Moby Dick

Title: Moby Dick

Author: Herman Melville

Genre: Novel

Publication Date: 1851

Overview

A landmark novel of American literature, Moby Dick was the sixth novel published by Herman Melville. The story of the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod is said to be drawn from the experiences of the author who was a sailor and harpooner on whaling ships before settling in New England as a writer.

Melville’s father Allan Melville was a successful imports merchant who had lost his fortune eventually. Unable to recover from this setback, he died when Herman was still a child. Melville started working young to support his family. At the age of 19, he began working as a sailor on merchant ships, but this did not bring much financial success. When he was 21, he started working on a whaling vessel and thus started his experience and fascination with the world of whaling, which is the setting of the novel Moby Dick.

Melville’s first two books received popular acclaim but then followed a series of failures. By the time he started writing Moby Dick, he had lost his renown as a popular writer. He intended Moby Dick as a return to the type of adventure stories he was most known for, such as Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life and Omoo. He intended this novel as a romantic and fanciful adventure; yet when the book was finalized, it had taken a different turn. It is important to note here that at this point Melville was deeply influenced by the author and also his neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne, another great American author whose cynical and imposing works bear some resemblance to the tragic epic that Melville wrote. Instead of the romantic adventure he had promised his publisher, Melville ended up producing a dark and digressive narrative that was significantly influenced by Shakespeare and Hawthorne.

Moby Dick, published in 1851, is undoubtedly Melville’s best-known work and is considered central to any discussion on American literature. However, when it was published (first in London in October 1851 and then later in America in November) it met with neither critical nor popular success. Many readers found the pastiche style of the novel—which uses various literary formats and styles, spanning a range from non-fiction essay to play-like scenes, complete with stage directions to melodramatic prose—difficult to follow and were dissuaded. It was in the 1920s when Melville’s epic adventure was rediscovered by literary critics interested in identifying a canonical body of American literature.

Since then, critics and littérateurs have appreciated the novel’s rich tapestry, which combines satire, humor, and realism. A piece of great literature, Moby Dick is a perfect example of a seamless combination of various literary styles—a fictional adventure story, with historical detail and even scientific discussion—along with the drama of the Homeric epic and the haunting poetry of Shakespearean tragedy, which make it a brilliant and unique novel.

Moby Dick Biography

Moby Dick Background

Moby Dick Characters

Moby Dick Summary and Analysis

Moby Dick Themes

Moby Dick Quotes

Moby Dick Discussion Questions

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