MOBY DICK : Annotated .

By Herman Melville

493,034 ratings - 3.51* vote

Widely considered one of the great American novels, Herman Melville’s masterpiece went largely unread during his lifetime and was out of print at the time of his death in 1891. Called the greatest book about the sea ever written by D.H. Lawrence, Moby Dick features detailed descriptions of whale hunting and whale oil extraction as well as beautiful, incisive writing on rac Widely considered one of the great American novels, Herman Melville’s masterpiece went largely unread during his

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Book details

Kindle Edition, 0 pages
January 24th 2021

(first published October 18th 1851)

Original Title
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
ISBN
0142437247 (ISBN13: 9780142437247)

Community Reviews

Matt

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?

Perhaps.

Is it a colossal bore?

Decidedly.

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.

Michael Finocchiaro

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 me 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 during 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).

Jason

“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.)

Jamie

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.

karen

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!

Sean Barrs

I hate this book so much. It is impossible to ignore the literary merit of this work though; it is, after all, a piece of innovative literature. Melville broke narrative expectations when he shed the narrator Ishmael and burst through with his infinite knowledge of all things whale. It was most creative, but then he pounded the reader with his knowledge of the whaling industry that could, quite literally, fill several textbooks. This made the book so incredibly dull. I’m not being naïve towards this book’s place in the literary cannon, but I am sharing my agony for a book that bored me half to death with its singularity of purpose and expression: it’s obsession with whales.

I’m just sick of them

I understand that this is the main motif of the book. Ahab becomes fuelled with his need to slay the leviathan, but it wasn’t Ahab who droned on for three hundred pages about the properties of whales. Despite the allegorical interpretation between the relationship, and the comparisons between man and fish, the book is unnecessarily packed out. There are passages and passages that add nothing to the meaning or merit of the work. Melville explains every aspect of the whaling industry in dry, monotone, manner. There are entire chapters devoted to describing different whale types, and even one even discussing the superiority of the sperm whale’s head:

"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, as 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.

It is just so agonising to read. This is quite possibly the most painful book I’ve ever read in my life. I’ve never hated a book more than I hate this behemoth. I just felt there was no purpose to so many of the chapters; they didn’t add to the narrative or increase Ahab’s obsession. Also, at times it wasn’t entirely clear who the narrator was. There would be the occasional glimpse of Ishmael, and his aspect of the story, and then this all knowing entity with an unfathomable depth of whaling knowledge would begin up again.

Tedium defined

The writing gives new breath to the definition of mundane, monotonous and tedious. It is repetitive, expressionless and soul destroying. I became more and more annoyed the further I got into this book, as soon as some semblance of plot would come through, and some small degree of progress, I would be hit with another fifty pages or so describing the properties of whale bubbler, and even on one occasion a chapter devoted to rope. How fun. I began to hate this book with a passion that made me almost scream every time the word “whale” came up. Now, this was some tough reading.

Moreover, I could never understand how Melville could consider whaling such a noble profession. There is nothing noble about it, it may have once been a necessity, but it has always been cruel and brutal. It may have been a means for communities to survive and people to eat, but there is no honour in it. How can shoving a pole through a whale, cutting its head off, slicing away its blubber and desecrating its body be considered in any way praiseworthy? It’s an aspect of life that is comparable to man today slaughtering a cow. There is simply no glamour to be had in the deed. You’d think Melville was describing the life of a group of chivalrous knights; they were whalers not heroes.

This book is awful in every sense of the word. It has achieved literary fame, but I still personally hate it. I found everything about it completely, and utterly, detestable. Never again will I go within five feet of anything written by Herman Melville. I think a part of me died whilst reading this book; it was just that disagreeable to me.

Ahmad Sharabiani

896. 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.

عنوانها: «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 در 240ص»؛ «پروین ادیب در 209ص»؛ «رضا روزبه در 200ص»، «محمد شاطرلو در 183ص»؛ «علی اصغر محمدزاده سال 1335؛ در 168ص»؛ «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 در 28ص»؛

راوی که خود را «اسماعیل» 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؛ ا. شربیانی

David

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!

Matt


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.

Nataliya

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 but 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."

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