Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classical example of 1851 literature that sparks deeper levels of thinking and provides a moral story for readers. As an artistic production it is seen as one of the greatest seafaring stories ever written. It provides a glimpse of early American life through the occupational experiences of sailors.
Literature has an important function in society and transfers values and cultural beliefs. Story telling has been part of the human experience since the beginning of humanity. Moby Dick tells a moral story as much as it tells the tale of a whale hunt. Encouraging people to read such stories and think about their meanings helps to broaden their perspective.
Some of the lessons you may encounter include:
Don’t Let Your Passions Consume You: Captain Ahab had a mission and he was going to fulfill that mission at all costs. His passions consumed him to the point that he no longer considered the other factors associated with winning. All missions should use sound judgment and reasons to balance out the decision-making process.
The Whale Represents Greatness: At this time in society killing a white whale represented wealth, prestige, and accomplishment. As one of the largest creatures known to man it was difficult to find, harpoon, and bring to market. Moby Dick came to represent man’s desire for material and social recognition.
A Piece of American Experience: Melville used his experience as a sailor to write the story and became a sensation. The story represents how life was experienced by seafaring people in New England during the 19th Century. Life was different then and economies made their money from natural resources such as fishing, farming, mining and lumber.
Forms of Government: The process of gathering sailors from various walks of life is a democratic process where all members are individually judged based on their contributing skills. In a capitalistic society each member is focused on catching whales for economic purposes and has a positive contribution on collective action. Captain Ahab turns into the tyrant who fails to consult with others which eventually leads his crew to death.
The Flipping of Good and Evil: At the beginning of the story Moby Dick is characterized as evil and must be hunted down for its savage behavior. As the story unfolds you find that Moby Dick is only escaping the hunt and was never a man eater. Eventually we find out that it is Captain Ahab that failed to use sound reason and becomes the embodiment of evil in the story while he irrationally hunts Moby Dick for his own vain egotism.
You don’t need to pay for this book. It is offered for free on Kindle.
As an interesting side note whale attacks can still happen. In July a crew of two people were attacked tracking whales on a picture taking escapade. Following their target at 150 yards a second whale jumped upon their ship capsizing both crew members and flipping the boat. The incident occurred in the ocean somewhere off Point Loma in San Diego. You may want to watch a little of their experiences to get a feeling for the chaos of a whale attack. Fox News San Diego provides additional details (1).