Cover image for Moby Dick
Moby Dick
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891.
Publication Information:
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxxiv, 605 pages ; 17 cm.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Classics
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Moby Dick (1851) is an epic tale of the conflict between man and his fate. Captain Ahab's obsessive quest to destroy the great white whale that tore off his leg leads the Pequod and its crew to disaster. Melville's extraordinary narrative defies classification: it teems with ideas andimagery and the passion of its author. Patrick McGrath was born in London and moved to New York in 1981, where he now lives. He is the author of a story collection, Blood and Water and Other Tales (1988) and four acclaimed novels: The Grotesque (1989), Spider (1990), Dr Haggard's Disease (1993), and Asylum (1996)

Author Notes

Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 - September 28, 1891) was born into a seemingly secure, prosperous world, a descendant of prominent Dutch and English families long established in New York State. That security vanished when first, the family business failed, and then, two years later, in young Melville's thirteenth year, his father died. Without enough money to gain the formal education that professions required, Melville was thrown on his own resources and in 1841 sailed off on a whaling ship bound for the South Seas. His experiences at sea during the next four years were to form in part the basis of his best fiction.

Melville's first two books, Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847), were partly romance and partly autobiographical travel books set in the South Seas. Both were popular successes, particularly Typee, which included a stay among cannibals and a romance with a South Sea maiden. During the next several years, Melville published three more romances that drew upon his experiences at sea: Redburn (1849) and White-Jacket (1850), both fairly realistic accounts of the sailor's life and depicting the loss of innocence of central characters; and Mardi (1849), which, like the other two books, began as a romance of adventure but turned into an allegorical critique of contemporary American civilization. Moby Dick (1851) also began as an adventure story, based on Melville's experiences aboard the whaling ship. However, in the writing of it inspired in part by conversations with his friend and neighbor Hawthorne and partly by his own irrepressible imagination and reading of Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists Melville turned the book into something so strange that, when it appeared in print, many of his readers and critics were dumbfounded, even outraged.

By the mid-1850s, Melville's literary reputation was all but destroyed, and he was obliged to live the rest of his life taking whatever jobs he could find and borrowing money from relatives, who fortunately were always in a position to help him. He continued to write, however, and published some marvelous short fiction pieces Benito Cereno" (1855) and "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853) are the best. He also published several volumes of poetry, the most important of which was Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), poems of occasionally great power that were written in response to the moral challenge of the Civil War.

His posthumously published work, Billy Budd (1924), on which he worked up until the time of his death, became Melville's last significant literary work, a brilliant short novel that movingly describes a young sailor's imprisonment and death. Melville's reputation, however, rests most solidly on his great epic romance, Moby Dick. It is a difficult as well as a brilliant book, and many critics have offered interpretations of its complicated ambiguous symbolism. Darrel Abel briefly summed up Moby Dick as "the story of an attempt to search the unsearchable ways of God," although the book has historical, political, and moral implications as well.

Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891, at age 72. The doctor listed "cardiac dilation" on the death certificate. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York, along with his wife, Elizabeth Shaw Melville.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The great white resurfaces in this gripping, comic book-style retelling. Comic-strip veterans Schwartz and Giordano condense Melville's leviathan tale into an action-packed, 48-page adventure. Despite forgoing Melville's "Call me Ishmael" first-person narrative and sensory details, this retelling closely adheres to the original plot, including some pivotal scenes absent from Allan Drummond's spare but entertaining 1997 Moby Dick. The dense story clips along, thanks to concise but appealingly hammy storytelling and melodramatic drawings, plus multiple panels that quicken the pace. When Ishmael meets Queequeg, for instance, the author squeezes out every drop of suspense: "There in the dimly lit room looms the forbidding image of Queequeg... harpoon at the ready, poised to sink its sharp head into his shaking body!!" Giordano ratchets up the tension with a series of close-ups of Ishmael's terrified face as he awakens to the "savage" in his rented room. The brooding, dark-toned panels exude imminent danger-an ideal milieu for Captain Ahab's doomed voyage. The book also provides a brief biography of Melville, as well as facts about whaling and New Bedford, Mass., the city that commissioned this retelling in celebration of the 150th anniversary (in 2001) of Moby Dick's original publication. Ages 8-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Moby-Dick is one of our greatest and most enduring works. The physically and psychologically scarred Ahab's at-any-cost pursuit of the white whale is a riveting tale with considerable philosophical overtones. Then there is Melville's invention of the Pequod, a microcosm of humanity together with his mythopoeic vision of both the greatness and self-destructive tendencies of America. Finally, there is the intricate narrative technique itself, with the story of Ishmael, Queequeg, and Ahab constantly being interrupted for minutia about the whaling industry and numerous other subjects, often with digressions within digressions. At first, Paul Boehmer seems a tad youthful and earnest to convey this momentous yarn, but, after all, this is the story of the young and inexperienced Ishmael. In addition to avoiding an overly melodramatic voice for Ahab, Boehmer offers an exceptionally well-measured performance, alternating between the calm and the enthusiastic. An excellent production; recommended for all collections.-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8‘Prose filled with rich, vivid, precise language shapes this retelling of Herman Melville's classic adventure of obsession. Without sacrificing the quality of the original, McCaughrean has created a shortened version of the tale that's filled with intriguing, finely drawn characters and the excitement of a dangerous quest on the high seas. Captain Ahab is clearly a man possessed by the need to destroy Moby Dick, a need that interferes with rational concern for his safety and that of his men. Through the voice of the narrator, Ishmael, comes a vivid picture of a whaler's life, its tedium, its loneliness, and its terror. McCaughrean paints clear, animated images with her words that marry well with Ambrus's exciting illustrations. This is a beautifully cohesive volume that makes a classic tale accessible without diminishing it.‘Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Call me Ishmael. This resonant opening of Moby-Dick, the greatest novel in American literature, announces the narrator, Herman Melville, as he with a measure of slyness thought of himself. In the Scriptures Ishmael, a wild man sired by the overwhelming patriarch Abraham, was nevertheless the bastard son of a serving girl Hagar. The author himself was the offspring of two distinguished American families, the Melvilles of Boston and the Gansevoorts of Albany. Melville's father cast something of a blight on the family escutcheon by his tendency to bankruptcy which passed down to his son. Dollars damn me, the son was to say over and over. When he sat down in the green landscape of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to compose Moby-Dick he was in debt, the father of one son, and another to be born a few days after the publication of the novel in England. Melville had published five novels previous to Moby-Dick; the first two did well, and then