Herman Melville:Author of the Sea

Categories: Moby Dick

Herman Melville lead an extraordinary life. Born in New York City August 1, 1819, he was the third of eight children. His family had played a crucial role in the american revolution with his Grandfather even taking part in the Boston Tea Party. He was known a nice quiet child that was not particularly smart. He own father even said he was backward of speech and of slow comprehension. During hermans late teens he began his schooling at Albany Academy and Albany Classical School were he discovers his love of writing and make it his goal to become an english teacher.

Around this time Hermans father suddenly passed away forcing him to move back home and help support his family that was left in a precarious financial situation. He was forced to find work as a teacher but found this work very unfulling and quit his job to join a crew on a merchants boat. It was on this voyage where Melville discovered his love for the sea and adventure.

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Shortly after he returned from his first trip he joined a whaling crew that sailed to Marquesas Island in polynesia, tahiti and hawaii.

These experiences provided the material for his first two novels Typee and Omoo both become very successful helping him gain credibility and recognition throughout the literary community. A few years later, using his personal experience and the true story of a whaling accident that had happened, Melville was inspired to write his masterwork moby-dick while living on a farm while taking care of his mother.

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Initially, Moby Dick was seen as a flop and was not well received by critics or the public. Expecting a piece of literature that was more similar to his early work reader were left confused and disappointed by the book. The failure of Moby Dick and some of his later work tormented Melville and ultimately lead to him giving up writing as a profession. It was not until the 1920s Moby Dick and some of his other works gained the popularity and recognition that the recieve today.

Herman Melville was one of the most original and daring writers of nineteenth-century American literature. Using his own unique writing style he infuse American literature with its own unique character, looking to American experience and sensibility and breaking with European social realism. Melville's unique writing style falls into the genre of Dark Romantic. As a Dark Romantic, his literary style can be compared with other great writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. characters that are found in this type of writing are known for being depicted in a struggle for a better life but ultimately fail because of some unstoppable, often supernatural, force of evil. Captain Ahab’s obsession with the hunt of moby dick which lead to his demise certainly can fit this description. Using his natural story telling ablilties, he would use long eligants words and long flowing sentences to help generate a sense of grandeur and magnitude that many of his stories tried to portray. In Moby Dick Melville even had a 471 word sentence describing the whiteness of the great whale. While many may view this style of writing unnecessary and difficult to comprehend, it reflects the complexity of many of the themes that can be found in his stories.

Herman’s creativity and literary genius can be seen in the complex thems and ideas that he uses in his stories. The themes that Herman Melville explored were those of work, perfection, the law and ultimate meaning, themes that can be easily related to by his readers as human beings wrestle with many of these complex ideas and questions on a daily basis. Melville was able to expertly weaves these themes into his writing by using thoughtful and complicated allegories. Allegories are extended metaphors that, when deciphered, reveal an unlining message and meaning about the issues and about the themes and issues that they are focusing on.

An example of one of these themes that can be found in Herman’s writing can be found in his short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”. In this story Melville tells the tale of of Bartleby, a man who was hired by a law firm in New York City to copy and organize legal documents. At the beginning of the story he is very productive and does his job well but after a working at the firm for a while begins to refuse to do different tasks by simply saying, “I would prefer not to.” Bartleby refuses more and more of the tasks that are giving to him until he is doing no work at all. As the story progresses it becomes evident that along with doing no work to help his firm, he has also started to live at the office. Refusing to work and refusing to leave the office, the law forcibly removes him and sends him to prison where he dies of starvation shortly after. His constant statement of “I would prefer not to” and his choice of death rather than continuing to work in an extremely boring and mindless job can be read as an image critical of large portion of societies’ unquestioning willingness to complete tasks just for a paycheck.

The image that melville creates suggests that death is preferable to work without meaning. I believe that Herman Melville is trying to tell his audience that a thoughtless and monotonous life is pointless and is not a life worth living. This allegory can be found evident in melville's own life as his work as a teacher in the begin of his life lead to him experiencing a depression and a deep dissatisfaction with his own work and life at the time which lead to him dropping everything to find meaning out at sea. With out this mindset that Melville had many of the experiences that he wrote about would never have occured and he would not be viewed as the great writer that he is known as today.

