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Moby Dick

Moby Dick survives, “a living, breathing warrior of the sea whose power is beyond the ability of any man to conquer or to kill or even to comprehend”.  What Melville created in the sea novel Moby Dick endures as the greatest American novel because the subject is both larger than man (the incomprehensible whale of the deep) and quintessentially American (whaling as an American industry at its height).  Moby DickMoby-Dick endures because it is a drama of the human spirit, exploring the heights and depths of men’s souls, and the American drive towards obsession.

Moby Dick, or The Whale, to give the novel its full title, concerns the narrative of Ishmael, who decides to try his hand at whaling.  He travels to the whaling capital of America, New Bedford, meets the South Pacific harpooner Queequeg, and signs aboard the Pequod.  The voyage is mysterious, since the captain of the vessel is absent for much of the narrative.  When Captain Ahab finally appears, he sets the Pequod on the whaling for Moby Dick, a legendary white sperm whale that severed his leg on his last voyage.  The novel becomes a metaphoric journey into the heart of darkness, as Ahab’s obsession threatens to destroy the crew of the Pequod.

In Chapter XXXVI, describes the White Whale to his crew: “Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw…”.  The crew knows Moby Dick by his reputation.  “Yet as of late the Sperm Whale fishery had been marked by various and not unfrequent instances of great ferocity, cunning, and malice in the monster attacked”.  One might suspect that an animal with a temperament such as Moby Dick is the invention of the author.  Such is not the case.  Sperm whales are polygamous animals, where the males (bulls) fight for leadership of the herd.  “Battle scars and a rather common crookedness of the lower jaw are said to be caused when the bulls are locked in combat, and it is believed that when the old bull Sperm is rejected from the herd he leads a solitary life which affects his temper”.

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