Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) is the sixth book by American writer Herman Melville. The work is an epic sea-story of Captain Ahab's voyage in pursuit of Moby Dick, a great white whale. It initially received mixed reviews and at Melville's death in 1891 was remembered, if at all, as a children's sea adventure, but now is considered one of the Great American Novels and a leading work of American Romanticism.
The opening line, "Call me Ishmael," is one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature. Ishmael then narrates the voyage of the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ahab has one purpose: revenge on Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab's ship and severed his leg at the knee. The detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and the process of extracting whale oil, as well as life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew, are mixed with exploration of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.
Melville uses a wide range of styles and literary devices ranging from lists and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides.
The novel has been adapted a number of times in various media including the stage, radio, TV, comics and graphic novels and movies. The most famous of these was the John Huston film of 1956 produced from a screenplay by author Ray Bradbury. These plays have varied from a the stage version called Moby Dick! The Musical to a 2010 film adaptation of the same name.
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Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American writer of novels, short stories and poetry. His contributions to the Western canon are the whaling novel Moby-Dick (1851); the short work Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853) about a clerk in a Wall Street office; the slave ship narrative Benito Cereno (1855); and Billy Budd, Sailor, left unfinished at his death and published in 1924.
Around his twentieth year he was a schoolteacher for a short time, then became a seaman when his father met business reversals. On his first voyage he jumped ship in the Marquesas islands, where he lived for a time. His first book, an account of that time, Typee, became a bestseller and Melville became known as the "man who lived among the cannibals." After literary success in the late 1840s, the public indifference to Moby-Dick (1851) put an end to his career as a popular author. During his later decades, Melville worked at the New York Customs House and published volumes of poetry which are now esteemed but were not read in his lifetime.
When he died in 1891, Melville was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick, which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.
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