un placer, pero por ahora tendrá que esperar. Ya veremos.


“Y lucho de este modo contra ti hasta el último segundo, te atravieso desde el centro del infierno y en nombre del odio aquí vomito sobre ti mi último suspiro.”

Estoy completamente seguro de que este libro es ya mi favorito, no del año, sino de la vida.
¿Cuántas veces un libro les ha marcado tanto que deciden ponerlo en un ‘lugar especial’? ¿Cuántas veces una historia ha llegado a tocar las fibras más sensibles de sí mismos? ¿Cuántas veces han terminado un libro y ya quieren volver a empezarlo para evitar ese vacío que les ha dejado? No sé en el caso de cada quien, pero sin duda Moby Dick lo hizo conmigo.

Y no voy a decir que es un libro perfecto o algo parecido, sino que son las particularidades que tiene junto con la profundidad del contenido lo que hizo de mi lectura una experiencia completa y muy satisfactoria.

Moby Dick es un libro, me atrevo a decir, único en su forma, en su narrativa y en su historia. No estoy convencido si debo recomendarlo a todo el mundo, ya que cada lector es un mundo en sí mismo, pero sí tengo que decir que vale la pena darle una oportunidad; es una experiencia lectora que cada quien debe experimentar a su manera.

Los capítulos de Moby Dick yo los dividiría en tres tipos:

1. Los capítulos que siguen el hilo de la historia, narrado desde la perspectiva de Ismael y su viaje en el Pequod junto a sus compañeros y el enigmático capitán Ahab. Algunas veces incluso se nota que Ismael es ‘suplantado’ por Melville, dado que es imposible que como narrador conozca todos los detalles (como el pensamiento o sentir de algún personaje, o cuando está ausente de la escena, por poner ejemplos).

2. Los capítulos reflexivos, filosóficos, donde se hace el uso de alegorías, en mi opinión muy bien narradas y estructuradas, cargados de simbolismos que quedan a la interpretación del lector en muchos casos.

3. Los capítulos descriptivos, donde conforme avanzamos en la historia se hace mucho hincapié en las características de las ballenas y en la caza de las ballenas. Por decir algo, nos describen los tipos de ballenas, el aceite de ballena, la cola, el esqueleto, las llamadas ‘escuelas de ballenas’ y de igual forma, las partes del barco ballenero, entre muchas cosas más.

4. Se podría definir un cuarto tipo de capítulos, a los que tienen una combinación de los tres anteriores, que sí que los hay.

Y los capítulos que merecen mención honorífica (todo basado en mi opinión personal) son los que enlisto a continuación:

⁃ La colcha (un capítulo íntimo en sí mismo)
⁃ El sermón (de mis favoritos y el capítulo que empezó todo, mi fascinación por esta novela)
⁃ La reina Mab
⁃ Cetología (el más claro ejemplo de un capítulo descriptivo)
⁃ La toldilla (yo lo llamaría ‘Un cambio de planes’)
⁃ La blancura de la ballena (mi favorito sin ninguna duda)
⁃ Historia del Town - Ho (el capítulo más largo del libro)
⁃ Stubb caza una ballena
⁃ La cuerda de mono (un capítulo que representa el sentido de la amistad)
⁃ Honor y gloria de la caza de las ballenas
⁃ Escuelas y maestros (me gustó la reflexión sobre la ballena que viaja sola; uno de los mejores capítulos)
⁃ Un apretón de manos (también de mis favoritos)
⁃ Ahab y el carpintero
⁃ Queequeg y su ataúd
⁃ El mosquete (el capítulo que yo renombraría como ‘La última oportunidad’)
⁃ La cabina
⁃ La sinfonía (uno de los capítulos más bellos y emotivos)
⁃ La persecución. El tercer día (último capítulo; no pudo haber sido un mejor final)

No quisiera decir más porque podría pasarme escribiendo todo el día lo que me hizo sentir y vivir esta novela, y aquí es donde reflexiono y me doy cuenta (aún más) que los libros tienen el poder de impactar a un lector en cierta medida que casi parece magia.

¡Gracias por tanto Moby Dick!


Update one year later: That's right my friends! A year has passed since I finished reading this book and I still stand by what I said on February 03, 2021: Moby Dick is the book of my life.
There is no other story that is as special to me as this novel was from that moment on.

In fact, during this whole year since I finished Moby Dick, sometimes I felt as though I needed to read it again; and so I took the book out of my bookcase, I opened it, I chose just one random page and then I read, either the whole chapter if it was from the short ones, or just a few pages if I got one of the longest. Either way, I was always with the same enthusiasm just exactly how I was the first time I read it.

