I. Herman Melville lived a long and interesting life that would affect not only his literary works of art, but also our society today. Many of his most notable novels would draw from his days at sea, and from his experiences as a result of those voyages.
A. Herman Melville’s life was an intriguing one, with many interesting aspects. He was born in 1819 to Allan and Maria Melville in New York, NY and would have a total of seven other siblings. Of these siblings there were four girls and four boys, including Herman. His life would go fine until about 1930 when his father’s business went bankrupt. But to top things off, he would die an insane man two years later. From this time on, life would remain a little unstable, at least until Melville ventured for the first time into the ocean on the St. Lawrence. He was a crewman aboard the ship, and he would sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool and then back to America. However, this voyage would not be his last. Melville decided to join the crew of a whaling ship named the Acushnet.
But Melville did not like his treatment on board this vessel, and would soon abandon them at an island of the Marquesas with another member of the crew. On this island they ran into a group of cannibals that, instead of harming them, would take them in. None the less, both the men would grow tired of the tribe and would escape, although Melville did remain slightly longer than is counterpart. When Melville did escape, however, he would board the Lucy Ann, a whaling ship that was temporarily docked on the island.
This ship though, proved itself no better than the Acushnet, and Melville would escape to Tahiti, again with one crewmember to tag along. Eventually Melville ended up in Hawaii, where he joined the U.S. Navy and would work aboard the frigate United States. This would be his last voyage at sea though, as he only remained with the Navy for one year, and hung up his hat as a seaman from then on. Though, Melville would continue to draw from these experiences for many of his most influential masterpieces, most notably that of Moby-Dick. Melville would go on to complete more works until his death in 1891.
B. Herman Melville lived in a time period that would have a great effect on his writings. For instance, America during that time was witnessing the Industrial Revolution and felt that his country was slipping away from its founding fathers’ ideals. His feelings and thoughts towards his society of that day more than likely played an important role in his novels. Furthermore, Melville drew from the literary time period he lived in, as well as from other influences. He lived in and wrote in a period that focussed a lot on individualism and looking into one’s self when writing.
Therefore, Melville must have drew from what he felt inside, and what he felt inside was surely determined from the many events that occurred around him throughout his life. Melville’s strict religious upbringing would definitely be one major influential factor in his writing. His mother was a very faithful woman and would raise all her children to be the same. However, Allan Melville, Herman’s father, was more of a Unitarian. This conflict of beliefs would never grow to impact the content environment of their home, but surely would affect his literary works.
Also, the country was growing to discover more scientific evidences that would conflict with many religions’ beliefs, and this conflict would have an influence on his works as well. These impacts lead many to believe that the book Moby-Dick represents not only Melville’s love for the sea, but also reflects his search for religious faith (where Ahab represents Herman Melville and Moby-Dick represents faith). These influences, together with the changing times of America would have a deep effect in his works.
C. Herman Melville authored many profound novels in his time other than just Moby-Dick. Some of his other notable publications include Fragments from a Writing Desk, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, Clarel, John Marr and Other Sailors, and Billy Budd. Though most of these were published during Melville’s lifetime, a few were not published publicly until after his death, and Billy Budd was not published at all until 1924.
II. The setting of Moby-Dick is critical to the story, and fits the time period the story takes place in very well. Most of the book takes place on various oceans, such as the Atlantic, the Indian, and the Pacific, in the early to mid 1800’s. However, a good deal of the first part of the novel takes place in New England inside and around Nantucket.
A. Some evidence of this story taking place in this time period can be conveyed through examples from the book. For example, in the seventh chapter entitled “The Chapel”, the book shows specific dates in the form of plaques that are dedicated to the lives of men who have perished at sea. These plaques site specific dates such as November 1st, 1836, December 31st, 1839, and August 3rd 1833. The fact that these dated plaques represent dead men insinuates the story takes place at a later date. Also, the three-year whaling voyage that Ishmael eventually sets out on leaves on Christmas. This not only says that the time of departure was during the cold of winter, but also further supports the idea that Melville was representing his search for faith when he wrote Moby-Dick.
The place is also a factor to consider when discussing setting. There are many instances where Melville specifically states that they are near the cities of New Bedford and Nantucket. Also, the foods that they eat suggest that they are in a New England type atmosphere. Furthermore, he gives a lot of information about local ports as well as people, all of which point back to a New England origin. All these facts and bits of information allow the reader to gain a better idea of the time and place the story takes place in.
B. The setting of this novel has a great influence on the story itself. For instance, the sea-going atmosphere of the port town Ishmael stays in before the voyage conveys many messages and is very symbolic of the rest of the story. In the Spouter Inn, the hotel he stays at before the voyage, you can pick up on many subliminal messages. Some of which include the name of the Inn, the painting of the whale that symbolizes nature’s beauty as well as fury, the name of the Inn’s owner, as well as other bits of information. There is also much of this same sort of thing when the setting changes from the town to the Pequod, the whaling vessel Ishmael sets out on.
