Herman Melville

Moby Dick

Moby Dick, the story of good-old Captain Ahab on a quest to avenge his missing leg by finding and killing the albino sperm whale Moby Dick.

I’m not really too sure why I wanted to read Moby Dick, given that it’s not the most appealing book in the world, however I think I just wanted to have said I’d read Moby Dick, and now having read it I don’t have any regrets. Despite it being a slog at times I did quite enjoy the story. There was a lot that went over my head or I missed, either because my mind wandered or the style of writing was confusing, however the more I read about it and explore the themes I’m gaining a greater appreciation for Melville’s magnum opus. It was humorous, strange, interesting and boring, so you really experience a spectrum of emotions.

One of the reasons a lot went over my head was because I was missing a lot of contextual information to fully appreciate the range of metaphors, symbols and allusions. There’s a lot covered and the main story can be captivating at times but the digressions tended to be either uninteresting or difficult to read. The style of writing transitions from sailors’ slang, biblical prophecy, Olde English and Shakespearean rant, as it wanders from being just a sea story to ‘a sociological critique of American class and racial prejudices, a whale encyclopedia and a philosophical inquiry into the structure of good and evil’. So yeah, it’s fairly dense.

The story is narrated by a sailor called Ishmael aboard Captain Ahab’s whaling ship, the Pequod. He documents his travels across vast oceans whilst he ponders about his own life, his shipmates and Ahab’s suicidal quest to find the white whale. They pass many ships and places along their way as the diverse set of crew members become an implicit family aligned towards Ahab’s central mission. Moby Dick eventually overpowers the Pequod leading to the destruction of both the ship and the crew members barring Ishmael, who lived to tell the tale.

There are so many great passages in the book which elevate it to another level stylistically, including a lot of good quotes which I didn’t really make note of. However, the Twitter account MobyDickatSea is full of the best ones if you want an idea of what to expect.

I’m glad I read Moby Dick although I’m too sure I’d recommend it, but I think it really depends on what you look for when reading a book. It’s very easy to find something much more enjoyable and entertaining but if you want to read a classic that takes a slight commitment then this is the book for you. There’s also a few good pieces which may convince you to have a read, including a book all about why you should read Moby Dick.

Like I mentioned before, you probably need a bit of context to fully appreciate the book, so if you’re considering starting it might be beneficial to look into some of the themes before you begin as it may keep you more engaged, given that it’s a somewhat lengthy read.

Overall, I have mixed feelings because to be honest for a large portion of this book I felt like I was going to fall asleep and probably did several times. However, there were periods where I was genuinely enjoying it and I’m starting to appreciate it more as I explore some of the analyses as there’s a lot of value I missed. Regardless of whether you’ve read Moby Dick or not, long live The White Whale!