Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick

Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick

Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick

Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick


Moby-Dick looms large - gargantuan in size, themes, symbols, and influence. Its deep dives, comedic interludes, adventurous journey, and surface effects demand a new approach. Instead of a traditional academic analysis, Dive Deeper grapples in novel fashion with this classic work. For each ofthe originals 135 chapters (along with Etymology, Extracts, and Epilogue), Dive Deeper has a corresponding brief chapter relating to themes and issues in the original. This permits Dive Deeper to follow the flow of the original and to bring forth new appreciation for the novel, its characters, andits readers. At once creative and informative, Dive Deeper captures the up and down history of the novel, from its original reception to its resurrection in the 1890s, to its ecoming the central work in the canon of American literature in the 1930s. Great books such as Moby-Dick live outside the confines of libraries. They occupy a central place in popular culture. Thus, Dive Deeper tracks the novel as it appears in various motion pictures (more than five major ones to date), comic routines and jokes, paintings, novels, songs (from rock toclassical to rap), and in other cultural forms. In the process, Dive Deeper charts how, and why, this novel about a whale and its pursuer has captivated generations of American readers. And why it continues to do so today.Dive Deeper, then, is a creative and original way of approaching a great novel. Readers will gain information and a deeper understanding of an American classic and its place in popular culture.


“Call Me Ishmael”—hands down the most famous opening line in American literature. These three words are as striking and clear as an old church bell ringing in the noon hour. They are friendly, beckoning words that alert readers to the symbolism and mystery that power the novel.

Two contemporary cartoons capture the allure of these three magical words. Gary Larson plays with the opening line in one cartoon. A writer is huddled over his desk, around him are discarded pieces of paper. They read, variously, “Call me Larry,” “Call Me Warren,” “Call Me Al.” Ishmael has yet to emerge victorious. Or, in a New Yorker magazine cartoon a man says to a woman at a bar, “You’ll probably think this is just some opening line, but… Call Me Ishmael.”

The Book of Genesis tells us that Ishmael was the son of Hagar, by way of aged Abraham. But Sarah, Abraham’s wife, grew jealous. Ishmael was exiled, fated to wander the earth. He became the father of princes who would unite one day to found a nation. As narrator of Melville’s novel, Ishmael, in his own manner, brings forth a mighty new continent of the mind.

Ishmael looms in “Loomings” as credulous, drawn to tall tales, and open to possibilities. His story about the immense stature and power of the White Whale and Captain Ahab makes Godzilla and Paul Bunyan seem diminutive in comparison.

On the first page of Moby-Dick we learn that Ishmael harbors thoughts of suicide, especially when he feels that “damp, drizzly November” in his afflicted soul, and he is overly prone to self-examination. Instead of “pistol and ball,” he opts for the sea, for adventure and paycheck. While he considers the sea palliative for a storm-tossed soul, he maintains that “meditation and water are wedded for ever.” If so, then this bodes to be a rocky marriage.

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