Thursday, March 21, 2013

Moby-Dick [1851]

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, also known, albeit less famously, as The Whale, is among the most celebrated and influential works in the history of American and world literature. The novel is a complex treatise on the limitlessness of human obsession and the tragic futility thereof, as also an allegorical commentary on colonial expansionism and in turn, on what America would eventually come to symbolize; a literary critic, in fact, has aptly pointed out that the book contains the “genetic code” of the country. Beginning with its iconic yet disarmingly simple opening line “Call me Ishmael”, the story explores the monomaniac hunt for the titular “White Whale” by Ahab, Captain of the Nantucket based whaling ship Pequod whose crew the erudite narrator is a part of. The mythic stature that Moby Dick has acquired among the whalers because of its near invincibility in the seas is matched only by the one-legged Ahab’s mad quest for it in order to exact vengeance. Ishmael, who becomes a part of this epic voyage, chronicles this fantastic voyage filled with both bravery and madness, and involving incredibly etched characters, including, among others, the three Mates and their harpooners. The book is filled with encyclopedic details on the biology, psychology and sociology of sperm whales, and the technicalities and associated jargons of the whaling process, which, after a point, might seem excruciating to most readers. Further, the formidably voluminous book was written in Old English (it was, after all, published in 1851) in a rambling and highly stylized manner, which made the challenge of reading it, to use an oft-used term in the book, one of leviathan proportions. Nonetheless, the colourful motley crew, power of the imageries, the freewheeling narrative, and the pungent humour that the philosophizing was punctuated with, do make the standing this classic enjoys commensurate with the artistic and pop-cultural fame that precedes it. It has been adapted numerous times - but most famously by John Huston in 1956.

Author: Herman Melville
Genre: Classic/Adventure Story/Epic
Language: English
Country: US