I wasn’t even planning on reading Moby Dick. I picked up the book in desperation one night when I couldn’t sleep, thinking it would put me to sleep. I’ve read Nathaniel Philbrick‘s In the Heart of the Sea, which I loved, so I knew some of the background., but I was still surprised to find it actually readable, relatable, and sometimes even funny.
On the first page, Ishmael describes his need to be out on the ocean: “[W]henever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.” (3)
So I continued. I fear, though, that I did not do this giant of Classical literature justice. I managed to get about halfway through before feeling bogged down, distracting myself for months with other books, and coming completely away from Melville’s world, before forcing myself to buckle down and “get ‘er done.”
I’m pretty sure the basics of the plot are familiar to almost everyone. Ishmael, our narrator, is a sailor on the Nantucket whaling ship, the Pequod. The ship’s Captain Ahab has lost his leg to an aggressive, giant, white Sperm Whale and he is mad with his need for revenge. The story revolves around the Pequod’s adventures as they sail for years around the world’s oceans, searching for the vicious white whale. Ishmael also goes into great detail on every aspect of the different whales, as well as in-depth explanations of every aspect of whaling. There are also deep insights into human existence, and an abundance of creepy foreshadowing of the doom of the Pequod’s crew. The inexorable march towards their final days is especially haunting.
Click here for more quotes and the rest of my review.