Sometimes I just wanted to remember my favorite phrases, and without having underlined them in my edition, to this day I still remember the chapter and, in extraordinary cases, the exact page where the phrase I'm looking for is found. For instance, right now, while I am writing this paragraph, I have my edition next to me, I decide to open the book and I find one of my favorite lines from the entire novel:

“What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of waifing it for his royal master and mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk? What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All Loose-Fish.
What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

I will certainly continue reading this magnificent piece of literature from time to time; it would be a pleasure to reread it altogether, but for now that journey will have to wait. We'll see.


“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.”

I am completely sure that this book is already my favorite, not only of the year, but also of my life.
How many times has a book touched you so much that you decide to put it in a 'special place'? How many times have you read a quite memorable story that evokes strong feelings and memories on you? How many times have you finished a book and already want to start it again in order to fill that void it has left you? I don't know how your personal experiences have been, but without a doubt Moby Dick occupies that place in my mind and my heart.

I am not going to say that this is a perfect book or something similar, but rather that its peculiarities and its meaningful, deep content were those characteristics that made my reading a complete and very satisfying experience.

Moby Dick is a book, I have to say it, unique in its form, its narrative and its plot. To be honest, I am not quite sure if I should recommend this novel to everyone, since each reader has their particular, special tastes; however, I do have to say that it is worth giving it a shot – it is a reading experience that everyone should live in his own way.

Now, I would divide the Moby Dick chapters into three types:

1. The chapters that follow a narrative thread, narrated from the perspective of Ishmael, his journey aboard the Pequod with his comrades and the enigmatic captain Ahab. Sometimes it is noticeable that Ishmael is "impersonated" by Melville, since it is impossible for the narrator to know all the specific details/personal traits of each person aboard (such as the thoughts and feelings of each character, or for instance, when he (Ishmael) is absent from a particular scene).

2. The thoughtful, philosophical chapters, where you can find many allegories in them. In my opinion, these chapters are very well narrated and structured, loaded with symbolism, metaphors, and so on, whose interpretation depends on the reader in many cases.

3. The non-fiction chapters, at which we can learn a lot of information about the characteristics and hunting of the whales, to say the least. At the beginning, these kinds of chapters are not the usual, however, as long as we continue reading the book there is a constant emphasis on such topics. For instance, these chapters might describe the different types of whales, how the whale oil is used, parts of whales such as the tail and the skeleton, the so-called 'schools' of whales, and likewise, the parts of a whaling ship, and so on and so forth.

4. A fourth type of chapters might be found as a combination of the previous three ones; actually, there are a lot of chapters which belong to this fourth category.

From my point of view, the chapters that deserve an honorable mention are the ones listed below:

⁃ The Counterpane (a chapter with an intimate relationship in it)
⁃ The Sermon (one of my favorite chapters and that that started my fascination with this novel)
⁃ Queen Mab
⁃ Cetology (the clearest example of a non-fiction chapter)
⁃ The Quarter-Deck (I would have called it 'A Change of Plans')
⁃ The Whiteness of the Whale (this is without a doubt my favorite chapter)
⁃ The Town-Ho’s Story (the longest chapter in the book)
⁃ Stubb Kills a Whale
⁃ The Monkey-Rope (a chapter that shows what a true friendship means)
⁃ The Honor and Glory of Whaling
⁃ Schools and Schoolmasters (I liked the reflections on the whale that travels alone; one of the best chapters)
⁃ A Squeeze of the Hand (this is also one of my favorites)
⁃ Ahab and the Carpenter
⁃ Queequeg in His Coffin
⁃ The Musket (the chapter that I would rename as ‘The Last Chance’)
⁃ The Cabin
⁃ The Symphony (one of the most beautiful and emotional chapters)
⁃ The Chase.—Third Day (last chapter; it could not have had a better ending)

I would prefer not to say anything else since I could spend all day talking about what this novel means to me, and what made me feel and live. It's just here where I think and realize (even more) that books have the power to impact in a reader to a certain level – that sensation almost feels like magic.

