Moby Dick is a leviathan of a novel equal in measure to the leviathan of the sea and its own namesake. Employing every literary device including grand symbolism and allegory, Moby Dick can claim to be not just the great American Novel, but a formidable force in the canon of world literature.
“Call me Ishmael” is one of the most recognizable opening lines in the English-language literature. And what a story does Ishmael the whale-ship sailor give us! Setting sail on the Pequod, Ishmael is bound for a journey of a lifetime. A journey he needs to undertake in order to understand himself. Starting right from making seemingly-simple distinctions in the sensations of cold and warmth. Ishmael says, “… truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.”
And if Ishmael resides in each of us, there’s also much of Captain Ahab in each of us. Despite all our best intentions, who amongst us has not become obsessed to a degree in seeking out something that eludes us? And like Captain Ahab do we pursue it despite all reason? Captain Ahab actually believes that he is destined in his pursuit. He says, `Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.”
But the intensity of the pursuit no matter how passionate does not determine if it is a noble one. It might have all the passion of the ocean and still be a misguided pursuit. Like Ahab’s. Like the ill-fated Pequod, the thirst for vengeance is one that will turn upon itself and serve nothing and no one in the end.
Magnificent in every metaphorical construct, and spanning every complex theme of the human condition, Moby Dick is a whale of an epic story about the pursuit of a big fish, nay, about life itself.