- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition
- ASIN: B00GOHB2W8
- Package Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Moby-Dick: Or. The Whale (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions) by Melville. Herman ( 2010 ) Paperback Paperback
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The time is 1850 as Ahab, the narrator and a variety of fascinating characters sail on the Pequod in the whaling grounds of the South Pacific and other seas. Captain Ahab's has lost a leg to Moby Dick in a quondam encounter and seeks revenge against the monster of the deep. Melville's novel is many things:
a., A very detailed description of the life aboard a whaling ship which includes the equipment needed to capture and prepare a whale for the market.
b. A technical description of the anatomy of various types of whales.
c. A history of the whale in history and in literature.
d. An exciting adventure story of exploration on the high seas.
e. Great character analysis of the tormented monomaniac Captain Ahab.
f. Poetic description of the sea and sky and nature.
g. Essays on various topics dealing with whaling
h. Philosophical thoughts on the universe, God, nature and the role of man in an indifferent universe.
I have read Moby Dick several times and have always been challenged by Melville's brilliant insight into humanity and our condition on this spinning globe.
A difficult book but an essential one. This novel is one of the greatest ever written. The Penguin Deluxe Edition is a delight to read and includes a fine essay on the novel by Nathaniel Philbrick.
So Moby Dick is a multi-layered monstrosity of powerfully poetic prose, using a combination of voices, styles, and narrative adjustments that disrupt the narrative and allow for reconsiderations, correctives, and commentary upon the level of interpretation offered.
In the Judaic and Christian scriptural interpretations there are four levels of explication: the literal; the allegorical; the moral (tropological) ; and the eschatological (analogically). Very few novels or other works of literature are complex enough to encompass and require these multiple levels of understanding and interpretation.
Melville's tale had a source in reality-- the whale ship Essex, and Melville utilizes this tale as a means of establishing a verisimilitude that allows for a literal understanding of his novel as merely an adventure tale. Melville goes to extreme measure to present all the details of whaling and whales, turning chapters into those one might feel belong to a whaling manual rather than a novel. Going even further to provide that very stringent voice of facts and skepticism Melville found insufficient in those who promoted science as if only nature and the scientific method offer us reality--Melville has an entire list opening his book of the etymology of whales. He mocks this simplistic, materialistic view periodically. His description early on of butterflies pinned to a board and labeled by a lepidopterist shows how the very essence of what it means to be a butterfly (its wild, unpredictable flight and vitality) are utterly removed by the time the scientist is ready to label it as the animal it no longer is, but merely resembles.
Melville will make fun of those who see Moby Dick as only a whale, and as Moby Dick is God, Melville extends his ridicule to those who do not believe in God or imagine Him as some impersonal, Deistic Deus Abscondis.
The water is the spirit world where God dwells, thus "meditation and water are wedded forever".
But Melville has no sympathy for those whose view of God is of a benevolent, loving Lord. It is clear that Moby Dick has been the source of great suffering. Ahab's missing leg and the psychological damage he endured in his previous encounter with the divine cetacean show God, in Melville's view, as far from the saccharine, whitewashed loving Heavenly Father of so many simple-minded believers. So the literal and the allegorical interpretations of God and, consequently, of Melville's marvelous novel, both prove insufficient. The moral view fares little better as Ahab's accusations against God, like a violent and angry anti-Job, blast away any idea that there are easy moral lessons behind the workings of Moby Dick's mysterious mannerisms.
The eschatological view also suffers ridicule from Melville as he creatively sneaks an epilogue into the middle of his novel in The Town Ho chapter. Here Melville, through a post-Pequod Ishmael, describes a story filled with gospel images and is disbelieved by all in his company. He has them drag in a copy of "The Four Evangelists" (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) upon which Ishmael will put his hand and swear to the "gospel truth" of his tale. But as his tale is, though hidden, the gospel itself, there is a circular, tongue-in-cheek contradiction in his swearing on the gospels that the gospel is true.
So complicated were all of Melville's own dealings with God that even these four levels of interpretation prove insufficient to analyze this novel well. We need another level here, and it comes to the fore in the novel when Melville describes in the chapter The Symphony the stepmother kindness of God that almost saves Ahab from his mad quest and his terrible end. The lightning and fire and madness return, but for just a moment we see the other level. That beyond the foolishness of atheism, and beyond the simple-mindedness of easy-belief, with all the horrors of our human helplessness before God, and with all the admitted anger resulting from our dealings with the realities He has left to us, there is something in our humanness that is only answered by that terrible, white, hooded phantom who, from time to time, reveals the only possible healing for our helpless humanity.