Thank you so much Moby Dick, for everything!
Profile Image for Forrest.
Author 43 books739 followers
April 12, 2013
Wanna know a secret? Lean over here and I’ll tell you: This is the first time I’ve read Moby Dick. No lie. 43 years old, never read it. That assignment in high school? Skipped it. Faked the report. Thank you, Cliff Notes. By that, I mean the guy named Cliff in my English class. He owed me a favor. A whale of a favor . . . And college? Bachelor’s degree in Humanities – I had to have read Moby Dick, right? Wrong. Just snippets. Excerpts. Then, feeling the guilt of being an educated American who had not read the book, I sat down to finally read it. This was, oh, about twenty years ago or so, I don’t rightly remember.
I started. But I didn’t finish. Why not? Because the book had a reputation, a monstrous reputation. It was big, boring, and scary, at least that’s what I was told. While I was reading comic books, fantasies, and role-playing game rulebooks in any spare time I had, my friends were reading Moby Dick. Or they had read it already and they were brooding on it. For years. I saw what that book had done to them. It didn't look very pretty from the outside.
But I have an addictive personality. Sometimes, I just can’t stop myself from reading. My curiosity – well, it gets me into a lot of trouble. And so it was that I was led, nay, possessed by some evil entity beyond myself (or maybe it was just embarrassment) to finally crack the spine and eat the marrow of, er, I mean, to read, yes, read what is considered by many to be Melville’s masterpiece.
Even then, I kept it a secret. I’m a multiple-book-at-a-time-reader (why does admitting that make me feel dirty?), so I’ve conveniently used the cloak of a few other books (even one, ironically, that involved whales) to disguise the fact that I’ve been covertly reading Moby Dick alongside these others. I know. I’m a creep, a literary lurker. Some kind of intellectual pervert. I can hardly help myself.
So it’s confession time. Time to repent and face up to reality. And the reality is: I really liked Moby Dick. It’s not nearly the daunting Leviathan that some led me to believe it was. Nor was it as boring as my little dalliances within its excerpts had initially indicated. No, actually, it was good. Really good.

And the book is not as "heavy" as you might think, at least not all the time. Melville’s sense of humor comes through, from time to time, in the book, and is rather endearing. Here, for example, he describes a painting of a whale and a narwhale appearing in the 1807 version of “Goldsmith’s Animated Nature”:
I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale
looks much like an amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale,
one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in this nineteenth
century such a hippogriff could be palmed for genuine upon
any intelligent public of schoolboys.

There’s a sort of learned snarkiness in the narrator’s voice, though it’s not sharply critical. The kind of thing you’d appreciate around a table drinking tea with close friends, rather than the public humor of a stand-up comedian. This sense of talking with a (very erudite) friend makes the book “warm” in just the right spots, such as the point where Ishmael is getting to know Queequeg a little better than he'd like to. In time the narrator’s accepting attitude help us to accept not only Queequeg, but Ishmael himself, as well. We learn to trust him as our narrator.

Granted, there are moments, like the exhaustive (and exhausting) taxonomy of whales that tried the nerves (the optic nerves, in particular), and, yes, the language is archaic and even a bit esoteric at times. The alliteration can get a little tedious, too, even for a Dr. Seuss fanatic like me, as in this sentence:
It was while gliding through these latter waters that one
serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like
scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings,
made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a
silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white
bubbles at the bow.

But Melville – first off, the guy has chops. He can write a great sentence.

Secondly, he weaves dimestore philosophy throughout almost seamlessly, and I love works with a bit of the philosophical in them. Even in the descriptions of decapitated whale’s heads, the narrator waxes philosophical:
Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale's there?
It is the same he died with, only some of the longer wrinkles
in the forehead seem now faded away.  I think his broad brow
to be full of a prairie-like placidity, born of a speculative
indifference as to death.  But mark the other head's expression.
See that amazing lower lip, pressed by accident against the vessel's side, so as firmly to embrace the jaw.  Does not this whole head seem
to speak of an enormous practical resolution in facing death?
This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm Whale,
a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

Another example comes to mind, as the narrator holds a rope tied around his friend, Queequeg, who is rather busy working on a whale carcass in the water, all the time trying to avoid being bitten by the school of sharks that is feeding on the body atop which the poor laborer is walking. I love the implications of this "monkey rope", how we are, as humans in society, tied together and dependent on one another. There’s a simultaneous fear and warmth in the trust implied thereby. That tightrope between fear and warmth seems to be a comfortable spot for Melville. Not an easy trick!

And third, his characters are incredibly detailed, alive, even. Take, for instance, this masterful description of the genesis of Ahab’s hatred toward Moby Dick:

It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant
rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment.
Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but
given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity;
and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably
but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more.
Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for
long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched
together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary,
howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed
soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad.
That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter,
that the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain
from the fact that, at intervals during the passage, he was
a raving lunatic; and, though unlimbed of a leg, yet such vital
strength yet lurked in his Egyptian chest, and was moreover
intensified by his delirium, that his mates were forced to lace
him fast, even there, as he sailed, raving in his hammock.
In a strait-jacket, he swung to the mad rockings of the gales.
And, when running into more sufferable latitudes, the ship,
with mild stun'sails spread, floated across the tranquil tropics,
and, to all appearances, the old man's delirium seemed left behind
him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark
den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he bore
that firm, collected front, however pale, and issued his calm
orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness
was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on.

