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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Updated on December 24, 2009

Moby-Dick is one of the greatest American novels, and it can be interpreted in many ways.

Moby-Dick, a novel by the American author Herman Melville, published in 1851. The story is narrated by Ishmael, who joins the ship Pequod as it leaves Nantucket for a whaling voyage. He soon discovers that the ship's captain, Ahab, is obsessed with capturing and killing the huge white whale Moby-Dick. Captain Ahab, who has lost one of his legs in an earlier struggle with the whale, cannot be persuaded by the crew to give up the long search. The whale is eventually sighted, and for three days the crew battles with the monster, which destroys the ship's small boats.

Finally, Moby-Dick is harpooned, but Ahab, caught in the line, gets pinned to the whale and drowns. The indestructible Moby-Dick then rams the ship and sinks it. Except for Ishmael, who is rescued by the ship Rachel, all aboard the Pequod are drowned.

Within the framework of an adventure story filled with detailed descriptions of whaling, Melville dramatizes a conflict between good and evil. In the famous chapter "The Whiteness of the Whale," the author suggests that the white whale reflects nature's indifference to man. To the possessed Ahab, however, the whale is a symbol of evil in the universe.

The book is particularly noted for its towering tragic hero, Captain Ahab. Other vividly drawn characters include Queequeg, Starbuck, Stubb, and Pip.


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