In 1851, the American author and one-time sailor Herman Melville wrote what would end up being his magnum opus. Melville had already written a number of books about life at sea but it was his 1851 novel Moby Dick; or, The Whale that brought him to fame.
The story is told through the eyes of Ishmael, a person who traveled on the Pequod ship. There he meets Captain Ahab, a person responsible for caring for the ship. Ahab is a man who has an ivory leg.
The reason why he has this ivory leg is because a whale attacked him and devoured his leg in a hunt. The whale is referred to as Moby Dick; the first person to find him will get a gold coin.
Much of the story covers the Pequod’s travels along the water as it looks for the great white whale. They meet many people including a British captain who lost his arm to the whale but holds no grudge towards it and a number of sharks out to attack Queequeg, a Polynesian prince who travels along in the story.
The story covers a strong sense of vengeance as Ahab is out to do anything that he can to take out the whale. This is even in the event that the whale takes his life, destroys the ship and kills everyone else who is on it. In addition, Ishmael even defends the practice of whaling and even works hard to clarify many points in the story.
The story includes many other noteworthy characters. There is Starbuck the chief mate, Stubb the positive second mate, Daggoo, a black man who works as a harpooner, Flask the short third mate and Tashtego, a harpooner who is of Indian descent.
One fascinating aspect of this book is that Melville uses a number of different storytelling devices to carry the narrative forward. Part of this includes the use of literary devices like asides, soliloquies and poetry. The novel has been heralded for being one that is easy to recall and very unique in the way how it is written; it has plenty of extended passages but they are all written as clearly as possible.
A fascinating part of the story is that it is heavily inspired by actual events. Melville designed the book after a retelling of a ship being sunk an 1820 after a sperm whale attacked it. He also based it off of the reported killing of an albino sperm whale called Mocha Dick in the 1830s off of the Mocha island near Chile. It is widely reported that Mocha Dick had a number of harpoons in its body and was willing to attack literally anything in its path as a means of getting vengeance from the attacks that it had taken in.
Today Moby-Dick is celebrated by people around literary circles as one of the greatest American novels ever made. In fact, its heritage lives on as in 2010 a newly discovered extinct whale species was named after Melville. The Livyatan melvillei was believed to be about fifty feet in length and had fully functional teeth.