I find the crazed prophet Gabriel of the ship Jeroboam to be fascinating, as well. In fact, all the certifiably crazy people in the story (Gabriel, Ahab and, later, Pip) are fascinating in their ability to lift the reader beyond the mundane with their mad, eloquent ravings. I’d love to write Gabriel's full story, or a similar one. Maybe someday . . . is there such a thing as “Moby Dick fanfic?"

Now, Melville’s seemingly erratic jump from 3rd to 1st person, back and forth, as well as his diversions into stage directions and drama would be considered the greatest taboo by many of the big-name book publishers today. Inconsistent narration? Crazy! Metafiction? No one will want to read that!
But they did. And they do. The popularity of Moby Dick attests to that. But if Melville were to submit his manuscript today, few agents would take it. “Too experimental,” they’d say, “try the small presses”. And some obscure small press, run from a kitchen table in a suburb on a shoestring budget, would eventually take it and publish it right into nothingness. Eventually, as word spread among a cult of readers, one of the larger presses might note that the book was getting some notoriety and ask for sales trends. “This is a whale of a tale,” they’d say as their pupils assumed the shape of dollar signs, “how did we ever miss it?”
If it was a whale, it would have bitten their corporate leg off.

Maybe that's what makes this book so good. It's a tough read. It requires some stamina. You'll probably need to grab a dictionary from time to time. Some parts will read incredibly slow and you'll need to re-read them. Others will be over before you know it and you'll need to re-read them. This is not a book for the casual reader any more than the Pequod's quest was a casual fishing trip off the coast. This book is deep water. But like any challenge that requires great effort, the results are worth it. Some might consider this read a quest in and of itself, even memorializing their participation in the quest. I don't blame them. Moby Dick is a sort of readers' rite of passage. Now I can say, with some sense of pride, that I am one of the initiated, forever baptized in the depths along with Ahab, Queequeg, Starbuck, Stubbs, and all the rest. I know these people, or I knew them. I have smelled the blood of whales, the salt of the sea, tasted the iron of the harpoon, stood atop the mast and taken in the rolling immensity of the sea, seen the white whale rushing up from the watery dark toward my boat. I have served my time on the Pequod. And I say, welcome aboard!
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books785 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
December 26, 2022
Ugh. I give up. I feel like I've been beaten over the head with a dictionary.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
November 18, 2017
“Call me Ishmael.”

– OK, even those who have not read Melville’s words, know about this iconic beginning. Why Ishmael? Why not.

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began”

– This is first and foremost a novel about the sea and men upon the sea. Melville, like Conrad, spent a fair amount of time on a boat and his prose has that sea going quality about it. He has stood mid-watches and he has stood on the deck in heavy seas and he’s not pretending to know.

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian”

– Like my good friend Apatt observed, this is also a book about friendship and loyalty. There is loyalty amongst the crew, some taken by Ahab’s charismatic leadership, but more importantly, there is a strong loyalty between Ishmael and Queequeg.

"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market."

– Starbuck’s classic protest to Ahab sets a tone for the book. Is this capitalism? Is this business? Nope, this is revenge, this is an atavistic, almost pagan quest for unreasonable vengeance. Here is where Melville earns his star. He spends a lot of time describing the economics and logistics about whaling, and then throws it out the porthole. This is something else.

"Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations.”

– Like Milton’s Satan, Melville’s Ahab is the most interesting character. Moby-Dick without Ahab is just a book about whaling and a hundred and fifty years later we would not be talking about it. Ahab is Conrad’s Kurtz, and Ishmael is his Marlowe, he is the Hollow Man, the one who has disregarded both his modernity and his soul.

A modern classic, the great American novel, all that and Gregory Peck. And of course it inspired John Bonham's memorable drum solo

Profile Image for Esteban del Mal.
191 reviews64 followers
September 5, 2010
Everyone eventually comes across the White Whale in one form or another. The trick is to not keep its attention for too long.


Avast! Dost thee have a five spot thou can see thyself parting ways with?


Jibberjab up the wigwam! Cuisinart the poopdeck!

What's that ye say? Thou canst not make heads nor tails of what I sayeth?

Here then. Let me take this pipe outta my mouth and stop menacing you with this harpoon. Better? Good.

Huh? No, no! Ho-ho! I wasn't asking for money! I was asking if you've seen the White Whale! Ha-ha!


