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     Volume 1 Issue 15 | November 19, 2006 |


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Classic Corner

MOBY-DICK is an 1851 novel by Henry Melville. The novel describes the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, led by Captain Ahab, who leads his crew on a hunt for the whale Moby-Dick. The language is highly symbolic and many themes run throughout the work. The narrator's reflections, along with complex descriptions of the grueling work of whaling and personalities of his shipmates, are woven into a profound meditation on hubris, providence, nature, society, and the human struggle for meaning, happiness, and salvation. Moby-Dick is often considered the epitome of American Romanticism.

Historical background
There were two factual occurrences that almost certainly inspired Melville's tale. One was the sinking of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, which foundered in 1820 after it was attacked by an 80-ton sperm whale 2,000 miles (3,700 km) from the western coast of South Amarica. First mate Owen Chase, one of eight survivors, recorded the events as the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex. There was also a real-life albino sperm whale, known as Mocha Dick, that lived near the island of Mocha off Chile's southern coast, several decades before Melville wrote his book. Mocha Dick, like Moby Dick in Melville's story, escaped countless times from the attacks of whalers, whom he would often attack with premeditated ferocity, and consequently had dozens of harpoons in his back. Mocha Dick was eventually killed in the 1830s. Thus, it seems highly probable that Melville used Mocha Dick as the basis for his book. It's been suggested that Melville changed the name "Mocha" to "Moby" in 1846, four years before the novel was published, after meeting an old South Seas shipmate, Richard Tobias Green. A familiar version of Green's first names was probably Dick Toby, where Melville may have gotten Moby-Dick.

The third and perhaps most important element was Melville's experiences as a sailor, and in particular on his voyage on the whaler Acushnet in 18411842. His whaling experiences were chronichled in his popular novel "Typee" and its sequel "Omoo", and many historians believed it served as a basis for much of Moby Dick.

The novel contains large portions that have nothing to do with the plot but are descriptive chapters on aspects of the whaling business. Melville believed that no book up to that time had portrayed the whaling business as he had first-handedly experienced it, or had done so in dry and uninspired encyclopedic prose. Melville had been greatly influenced from an early age by Romantic writers such as Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Lord Byron and others. His intention was to write a book that was compelling, emotionally and poetically vivid in the style of Romanticism, but also educational and "true of the thing"indeed it was believed among Romanticists of this period that fiction was the ultimate vehicle for describing and recording history, such as many see film or photos today. However, Melville struggled to make his novel about the whaling industry interesting, as he wrote to Richard Henry Dana halfway through the work on May 1, 1850:

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