with the capriciousness of the public the subsequent novels failed to please. He was a known literary figure with a fading reputation. How he came upon the courage to undertake the challenging creation of the epical battle between a sea creature, a white whale called Moby Dick, and an old captain from Nantucket by the name of Ahab is one of literature's triumphant mysteries. Add to that, as one reads, that he was only thirty-two years old. Ten years before, in 1841, he had signed up as a common seaman on the whaling vessel Acushnet bound for the South Seas. Young Ishmael was drawn by the lure of the sea and by the wonder of the whale itself, the Leviathan, the monarch of the deep, "one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air." Until the discovery of petroleum oil in 1859 and Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp in 1879, whaling was a major commercial occupation in New England. Fortunes were made, grand houses were built, often with a "widow's walk" on the roof that testified to the great dangers of the enterprise. For the crew, service on a whaler was a drastic life of unremitting labor; foul, crowded quarters; bad food in scanty servings; contractual terms for years at miserable wages; brutalized companions picked up from all the ports of the world; tyrannical captains practicing a "sultanism" which Melville abhorred. A ship afloat is after all a prison. Melville was on three whalers in his four years at sea and from each, as we read in Typee and Omoo, the struggle is to escape, as he did when the boats anchored near exotic islands. He wrote about the misery of the whaling life, but not about whaling itself until he came to Moby-Dick. His imaginary whaler, the Pequod, death bound as it is, would be called, for an ordinary seaman, an agreeable berth. Ahab has no interest left beyond his internal struggle with one whale. Still, there is whaling, the presumption of it. When a whale is sighted small boats are detached from the main vessel and the men engage in a deadly battle to try to match, with flying harpoons, the whale's immense strength and desperation. If the great thing is captured, the deck of the main ship becomes an abattoir of blood and guts. The thick blubber is to be stripped, the huge head to be drained of its oils for soothing ambergris, for candles; the bones of the carcass make their way into corsets and umbrellas and scrimshaw trinkets. Moby-Dick is a history of cetology, an encylopedic telling of the qualities of the fin-back, the right whale, the hyena whale, the sperm whale, the killer whale, classified by size in mock academic form as folio, octavo, and so on. Information about a vanished world is one thing, but, above all else, this astonishing book is a human tragedy of almost supernatural suspensiveness, written in a rushing flow of imaginative language, poetical intensity, metaphor and adjective of consuming beauty. It begins on the cobbled streets of New Bedford, where Ishmael is to spend a few days before boarding the Pequod in Nantucket. The opening pages have a boyish charm as he is brought to share a bed with a fellow sailor, the harpooner Queequeg, an outrageously tattoed "primitive" who will be his companion throughout the narrative. Great ships under sail gave the old ports a rich heritage of myth, gossip, exaggeration, and rhetorical flights. Ishmael, on a Sunday, visits a whaleman's chapel to hear the incomparable sermon by Father Mapple on Jonah and the whale, a majestic interlude, one of many in this torrential outburst of fictional genius. As Ishmael and Queequeg proceed to Nantucket, the shadows of the plot begin to fall upon the pages. The recruits are interviewed by two retired sailors who will struggle to express the complicated nature of Captain Ahab. We learn that he has lost a leg, chewed off by a whale, and thus the fated voyage of the Pequod begins. Ahab has lost his leg to a white whale Moby Dick and is consumed with a passion for retribution. He will hunt the singular whale as a private destiny in the manner of ancient kings in a legendary world. However, Ahab is real and in command. The chief mate, Starbuck, understands the folly of the quest, the danger of it, and, as a thoughtful man longing to return to his wife and children, he will speak again and again the language of reason. "Vengeance on a dumb beast that simply smote thee from the blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous." The necessity of Starbuck's human distance from the implacable imperative of Ahab's quest illustrates the brilliant formation of this harrowing tale. But it is Ahab's story, his destiny, and, if on the one hand, he is a shabby, sea-worn sailor long mesmerized by mercurial oceans, he too has a wife at home and a child of his old age. We learn, as the story proceeds, that on a time ashore after his terrible wounding, he had fallen and by way of his whalebone leg been unmanned. He has suffered an incapacity not to be peacefully borne by one who in forty years had spent only three on land. Ahab knows the wild unsuitability of his nature, his remove from the common life. Excerpted from Moby Dick by Herman Melville All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1. Loomingsp. 14
