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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) is the sixth book by American writer Herman Melville and an epic sea story of Captain Ahab's voyage in vengeful pursuit of Moby Dick, a sperm whale who bit off Ahab's leg at a previous encounter. The book received mixed reviews and became a contemporary commercial failure. Out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891, its reputation rose during the twentieth century. D.H. Lawrence called it "the greatest book of the sea ever written." Jorge Luis Borges praised the style: "Unforgettable phrases abound." Today it is considered one of the Great American Novels and a leading work of American Romanticism.
Melville began writing the book in the spring of 1850, and in a 27 June letter to his English publisher he proposed its publication that autumn. The book finally appeared a year later, not because Melville interrupted the writing but because his conception of the book evolved in ways still unknown. The basis for the book is Melville's 1841 voyage on the whaling ship Acushnet. 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.
In addition to narrative prose, Melville uses a wide range of styles and literary devices ranging from songs, poetry and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides.
- Autobiographical elements
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