However, instead of visual representations, the focus seems to be more on the personalities of the crewmembers and how Ishmael reacts to them. For example, Ishmael reacts to Ahab in a much different way than he does to Queequeg, his cannibalistic counterpart. And when Ishmael is in the company of Queequeg, the setting seams to come off as a much more serene environment than when in the presence of the morbid Ahab, of whom is strangely obsessed with hunting a white whale.
Furthermore, the ship is described quite thoroughly throughout the chapters when Ishmael is on board, and it proves itself an almost harsh and deadly environment as the story progresses. All these settings come together to help tell the story of a common ocean loving seaman caught up in another man’s abnormal and eccentric hunt for a whale of which he has held a grudge for many years.
III. There are many characters in Moby-Dick that are noteworthy, such as Queequeg, Captains Peleg and Bildad, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, but there are two that stand out most of all. The characters of Captain Ahab and Ishmael are the ones that the book distinguishes as the main characters.
A. The characters of captain Ahab and Ishmael are almost opposites. About the only things the two share in common are that they are both seamen and they both are on a hunt for a whale.
1. Ishmael is a pleasing character, who plays the role of the main character as well as narrator. He is a common man who has a love for the sea, and goes to it to clear his mind whenever he feels down or feels that it is “a damp, drizzly November” in his soul. As for his physical appearance, he doesn’t really specify. However, one might assume that he is a middle-aged man and probably holds the characteristics of the “stereotypical seaman”. But, what the character lacks in physical description, he makes up for with a full personality that his described extensively throughout the book.
Ishmael is a man who seeks what is best described as “inner peace”. He is very content with himself when on the water, and has a great love for being a seaman. He joins the crew of the Pequod to satisfy his longing to be back on the ocean, but as it turns out, the particular voyage he is to set out on is not what he had suspected. For this ship would be commanded by a half-crazed captain in a desperate search for a viscous white whale. Over all, Ishmael is definitely the most civilized and wise man in the story.
2. Captain Ahab is an overwhelmingly intimidating character in the story, and can probably be considered the most deranged of them all. His radical obsession with finding and killing the white whale known as “Moby-Dick” causes Ishmael and others of the crew to become frightened at his abnormal behavior. Ahab’s physical appearance is best described as foreboding and evil. He is a tall man with gray hair, and is missing a leg due to a death-defying confrontation with Moby-Dick himself. His new artificial leg is made from the bone of whale and once again adds to his intimidating form. His personality is also quite mad. He has a maniacal presence about him and would risk his life and the lives of his crewmen just to fulfill his mission of demented revenge. Melville does a fine job describing this particular character with the utmost extremeness.
B. The characters of Ishmael and Ahab are two that have a great and critical impact on the book. Ishmael’s character allows the reader to relate to a love for nature and the earth, as well as a feeling of inner peace and serenity. While on the other hand, Ahab’s character is one of chaos and udder madness. The two characters’ attitudes, thoughts, and feelings permit the reader to explore two polar opposites of the human personality. Ahab’s character is critical to the story element in that without him, the reader could not really experience the insaneness of the voyage and the cruelty of the mission that they have set out to accomplish. On the other hand, without the character of Ishmael, the reader would not know how to react to Ahab, and furthermore would only be able too experience one side of the voyage. The reader would be unable to relate to Ahab’s demented character, and therefore would have no one in the story to relate themselves to. Ishmael’s character gives the reader someone to relate to and identify with. All in all, both characters let the reader better understand the story, and allow for an intense reading experience.
IV. Moby-Dick, like any other novel, is complete with a plot sequence which essentially “maps” the layout of the story line. In the plot sequence, there are five major groups. Those five groups are the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and finally the resolution. Melville does an outstanding job of describing and conveying these in a flowing matter that is intense at some points, but surpassingly boring at others.
A.The plot sequence of Moby-Dick can be summarized easily when it is broken up and analyzed. While the exposition and rising action may be a little lengthy and at some times rather monotonous, the climax is very intense. But the reader will probably gain the most insight into what the novel means overall from the falling action and resolution.
1. During the exposition, Ishmael describes himself and why he plans on joining a whaling voyage at sea so as to sort of introduce us to him and to set the stage for other characters to be introduced such as Queequeg at the Spouter Inn.
2. As for the rising action, this takes up most of the novel, at least three fourths of it anyway. Many adventures are described to us from Ishmael as the story progresses. Some of the more notable events that take place include when Ishmael and Ahab first meet and the almost frightened feeling that takes over Ishmael, when Ahab describes the purpose of his voyage, when various ships are encountered such as the Enderby and the Rachel, and when the Pequod is overtaken by a typhoon. All these events and a few others not mentioned help to build the rising action and gain more and more interest from the reader.
