Aahh, the “Great-American Novel” as many scholars call it–Moby Dick. Normally, I would not have picked this book up because of it’s sheer complexity. But, now that I am a secondary education major of English and may need to be versed in this book for teaching purposes I found it useful to actually read it. So, here is my review of Moby Dick.
Alright, so this was one of the more difficult books to review. There are great things that I admire about this book, but there are also things that I completely loathe, which is probably the reason that I give it a mediocre rating. First, let’s start off with the negatives so we can end on a positive note because surely the book does not do that (spoiler alert).
One of the things I found most disenchanting about the novel is the sheer length of it–613 pages. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with long books. Heck, I loved Game of Thrones that spanned over 900 pages. What is it about the length of this novel that I hate? Well, the fact that it could have been reduced to half of that and have been an outrageously epic novel. Too many times in the book does Melville take us out of the fiction and places us in fact about what the “Whale” is. He goes through EVERY SINGLE DETAIL. And that is not an exaggeration folks. I know more about whaling and hunting whales now that I ever thought humanly possible. Sperm Whales can range up to 90 feet in length, with a 40 foot circumference, do not have a clotting mechanism in their skin so if they get poked by a spear they will eventually bleed out–you get the point. I learned so much about it, but I wanted whaling. I mean this is THE whale book and we don’t see Moby Dick until 575 pages into the novel. Uhmm, something is wrong about the pacing there. Needless to say some of the chapters could definitely have been removed.
Another thing, I have a hate-love relationship with the prose. Hermann Melville was in a need to show off his vocabulary because his diction is very robust and he definitely knows a lot of words (probably from him reading Shakespeare at the time of writing this book). But some of these sentences span on for 7 – 10 lines and are punctuated by commas and semicolons. It is very very hard to follow along with sentences that long or with paragraphs that span the whole page of a book. Also, he does a rather poor job (I thought) of declaring who is speaking what at multiple times throughout the novel which could have been easily fixed by a “he” or “she” said.
The characterization of the people on the ship is really well done. Ahab is one of the most powerful people ever created I think–the definition of an Anti-Hero. You can sympathize with his quest, you want him to complete his quest, but his quest is evil. The contrast in the three shipmates: Starbuck, Flask and Stubb is perfectly done and you can get a real sense of each of them. And, of course, who could forget Ishmael. These are characters we get drawn into and would have become more attached to if the superfluous chapters would have been left out.
I mentioned the prose before. Well, although I hated how long the novel spanned due to the tiring prose, I have to admit, at some points, it was beautiful. Really beautiful. Herman Melville knows how to string a sentence when he wants to and I think one of the best examples of this is in the chapter right before the chase begins titled–The Symphony. It’s already sounds beautiful but let me write a line from it: “That glad, happy air, that winsome sky, did at last stroke and caress him [Ahab]; the step-mother world, so long cruel–forbidding–now threw affectionate arms round his stubborn neck, and did seem to joyously sob over him, as if over one, that however wilful and erring, she could yet find it in her heart to save and to bless. From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.” That is beautiful. Probably one of the most poetic images in the book and does so much to convey to us Ahab’s character which is why I think he is one of the most well crafted characters in literature.
Finally, the last thing is the “meat” in this book. There is SO many things to analyze. What is Moby Dick? Who is the White Whale? What does it represent–everything, nothing? From a literature standpoint there is no reason to doubt why this book is called the “Great American Novel” because you can dissect it so many ways. I actually need to dissect it for my class and am toying with two ideas: (1) Discuss how men lose their “human” forms to the sea the longer they are on the Pequod, or (2) Moby Dick representing God. I feel as though #2 has probably been done too much so I may focus my research paper on #1.
Anyways, three positives to two negatives, hence the reason three out of five stars. If you ever have a long break (I suggest summer break) give Moby Dick a try. Hermann Melville will really blow you away by the end, but you will tear out your hair wondering why certain chapters are in their, and in the end, the meaning of everything that happened. For comic relief before you read Moby Dick and to get some of the thematic elements before going in, I suggest you go over to Thug Notes – Moby Dick which will give you an educated lesson in the story in ghetto terms. Epic! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIoAYq9iD4A
If any of you have managed to tackle this leviathan of a tale (yes pun intended) let me know your feedback. What do you think of Moby Dick? What do you think the White Whale represents??? Thanks, looking to hear from all you Ishmaels out there