Okay, okay…well then, do you know who famously wrote, "The world seems logical to us because we have made it logical"?

Here's a hint: his bushy visage and even bushier philosophies have launched a thousand heavy metal bands.

Take your time. I'll just hone the point of this harpoon…

No again? No biggie, I'm happy to report that it is none other than one Friedrich Nietzsche.

But we know what became of that crusty old phrenologist, don't we? He went nuts. Why? Because he grew up in a house full of women, of course. But guess what? Turns out that hanging out with a bunch of guys doesn't work out too well, either.

Especially when they're so monomaniacal about Dick.


You know? The White Whale?

Of course that's what I meant. What else did you --- ? You what?

Put away all that sophomoric homoerotic stuff, won't you? Let us turn to the thrust of the plot. The long and hard plot, whose veiny, undulating, ruminative tributaries all lead back to the all-consuming desire for globulous sperm…aceti.

I know what you're thinking, "Who the hell does this guy think he is, reviewing a canonical work like Moby-Dick? What aplomb!"

Aplomb? Really?

Who says aplomb any more? Just for that, I'm gonna tell you what happens -- EVERYBODY DIES AT THE END!


Yeah, yeah. You're right. I should put the harpoon back down. Sorry. I just get worked up sometimes.

Now. This is the fourth time I've read this weighty tome, and I ain't gonna lie -- I may not be able to bend spoons with my mind, but I'm not as scared of clowns as I used to be.

For reals.

You see, Melville gets me. I'm a little outta my depth arguing epistemology, but a guy who challenges the conceit that any sort of absolute truth can be apprehended already has my sympathies. Then when he opens a book of exhaustive -- and exhausting -- prose, itself like so much chanting by a humble pilgrim before his incomprehensible and terrible god, with a casual, "Call me Ishmael." Well. One thinks that he would be just as comfortable with the moniker The Dude.

What's in a name, man? It's all relative.

Fucking hippie, right?


And guess what? The hippie's the only one to make it out alive! (So I lied, everybody doesn't die.) There's a mad man at the helm of this rapacious project we call Life and you've got to be a bit of a hippie yourself if you plan on enduring it. Yet, there's nothing you can do about your participation in said project -- where would you go? Jump in the ocean?


And what's worse, what else would a guy like our mad man do than captain a doomsday machine? It's impossible for the mad man to do anything else. What? Ahab as gourmand?

"Damn thy eyes for a Cossack but if this not be the most succulent baked halibut in ten counties!"

Maybe it's a sort of inertia: certain professions attract certain types. Just look at Wall Street. Or the latest amateur video of a cop beating some innocent senseless. Or those child-molesting priest assholes.

Or clowns.

We're doomed!

Still, if you can channel your inner hippie, you might just be okay. "Oh man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, live in this world without being part of it." Not bad advice. The whale's lack of humanly reason isn't just dumb animalism, but is really a sort of supra-reason. The whale, like our hippie, is a wanderer that is never going to complete a journey. Welcome incompleteness! It'll ensure that you survive those brushes with the White Whale. Surrender to the idea of "Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel."

To mistake that mossy crust of reason gathered on the back of Schopenhaurean WILL as the conclusion of the Self instead of mere technique available to the same is to invite what D.H. Lawrence calls the "mystic dream-horror" of Moby-Dick.

Come again? You can't wait for Hollywood to suck the last bit of marrow from America's bones with something directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Bruce Willis as Ahab? Keanu Reeves as Ishmael, George Lopez as Queequeg, and Vin Diesel as Starbuck? With the whale rendered in vainglorious CGI?

Me? Oh, nothing. Just setting the pipe so, hefting my harpoon, and ---

Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,647 followers
May 7, 2019
Totally extraordinary - both poles of its critical reception shock me: the half-century of complete obscurity and its current status as a G.A.N.. Because this is one weird book. It's a perfect example of experimental form melding with and amplifying content. Ishmael's fundamental digressiveness and lexicographic drive allows H.M. the room to get all the way into the particulars of his research. It's a treat - and I think, necessarily, a lost thing - to read a book that is so proud of, that RELISHES, the work that went into its bibliography. The contrast with Ahab's monomania is incredibly effective. And what a treat to read a book that invites every interpretation without ever landing anywhere.

t tried reading this about ten years ago and just had no chance. The intertextuality, the lack of narrative drive, and the difficulty of the language murdered me. I imagine I'll like it even more ten years from now.

I'll finish by saying that this paragraph from the brief chapter, "The Lee Shore," might be about the prettiest thing I've ever read:

" When on that shivering winter’s night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years’ dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!"
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