3. The climax is definitely one of the most intense sections of the book, however not one of the longer. It lasts for a good three chapters, and keeps the reader focussed in on every detail, unlike other parts of the book that can get so repetitive and boring it’s unbelievable. The climax consists of the main chase and battle with Moby-Dick himself. In this part of the novel, each of three days are discussed. On the first day of the chase, the men spear the whale with their harpoons, but without success. Also, Ahab’s boat is crushed by the white whale. The second day proves to be a bit more successful. All the boats are able to harpoon the whale, however Ahab’s boat is once again hit by the whale and is turned over. The third and final day, Ahab manages to throw his harpoon into the side of Moby-Dick. The other two boats are told to go back to the ship by Ahab, while he stays to fight the whale. Then Moby-Dick rams the Pequod and destroys it, and soon after Ahab manages to stab him with another Harpoon. However, the rope attached to that harpoon catches Ahab and the whale carries him down to his death.
4. The falling action is rather brief in description. Ishmael describes how the ship sinks pretty graphically. By this time the reader is made aware that Ahab was hunting a whale that sought not to destroy him, but rather it was him that was insanely seeking to kill the whale of whom had no desire to destroy Ahab. The falling action has to be one of the best parts of the book, because the reader learns so much from it with so little use of words.
5. The resolution is quite brief just as the falling action is. Ishmael once again makes it clear to us that Ahab’s wild voyage with a purpose and cause that were quite mad, accounts for nothing in the greater scheme of things. He especially makes this clear when he states that “the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” Also, it is worthy of noting that the Rachel, a ship the crew had encountered earlier in the voyage, rescues Ishmael.
C. There are many conflicts within the plot of Moby-Dick, two of which include the conflict between Ahab and the whale, and another that is between Queequeg and Ahab concerning Pip. The conflict between Ahab and the whale is probably the most obvious. Basically, the whale took off Ahab’s leg, and he is forced to live with a peg leg for the rest of his days. This, of course, upsets the mad captain and he seeks revenge with the whale. This conflict is probably representative of a classic “man against nature” type of feud that is always very intense and engaging. Another conflict is the one between Ahab and Queequeg concerning Pip, the little African-American boy who joins the crew on their doomed voyage. Ahab denies Pip any respect, while Queequeg is a lot more supportive and defendant of the boy. This action conflict aids the story in giving Queequeg a more human and civilized character than that of a stereotypical cannibal. Without these conflicts as well as others, the story just wouldn’t be the same.
V. There is much to be learned from the theme of the novel Moby-Dick. As in any book, there is a message or a sort of subliminal “moral of the story” type lesson you can learn from Moby-Dick.
A. The book, Moby-Dick, can teach you many things if you can remain focussed long enough. However, the most prominent lesson that can be learned from the work is not that complicated and rather apparent. This lesson can be summed up in one sentence; don’t become to focussed and obsessed with one goal to the point that you exclude the more important things in life. This lesson is represented with Ahab’s peculiar obsession with hunting and killing a whale. By setting this as his most significant goal in life, he begins to ignore more important things such as the lives of his crewmen, and eventually his own life. This mistake wound Ahab up dead.
Although the novel isn’t trying to say that if you over obsess with a matter or issue in your life that you will die, it’s simply trying to say that if you put minor self-centered goals before what’s most important, you will more than likely regret it. This lesson is very true, and can be related to real life instances when compared to examples such as government dictatorships or social relationships. For instance, many dictatorships are lead by one person with overwhelming power over his or her nation. This, in most cases, ends up with a greedy and uncontrollable leader who leads their country to certain downfall.
Also, on a much more common scale, some relationships can symbolize this lesson. For example, say one person is very much so attracted to another. If this person were to become so attracted to their “significant other” that they put aside more important matters, such as their job or academics, they would more than likely regret it if it were to overtake their life to the point where they become depressed, or in Ahab’s case insane. This is the lesson that Melville was probably trying to convey in his masterpiece, and an important lesson it is.
VI. When the novel Moby-Dick is evaluated while considering the positives as well as the negatives, more flaws and downfalls become apparent than would be anticipated. Although, there are many great features to this work, and it offers much to be learned, there are, in fact, a few flaws.
A. There are many more pros to Moby-Dick than there are cons. For instance, there is an important life lesson to be learned from the story, which explains that one should not become over-obsessed with one insignificant goal to the point that they exclude in their life what is most important. Not only is this a virtue of the novel, but there is also much to be learned about the society of old New England and the many whaling communities that existed there, as well as a lot about whaling itself. All these aspects of the work offer ample knowledge and makes for very interesting reading.
B.Where there are pros, however, there must also exist cons. And this holds true even to the impressive work, Moby-Dick. Though many may consider it to be perfect, it isn’t. Once read thoroughly, one flaw becomes very obvious. This major flaw is the repetitious nature of Melville’s writing, in this particular work anyway. He tends to go on and on one topic. This is critical when describing things like main characters or interesting features, however, when this skill is used to illustrate to the reader some countless species of whales, it becomes rather annoying. Melville, at one point, spends an extremely long amount of time describing many various species of whales, that, at first, is somewhat interesting, but in time will put you to sleep. This flaw and others like it make Moby-Dick a very challenging novel to comprehend, but it makes up for its cons with its unmatched writing quality and the overwhelming amount of knowledge it has to offer.