2. The Carpet-Bagp. 18
3. The Spouter-Innp. 21
4. The Counterpanep. 33
5. Breakfastp. 36
6. The Streetp. 37
7. The Chapelp. 39
8. The Pulpitp. 42
9. The Sermonp. 44
10. A Bosom Friendp. 51
11. Nightgownp. 54
12. Biographicalp. 55
13. Wheelbarrowp. 57
14. Nantucketp. 61
15. Chowderp. 62
16. The Shipp. 65
17. The Ramadanp. 76
18. His Markp. 81
19. The Prophetp. 84
20. All Astirp. 86
21. Going Aboardp. 88
22. Merry Christmasp. 91
23. The Lee Shorep. 94
24. The Advocatep. 95
25. Postscriptp. 99
26. Knights and Squiresp. 99
27. Knights and Squiresp. 102
28. Ahabp. 105
29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubbp. 108
30. The Pipep. 110
31. Queen Mabp. 111
32. Cetologyp. 113
33. The Specksynderp. 123
34. The Cabin-Tablep. 125
35. The Mast-Headp. 130
36. The Quarter-Deckp. 135
37. Sunsetp. 141
38. Duskp. 142
39. First Night-Watchp. 143
40. Midnight, Forecastlep. 144
41. Moby Dickp. 149
42. The Whiteness of the Whalep. 157
43. Hark!p. 164
44. The Chartp. 165
45. The Affidavitp. 169
46. Surmisesp. 176
47. The Mat-Makerp. 178
48. The First Loweringp. 180
49. The Hyenap. 189
50. Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallahp. 190
51. The Spirit-Spoutp. 192
52. The Albatrossp. 195
53. The Gamp. 197
54. The Town-Ho's Storyp. 200
55. Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whalesp. 217
56. Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenesp. 220
57. Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Starsp. 223
58. Britp. 225
59. Squidp. 227
60. The Linep. 229
61. Stubb Kills a Whalep. 232
62. The Dartp. 236
63. The Crotchp. 237
64. Stubb's Supperp. 238
65. The Whale as a Dishp. 245
66. The Shark Massacrep. 247
67. Cutting Inp. 248
68. The Blanketp. 250
69. The Funeralp. 252
70. The Sphynxp. 253
71. The Jeroboam's Storyp. 255
72. The Monkey-Ropep. 260
73. Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Himp. 263
74. The Sperm Whale's Head--Contrasted Viewp. 268
75. The Right Whale's Head--Contrasted Viewp. 271
76. The Battering-Ramp. 273
77. The Great Heidelburgh Tunp. 275
78. Cistern and Bucketsp. 277
79. The Prairiep. 280
80. The Nutp. 282
81. The Pequod Meets the Virginp. 284
82. The Honor and Glory of Whalingp. 293
83. Jonah Historically Regardedp. 295
84. Pitchpolingp. 297
85. The Fountainp. 298
86. The Tailp. 302
87. The Grand Armadap. 306
88. Schools and Schoolmastersp. 316
89. Fast-Fish and Loose-Fishp. 318
90. Heads or Tailsp. 321
91. The Pequod Meets the Rose-Budp. 324
92. Ambergrisp. 329
93. The Castawayp. 331
94. A Squeeze of the Handp. 334
95. The Cassockp. 337
96. The Try-Worksp. 338
97. The Lampp. 342
98. Stowing Down and Clearing Upp. 342
99. The Doubloonp. 344
100. Leg and Arm. The Pequod, of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of Londonp. 349
101. The Decanterp. 355
102. A Bower in the Arsacidesp. 358
103. Measurement of the Whale's Skeletonp. 362
104. The Fossil Whalep. 364
105. Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?--Will He Perish?p. 367
106. Ahab's Legp. 370
107. The Carpenterp. 372
108. Ahab and the Carpenterp. 374
109. Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabinp. 377
110. Queequeg in His Coffinp. 379
111. The Pacificp. 384
112. The Blacksmithp. 385
113. The Forgep. 387
114. The Gilderp. 390
115. The Pequod Meets the Bachelorp. 391
116. The Dying Whalep. 393
117. The Whale Watchp. 394
118. The Quadrantp. 395
119. The Candlesp. 397
120. The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watchp. 402
121. Midnight--The Forecastle Bulwarksp. 403
122. Midnight Aloft--Thunder and Lightningp. 404
123. The Musketp. 404
124. The Needlep. 407
125. The Log and Linep. 410
126. The Life-Buoyp. 412
127. The Deckp. 415
128. The Pequod Meets the Rachelp. 417
129. The Cabinp. 419
130. The Hatp. 421
131. The Pequod Meets the Delightp. 424
132. The Symphonyp. 425
133. The Chase--First Dayp. 428
134. The Chase--Second Dayp. 436
135. The Chase--Third Dayp. 443
Epiloguep. 452