a. Herman Melville??s masterpiece is Moby Dick, one of the world??s greatest masterpieces.
b. To get to know the 19th century American mind and America itself, one has to read this book.
c. It is an encyclopedia of everything: history, philosophy, religion, etc. in addition to a detailed account of the operations of the whaling industry.
d. But it is first a Shakespeare tragedy of man fighting against overwhelming odds in an indifferent and even hostile universe. 2. Content:
Ishmael, Pequod, Ahab, Moby Dick
3. Idea: his bleak view of the world
The world is at once Godless and purposeless.
Man in this universe lives a meaningless and futile life. Man can observe and manipulate nature in a prudent way, and he must ultimately place himself at the mercy of nature.
Man cannot influence and overcome nature at its source. Once he attempts to seek power over nature, he is doomed.
The idea that man can make the world for himself is nothing but a transcendentalist folly.
Melville never seems able to say an affirmative yes to life: his is the attitude of ??Everlasting Nay?? .
The loss of faith and the sense of futility and meaninglessness were expressed in Melville??s works.
The resources of the isolated man, his courage and his staggering indifference to anything outside himself, have seldom been exalted so high.
Melville created in Ahab??s tragedy a fearful symbol of the self-enclosed individualism that, carried to its furthest extreme, brings disaster both upon itself and upon the group of which it is part. -- Matthiessen
C. the heart of the book
That conviction itself, Ahab??s belief that human dignity demands a rejection of the inhumanity of the universe, is, together with the white whale taken as a symbol of an amoral universe, the characterization of the universe as basically both good and evil, the implicit denial of an omnipotent creator.
D. the form of the book
a deeply dramatic, a truly Shakespearean mold: richly Shakespearean language, literal stage directions, the use of soliloquies, of short scenes
4. Themes and subjects:
A. Alienation: he found alienation existing on different levels, between man and man, man and society, and man and nature. (e.g. Ahab) B. Criticism against Emersonian self-reliant individual: Ahab is too much of a self-reliant individual to be a good human being. He stands alone on his own one leg among the millions of the peopled earth. For him the only law is his own will. To him the world exists for his own sake. His selfhood must be asserted at the expense of all else.
C. Rejection and Quest
Ishmael resembles his namesake in the Bible in that he is a wanderer. Tired of and rejecting his early lifestyle, he tried to seek for a happy and ideal life. He gradually comes to see the folly of Ahab seeking to conquer nature and begins to feel the significance of love and fraternity among mortal beings. Voyaging for Ishmael has become a journey in quest of knowledge and values.
5. Symbolism in the novel Moby Dick
A. The voyage itself is a metaphor for ??search and discovery, the search for the ultimate truth of experience.??
B. The Pequod is the ship of the American soul and consciousness. C. Moby Dick is a symbol of evil to some, of goodness to others, and of both to still others.
D. The whiteness of Moby Dick is a paradoxical color, signifying death and corruption as well as purity, innocence and youth; it represents the final mystery of the universe.