Moby-Dick or, the Whale Moby-Dick or, the Whale question

Now reading Moby Dick
Marge Martin Marge Mar 21, 2013 06:35PM
I'm having a hard time getting thru this.
Any comments??

Bill (last edited Mar 22, 2013 10:13AM ) Mar 21, 2013 09:00PM   1 vote

Some hints. I don't know if this will help BUT I read "Moby Dick" a little over a year ago, and this is what I think gets in people's way:

1) It is NOT an adventure story. It presents itself that way, but it's the WORST way to read it. Melville could write adventure but chose not to, he wanted to do something else. And it was not popular in his lifetime.

2) A great deal of this book consists of poetic and philosophical meditation. It's high art. It also moves very, very, very slowly because "the story" is just a structure around which to wind the poetry and philosophy. I think it anticipates modernist fiction -- Melville isn't interested in making the reading entertainment but rather making it art, art which is sometimes demanding.

2) Melville was tormented by issues of God. He couldn't come to a decision and couldn't let the problem alone. He will go back and forth on issues. Learn to follow him without expecting a final conclusion.

3) Stop getting frustrated by all the information on whaling. Develop a taste for it. (I know, it's not necessarily easy.) But the whale functions as the central symbol (wow, imagine :-) AND all that detail that seems boring goes to creating the power of the image. I finally got to the point where I looked forward to more information about whales. (Yes, I did.)

4) Enjoy the humor. There's a lot of it. I think one common experience is that people don't realize how funny Melville is. Note than when Melville compares cannibals and Christians it's always the cannibals that come out better, and similarly when he compares people to whales. Melville is not so very impressed by the human race. Consider the mercenary captains who are funding the voyage and Ishmael's meeting with them.

One of the influences on this book is Carlyle's Sartor Resartus which is itself a complicated book -- .

Having said all that, I realize it may not at all be the kind of book you want to read. But that's the kind of book it is -- so I'd either get with Melville's program or read something else.

it will go 'ard wit ye, matey..double-'ard...iff'n ye be takin' yer hand from that tiller, steer sprightly now and put all thoughts of givin up your ship, far from ye head...

Read Moby-Dick like you would read Homer's The Iliad or The Odyssey. Let it wash over you....

It will get harder...

I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. I loved the whale information chapters. I loved everything about it, except that they killed whales; I remember thinking that Melville wasn't overjoyed about that, either. It is one of the Great American novels.

"Drag and brag"? If I could do that, I'd have read "The Hobbit," et al. Although, maybe that does describe my feelings about trying to finish "Clarissa."

A group on goodreads where you might find some insight/pointers and ranting on the text.

deleted member Apr 11, 2013 07:42PM   0 votes
Just keep on keeping on! This book falls into a category I call drag and brag books. You must drag yourself through the process of reading the book, but then you can brag about having read it after you've finished!

I'm not sure that you can make a clear distinction between 'art' and 'high art', particularly on the grounds of leaving the structure of the novel behind to concentrate on philospophical or poetic ideas. For instance, a more skilled writer, such as Dostoevsky, managed to write novels that managed to be both entertaining and have clear philosophical depth. I don't care what the author wants to do with the work, what clever devices he uses to get his point across, but if he can't be interesting while doing it, then why should I care?

Aside from which, that chapter discussion paintings of whales is the most tedious digression I've ever read.

I knew Moby Dick would be a challenge before I started reading it (from what I had heard from others) and that is partly why I picked it up. I have been reading this book for a little more than a year now -- inbetween a few others I am reading, and I seriously do not regret a single minute of it! To me, Melville's humor and interesting facts about whaling keep me going. As Robert says, "let it wash over you". Perfect! I know I will finish this within a few months and oh what an accomplishment it will be!

some people find Moby Dick a struggle, some people do not. I really liked it and read it pretty quickly but I can see why some would find the discursive chapters about whaling a bit annoying. On a first read consider skipping them and stick to the narrative.

I like the comment about enjoying the humour in the book - it can be pretty funny. Straightforward knockabout stuff... and then darker humour layered with foreboding.

I have read this book 4 times in my life. Once at 20, once at 30, once at 45, and once at 61. Each time I have read a different book, and THAT is the true brilliance and importance of this novel. At different stages in your life, this book will mean different things to you. If at age 20 something, this is simply and adventure story, that is okay. The important thing is to be open and let this book speak to you at different times. It is much more than one thing; it is philosophy, poetry, history, psychology, and so much more. Let it be what it wants to be for you at whatever age you are when you read it.

Jane(Pixie) The audio book is entertaining. It respected the richness of Melvilles writing. I get how difficult the reading can be. This is truly a rich piece of ...more
May 08, 2013 10:51PM · flag
Marge Martin Finished. I almost threw it away. I can't say I liked or disliked it.?? Some very bizarre facts (if its all true) about whales. Glad I read it, glad i ...more
May 09, 2013 11:17AM · flag

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