Moby Dick

The Economics of Writing and Whaling College

When Herman Melville began writing Moby-Dick, he felt constrained by his financial obligations. In a letter to his close friend and fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville proclaims that “Dollars damn me” and clarifies, “What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,— it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches” (“To Nathaniel” 539). Unfortunately, Melville found himself subject to the basic economic forces of supply and demand. Melville feared that the fiction he could not help but write would not be met by consumer demand, therefore preventing him from gaining any profit.

As Melville may have expected, his final product was not widely purchased, and Moby-Dick did not become extensively studied until critics “[ignored] biographical evidence as irrelevant to criticism, and were committed to seeing any poem or novel as a perfect work of art, not as a botch” (Parker 714). New Criticism isolated the text to find meaning, and critics began comparing Melville to famous authors such as William Shakespeare. Melville’s personal life, however, does not need to be ignored for Moby-Dick to exist as a classic piece of literature. In fact, understanding...

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