The Compulsive Reader: Classics Corner: WE ARE DONE WITH MOBY-DICK

Friday, August 10, 2012


So, I got a tweet from a reader the other day asking is HB and I ever finished Moby-Dick. The answer is yes, we did! It felt kind of like this:

The reason I haven't posted about...I'm just so sick of the stupid thing, and after slogging through nearly 600 pages, having multiple conversations with HB and various others about this, I still don't believe in its value as a Great American Novel.

I know, that sounds harsh. I can see why people consider it as such--it offers a potentially interesting insight into the business of whaling, which was essential in the 19th century. It covers many interesting religious and social issues of the time. Even the whole revenge thing is sort of exciting, though only for like, the last 5 chapters.

But in between all of that is a whole lot of blubber and ocean and whale taxonomy and self-righteous religious exclamations. And sexual innuendos. Those are funny, but the rest of it is not. So, if you pretty much cut out a third of the book, then it'd be good. But that still doesn't change the fact that Melville has a serious problem with consistency and flow and books like that, though they can be considered classic literature, are not the Great American Novel.

Remember the pie chart?

I'm maybe a little willing to let my opinion be changed...I've been reading this book at work, and we'll still be covering the book in class this fall, which hopefully will give more insight to the stupid thing. Here's HB's take (with spoilers, but eh, it's Moby-Dick so it's not that big of a deal):

HB: Is Moby-Dick an epic American novel? I can't really say, but after reading the entire thing I can say that the novel's ending is an EPIC undramatic failure. Everyone dies except Ishmael. What the heck is that about? I spent hours and hours reading the dang thing, and I know that Melville spent hours upon hours writing it, so what is with the anticlimactic ending? It's like Melville ran out of steam and just said, "well I've had enough. The End." 
The actual story of MD is actually quite compelling. One man is searching for something, anything. He really doesn't know what but he decided to take a step forward and just experience life. Another man is bound and determined to accomplish his final goal of revenge. Amidst Ishmael’s adventures, readers are exposed to beautiful literary phrases and deep thought-provoking remarks that challenge humanity’s relationship to nature and the greater world. Melville’s words reflect his genius, the kind of genius that I think has gone unrecognized by the modern reader. His writing may have been long-winded and dry at times but those passages gave way to what I consider real literature.

All in all I have to give Moby-Dick a B+.
Thanks for following us along this long and tedious journey!

I think she's being too generous, but I may be a bit jaded.

I wish I could wrap up with something witty and insightful and brilliant to make reading all of our Moby-Dick posts worthwhile, but...I can't think of anything except THANK GOD THAT IS OVER. Literature like this is always hit and miss, but if you want to read about something I've loved, check out the Jane Eyre post here

And in response to comments/tweets/emails--yes, HB and I would be willing to do this again. Since we have classes and other commitments, our selections may be limited, but leave your suggestions in the comments. And if your suggestion is War and Peace or Fifty Shades, the answer is no.

1 comment:

emilymarchman said...

Congrats! And War and Peace is nothing like Moby Dick. I'm over halfway through and the only non-story asides come up infrequently, when war starts up again. My translation at least is actually very easy to read...just loooong.