Find the White Whale

On November 14, just a few days from now, the world will celebrate the publication anniversary of an American classic, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

“On this day in 1851, Moby-Dick, a novel by Herman Melville about the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Moby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: “Call me Ishmael.” Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.”

Sperm Whale

I admit, Moby-Dick is a long read, a very long read, and portions of it are tedious; yet, it should be read. Here are three simple reasons why I think so.

1. The novel has become a part of America’s landscape. To be culturally literate, one must open it and hunt for the White Whale.

2. Captain Ahab is a remarkable character. He will wrap his hands around your heart, your neck, and he will squeeze. I love him. I hate him. He’s the Devil, Satan, obsessed with killing a figurative God, Moby-Dick. Yet, there is a heroic side to him, a bravery I admire. He’ll ask you to take up a harpoon and hurl it at the great whale, but perhaps you’ll want to hurl it at the captain himself.

“To most, especially those who know him only from John Huston’s film, Ahab is a petty dictator, tyrant of a tiny seaborne fiefdom, a monomaniac dedicated only to killing the whale that mauled him. Ultimately, he’s a mass murderer who drags dozens of sailors to Davy Jones’ Locker.

But under that exterior madness, some see a man of surprising talents — a man destined for greatness, then marred by destiny. He’s a wounded man, haunted not just by his loss, but by the image of the wife and child he’s left behind. There’s a humanity to him — and he’s his own worst enemy.”

3. Finally, the story – it’s pure adventure. “More capacious than ponderous, “Moby-Dick” has the wild and unpredictable energy of the great white whale itself, more than enough to heave its significance out of what Melville called “the universal cannibalism of the sea” and into the light.”

Go ahead. Read it!!! I dare ya.

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9 thoughts on “Find the White Whale

  1. It’s a great novel. Large-hearted, generous, a combination of all the transparent plot of a Great Adventure but all the machinations and mysteries of Great Literature, without really stopping long enough on anything to be even close to boring. It’s about humanity, religion, friendship, and monsters. What the heck more could you want?

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    1. “It’s about humanity, religion, friendship, and monsters. What the heck more could you want?”

      Ahab indeed is a monster…and a hero. And the novel bleeds humanity..,all its flaw and all its gold.

      Please, visit again.

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  2. Well, as you know, Scott, I normally agree with you fully, but today, you have just gone way too far. (I don’t use smiley’s, but I am grinning pretty widely.) I just have to contribute my side of the “story’ and say that as a student of American literature for many years, a teacher of American literature for even more years, and as an ardent lover of American books and writers, I can say without reservation that I hate “Moby Dick.”

    I have never seen it as a great piece of literature from any angle. That being said, I will add that I have enormous respect for Herman Melville. The fact that he wrote such a huge story (not a huge book — but a truly huge story) is reason enough to admire him. Anytime a man creates so much story out of himself — creating something that never before existed — he deserves honor and respect. But do I ever recommend reading that particular novel? No.

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