Without these experiences at sea Melville would never have been able to been able to complete his literary masterpiece Moby Dick. even today almost everyone is familiar the story of the vicious white sperm whale that terrorizes the crew of Captain ahab's whaling crew. If read in depth the audience should be able to look past the simple story of a failed fishing trip to unravel the underlying meaning and teaching that are present in the novel. The first of these is the most obvious which is The Great White whale. For example, people have argued that the White Whale represents God, nature, the Leviathan, man's subconscious, and so on. There are great arguments to be made for all of these claims because we really don't know much about the White Whale; he mostly exists in the novel through the lens of other characters. Although we, as readers, 'meet' Moby Dick a couple of times, the vast majority of what we learn about him comes from Ahab and the others in the story who discuss him. This means that we can use their imaginations, as well as our own, to decide what exactly Moby-Dick represents.

I belvieve that melville's use of symbolism reflect his own mindset and the way that he approached life. Melville was always searching for deeper meaning in life. Whether it was through his work or while he was adventuring through the south pacific,....he beliveved that a life that was expored and picked apart was not worth living. I believe that by stratigically placing these symbols in his writing he is forcing his readers to thinking in a way that that is similiar to hiis own. Also by not by explicitaly relvealing the true message that melville had in mind for these symbols, Melville's literary masterpiece, moby dick, is full of these symbols.

The first of these symbols is Melville's complex allegorical writings were ground-breaking explorations of eternal questions that expanded the scope of the novel as a method of artistic and philosophical inquiry. Even when Melville’s sentence structure is straightforward, Melville uses complex, ornate vocabulary to generate a sense of grandeur and splendor to the events or settings that he is describing. Simply put, melville Of course, the language Melville uses to tell his stories is an even more important element of his style. To put it simply, Melville is wordy. His descriptions are verbose and grandiose and include sentences with 471 words (and don't worry, I'm not going to read it aloud to you). But it's not just his sentence structure that is over the top. Melville's diction, or word choice, is also complex. And while this may seem unnecessary for most readers, it's actually a reflection of the complexity of his themes in his story.

One last thing to note about Herman Melville's style is that in spite of being a Dark Romantic wrought full of gloom and doom, Melville does have a sense of humor. He's sly about it, but Melville does tend to poke fun at his characters, through their own thoughts even. This is an element that offsets his verbosity and makes him an enjoyable read.So, what does all this mean? Well, as a dark romantic, Melville followed the idea that because of 'original sin' (where Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge), mankind is now evil. To do this, he is using a gigantic, important symbol, something that represents another idea. The greatest thing about this symbol is that it is open to many interpretations.

Moby Dick, the whale, not the novel, is quite literally the biggest symbol in the story. The only problem with the symbol is that it's open to so many interpretations that it can be difficult to, well...interpret. When it comes down to it, you have to see what the huge white whale represented to each of the characters. For Ahab, it was the embodiment of evil. For the rest of the crew, Moby Dick is more of a God-like persona, in that he is ever present and indestructible.

Ishmael takes a different approach, and seeing that the whale is white, looks at the symbolic representations of that: purity, angels and even atheism. Since we can't have a single interpretation for this symbol, it's just good to remember that each character's explanation of the symbol is relative to who they are at their core.

The fact that Moby Dick the novel, not the whale, is considered an allegory, where each of the characters and the plot stands for something else, is also one of many different interpretations. The characters are mainly named from people in the Old Testament of the Bible. Melville does this intentionally to fuel a moral allegory. Captain Ahab's character fuels this allegory.

Like Ahab in the Bible, Captain Ahab encounters prophets who foresee his death, and he is known to be a rather wicked ruler. We can also see Captain Ahab's struggle against Moby Dick as further development of the allegory, if we look at the white whale as a God-like figure.

Additionally, Moby Dick can be read as a political allegory. Many reads of the story have connected the white whale to the 19th century American quests with the characters representing the historical figures on the journeys. Of course, all of these symbols and allegories mean we have a variety of themes we can take from this story.

Very roughly, we see the power of nature (the sea and the whale) over that of the individual (the crew members, or Ahab). But, like most dark romantic novels, we ultimately see that evil and vengeance lead to insanity and self-destruction. Even though Captain Ahab believes that it is the whale that is evil, he is willing to sacrifice the lives of others in his own vengeance.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Herman Melville:Author of the Sea. (2021, Dec 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/herman-melville-author-of-the-sea-essay

Herman Melville:Author of the Sea essay
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