Moby Dick



Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1, 1819. He was the third of eight children. His father, Allan Melville, was a successful imports merchant in the city until the failure of his business prompted the Melvilles’ move to Albany in the late 1820s. Allan was never able to recover his former prosperity and died when Herman was still a child. At the age of thirteen, Melville began working in a bank to help support the family.  Later, he also worked as a schoolteacher and then as a newspaper reporter. At the age of nineteen, Melville began working as a sailor on merchant ships but did not have much financial success. When he was twenty-one, he took work on a whaling vessel and thus began his fascination with the world of whaling, around which revolves the novel Moby Dick.

The whaling ship, the Acushnet, brought Melville all the way to the South Seas, where he abandoned his voyage and lived for a month among a native tribe of cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. In 1846, Melville published his first novel, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, based upon an embellished version of his experience in the Marquesas. Melville’s second novel, Omoo (1847), was also based upon Melville’s experiences among natives in Tahiti. Both novels blended fact and fiction and were well received by popular audiences at the time of their publication. He wrote several other novels based upon his various experiences at sea, none of which received the popular acclaim of his first two.

Moby Dick, published in 1851, is undoubtedly Melville’s best-known work and is considered central to any examination of American literature; however, it met with neither critical nor popular success at the time of its publication. Many readers found the pastiche style of the novel—which employs various literary formats and styles, spanning a range from nonfiction essay to play-like scenes, complete with stage directions, to melodramatic prose—difficult to follow and generally unappealing. In the 1920s,...

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