Herman Melville and Moby-Dick: An Unpopular Author and His World Popular Literature

Author: Sherry Helms

Today is the 161st anniversary of the publication of one of the most widely-read and highly-acknowledged novels in all American literature, Moby-Dick or The Whale. Written by Herman Melville, an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet, this book was published on October 18, 1851.

Born on August 1, 1819, Herman Melville authored a number of poems and prose during his lifetime, but they kept him glorified as a writer for only first half of his life. His first three books, Typee, Omoo, and Mardi, received much contemporary attention with the first title came out as a bestseller. But, after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined steeply in the mid-1850s that never recovered till his death in 1891.

When he died, he was almost forgotten by the literary world and remain unnoticed until the “Melville Revival” in the early 20th century that brought his unparalleled works high credits, especially, to Moby-Dick, which is now hailed as one of the literary masterpieces in American as well as world literature. During this period, Moby-Dick was re-examined with much more depth by many contemporary popular writers including Carl Van Doren.

Herman Melville was the first writer whose works were assembled and published by the Library of America. He used to say that “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” So, original his all the works are.

The magnum Opus of Melville, Moby-Dick, widely acclaimed as a pinnacle of American Romanticism, is a symbolic metaphor with exemplary commentary on human destiny and universe. It is the story of Captain Ahab and his inexorable pursuit of Moby Dick, the great white sperm whale who disfigured him whilst their previous encounter.

The plot of the novel revolves around the protagonist Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has a single purpose on this voyage, and that is to seek out ferocious and enigmatic Moby Dick.

Each character in the novel bears symbolic significance like the protagonist Ishmael symbolizes orphans, exiles, and social outcasts. The novelist has created a profound and philosophical tale and used many references and metaphor to tell this story.

After Melville Revival, the wave of Moby-Dick appraisal continued to emit with the books like:

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: Bloom’s Notes – Edited by Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University, this book is the ideal aid for all students of literature, presenting concise, easy-to-understand biographical, critical, and bibliographical information on a specific literary work. Also provided in this book are multiple sources for book reports and term papers with a wealth of information on literary works, authors, and major characters.

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: A Routledge Study Guide and Sourcebook – Combining reprinted documents with clear introductions for student readers, this volume examines the contexts of and critical responses to Melville’s Moby-Dick. It draws together: chronology of key facts and dates; critical history and extracts from early reviews and modern criticism; fully annotated key passages from the novel; and a list of biblical allusions.

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