Herman Melville

Was born→ in New York in 1819 from a wealthy merchant family.
His early years→ At the age of twelve he had to leave school because of his father’s death and for helping his family economically.
His job→ In 1839 he signed on to a merchant ship with which travelled and experienced a lot of adventures.
His first voyage→ He did it as a member of a whaling ship called “Acushnet”.
Whale-hunting→ At that time was a growing industry in America, but life and discipline on a whaler were hard.
His life after being a whale hunter→ In 1842 he left the ship and spent some time in Marquesas Islands (now belong to French Polynesia), there he came in contact with a tribe(Typees) thought to be cannibals.
His life after being in Marquesas Islands→ He then escaped to Tahiti, and later to Hawaii, where he joined a US ship and returned to America.
His experience at sea(from 20 to 25 years old)→ provided the material for all his novels and stories.
His masterpiece→ Is Moby-Dick (1851).
His death→ He died in 1891.

Moby Dick

Setting: On Board, in the Pacific Ocean and in the Atlantic Ocean;
When: In Nineteenth Century.

Ahab is the captain of the whaler “Pequod” and he devoted his life to hunting down and killing a white whale called Moby Dick, which had attacked him and bitten off his leg in a previous expedition.
The ship’s crew is formed by a variety of races and religions:
Starbuck→ Is a wise and careful member of the crew.
Queequeq→ Is a superstitious Maori that Ahab hired because of his skill with the harpoon.
Pip→ Is the cabin boy
Ishmael→ Is the narrator and joins the crew in Nantucket before the departure of the ship.
The story is based on the hunt for the whale, which is seen and then hunted for three days.
Finally Ahab injured the Whale, but the animal destroys the Pequod and its crew.
Only Ishmael is not caught in the vortex of the sinking ship which manages to float over a coffin.
He survives to tell the story.

Captain Ahab

The character is seen through two different prospectives.
One important assumption is that Ahab’s quest against Moby Dick is a blasphemous activity which takes two main forms:

1. The first is the idea that Ahab belives himself to be equal to God.
2. The second is a rejection of God in favour of an alliance with the
devil. In fact when Ahab receives his harpoon, he asks for it to be aptised in the name of the devil instead of God.

According to Harold Bloom, Ahab is the voice of the instinctive spirituality of the New World that rejects the tyranny of nature over man.
Ahab is an American Prometheus, a tragic hero who looks for a real apocalypse and takes his crew with him in the final disaster.

The meaning of the White Whale

Through Ishmael’s description of Moby Dick, the author talks about the problem of its superiority over all other creatures from a variety of standpoints, both biological and historical.
The excellence of the Whale makes Ahab’s task more difficult which he is condamned to failure.
An entire chapter is dedicated to the whiteness of the whale, the absence of colour means an absence of meaning.
This opens various interpretations for Moby Dick. It’s not a simple natural creature.
Ahab’s anger is a personification of the evil in the world, an active/impersonal force that man has to contend with.
He could represent a mirror in which Ahab and his crew look for their own image, the incarnation of the mankind’s quest for a resason for existence.
The white whale is also a symbol of the hidden and mysterious forces of nature, capable of sudden and incredible acts of destruction.
The hunt stands for the conflict between man and nature in an age where the nature was seen as a “commodity”, and whales were considered a source of oil, meat, whalebone and spermacetic oil.
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