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Writer's Reviews - Moby Dick: Herman Melville

Updated: 5 hours ago

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question.

Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.


Cover of Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville


Moby Dick (1851)

Herman Melville

The work at a glance

“Call me Ishmael”: with this famous incipit begins Herman Melville's novel, one of the masterpieces of classic American literature. Ishmael is a young sailor, and the narrator of the story, who decides to embark on the whaler Pequod. In command of the ship is Captain Ahab, a man obsessed with hunting a giant white whale called Moby Dick that tore off his leg in a previous encounter. The whaler Pequod then sets off on a long and dangerous hunt across the oceans while Ahab wants revenge on Moby Dick at all costs.

During the voyage, the crew faces numerous adventures, challenges, and dangers as Ishmael describes life on board, relationships among the sailors, and Ahab's personal obsession with the giant cetacean. In the book, the hunt for the white whale becomes symbolic of a spasmodic quest and the deep thirst for revenge that drives the captain: for Ahab is willing to risk his own life and that of his crew in order to achieve his goal of killing Moby Dick.

The narrative culminates with the memorable confrontation between Ahab and Moby Dick during which the white whale sinks the Pequod, dragging Captain Ahab and most of the crew with him into the depths of the ocean. Only Ishmael manages to survive by floating on a wreckage and will then be able to narrate the epic story.


What you can learn from reading this work

  1. Analysis and depth of the themes covered

  2. Man-nature duality

  3. Innovative and stylistic structure


Moby Dick is a work that transcends what might appear as a simple adventure story by sea: it is a novel with a strong symbolic bearing that explores philosophical, psychological and metaphysical themes in depth. It is especially in Ahab's thirst for revenge against the whale, in his obsessive quest, that the novel becomes a metaphor for man's relentless struggle against the mysterious and inscrutable forces of nature.

Somewhat as in the story of the fisherman Santiago and his hunt for the big fish in Hemingway's “The Old Man and the Sea,” the dual relationship between man and animal allows the author to address universal aspects of the human condition: madness, revenge, obsession, destiny, and the eternal conflict between man and the environment of which he is a part. Having the ability to penetrate such complex aspects also gives a way to delve into the psychology of the protagonists from their very conflicts and contradictions, making them engaging and multifaceted characters.

Moby Dick presents a unique narrative structure because it alternates between the account of the events of the crew of the Pequod and Captain Ahab chapters of an almost encyclopedic and cetological nature that delve into various aspects of the history of whales. Alongside these passages in the novel, it is possible to grasp what is Melville's distinctive style, extremely rich in symbols and metaphors starting with the giant whale Moby Dick that will quintessentially represent the inescapable conflict with man.

Melville's prose also appears extremely evocative if not at times poetic, a language in which mastery in the use of terms, descriptions, and atmospheres exemplify how to make one's writing more engaging and evocative. The American writer also succeeded in the feat of implementing several literary genres in one novel: adventure, travel report, epic and philosophical meditation, thus creating a hybrid and original genre.

The novel is also famous in Italy for the translation that Cesare Pavese made of it, the reading of which allows one to approach this great classic through the writing of another fundamental author in the history of literature, something that has allowed Melville's masterpiece to be known in our country in an equally unique form, a reading that will certainly lead to enriching one's literary culture and knowledge.



Moby Dick is one of the most important classics in the history of literature because of its impact and influence on the world literary landscape. The symbolic power and the presence of universal elements of strong impact-the human dimension, the epic struggle with nature, the meaning of life, the emotional depth of the characters-have caused the work to provoke continuous reflection and interpretation, stimulating critical debate even on the role of literature itself.

Melville succeeded in the feat of going beyond a mere adventurous account, especially by putting into prose what was to become one of the most iconic characters in the history of literature: Captain Ahab and his obsession in the everlasting struggle against the majestic white whale, which entered so fully into the imagination that it also became the protagonist of several plays that decreed its ultimate success.

One of the most famous film transpositions is by American director John Huston in a 1956 film, scripted by another great American writer Ray Bradbury, with an unforgettable Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and even with a small participation by Orson Welles. After a crescendo of tension just as in the novel-although the film adaptation as often happens deviates slightly from the original-we witness in the film an epic finale.

During the decisive confrontation with the white whale Ahab becomes entangled in the reefs that envelop the whale and dies strangled after watching his ship sink. In the image depicting the denouement of the battle, the viewer sees, at one point, Gregory Peck's arm, clasped in the ropes on Moby Dick's back, moving as if to incite his crew to resume the fight against the whale, but the ship sinks and as we know from the novel the only survivor will be Ishmael himself.

In this portrayal it is almost as if the struggle between Ahab and Moby Dick is something that has no conclusive horizon, that continues in the captain's obsession and will return in the viewer's imagination. The link with the novel perhaps lies precisely in this final choice: to be immortal is neither man nor his eternal nemesis, but precisely the perennial and epic challenge that will always return in the history of the world. And this is also why Melville's masterpiece can be called, in turn, immortal.



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