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Moby Dick -Herman Melville

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1 Moby Dick -Herman Melville
Date: 07 December 2011

2 Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819, the third of eight children. His father, Allan Melvill (the family changed the spelling of the last name around 1838) was of unsteady temperament but a prosperous importer and merchant in New York City. His mother, Maria Gansevoort, was a devoutly religious, somewhat critical woman from a colonial family of social standing in Albany. When Allan’s fur and hat business began to fail, he moved it to Albany without success. The father died in 1832, bankrupt and apparently insane. The family moved to Lansingburgh in 1837 in an attempt to cut expenses.


4 Ishmael The narrator of the novel is a keen observer, a young man with an open mind who is wary of Ahab but, like most of the crew, swept away by the captain’s charisma.

5 Ahab The “grand, ungodly, god-like man” is a deeply complex figure, one of the most controversial in American literature. His monomaniacal hunt for Moby Dick dominates the novel’s plot.

6 Moby Dick The giant sperm whale seems to manipulate his confrontations with mankind in a manner beyond the capacity of a leviathan. Critics debate the nature of Moby Dick: whether he is an allegorical representation of some eternal power, a representation of Ahab’s obsession, or nothing more, literally, than a whale.

7 Queequeg The Polynesian harpooner who opens Ishmael’s mind and eventually—and indirectly—saves his life. Queequeg is important to the theme of friendship and the value of diversity.

8 Father Mapple His sermon at the Whaleman’s Chapel sets the tone for the novel. The message, through the story of Jonah, is that we must disobey our own desires if we are to learn to obey God.

9 Starbuck The chief mate aboard the Pequod. He is the only one who attempts to stand up to Ahab’s obsessive direction of the ship’s purpose. Even he eventually acquiesces.

10 Fedallah The ancient Asian who is Ahab’s harpooner and spiritual guide. His prophecy regarding Ahab’s death ominously foreshadows the end of the novel.

11 Pip The cabin boy, who nearly drowns when he is abandoned during a whale hunt. He discovers painful insights that allow him an unusual view of reality and temporarily endear him to Ahab.

12 Elijah The cryptic prophet who helps to set an early tone of dark mystery in the novel. He alerts Ishmael to possible problems with Ahab and secrets aboard the Pequod.

13 Stubb The second mate. He considers himself to be quite the wit, but his treatment of Fleece, the cook, is more cruel and racist than it is amusing.

14 Perth The ship’s blacksmith. His story is an unusual departure for Melville as it is told with the excessive sentimentality and predictability of melodrama.

15 Gabriel The raving Shaker prophet aboard the Jeroboam. He correctly predicts Ahab’s final resting-place.

16 Bildad A hypocritical Quaker. The co-owner’s exchange regarding Ishmael’s pay allows Melville an opportunity for a little caustic satire.

17 Major Themes Defiance Friendship Duty Death

18 Major Symbols Father Mapple’s Pulpit Queequeg’s coffin The White Whale

19 Essay Questions Discuss the role of diversity as it affects the theme of friendship in the novel. Consider the characters of Ishmael, Starbuck, and Ahab. Which are static characters, and which ones grow or change throughout the novel? How is this growth (or lack of growth) shown? What does Pip see when he is left alone at sea? How does it change him? The Pequod has several gams at sea. Define a “gam” and discuss the importance of any one gam that occurs during the course of the novel.

20 Why does Ahab want to kill the White Whale?
Describe Ahab’s physical appearance and discuss how this adds to the impression of the character. Stubb is usually thought of as a carefree, fun-loving guy. Describe what you think of him and use scenes from the novel to illustrate your impression. What is Fedallah’s role in the novel? Discuss the following as symbols: the White Whale, Queequeg’s coffin,and Father Mapple’s pulpit. How does Father Mapple’s sermon set the tone for the novel?

21 Practice Projects 1. Pretend that you are Ishmael. Write a two-page report of an event at your school, or in the community, emulating as closely as possible his narrative style. 2. If you could interview any of the characters halfway through the novel, which one would you choose? What would you like to ask? What answers would you probably receive? 3. If you could change any single aspect of the style or the plot of Moby-Dick, what would it be? How would you change it? 4. As a class project, divide into small groups with each presenting a scene from the novel as a short play. 5. Design your own Web site about Moby-Dick and describe what contents you would feature.


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