novel by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick is a novel written by Herman Melville. It was first published in 1851. The story is told by a seaman named Ishmael. He sails on a whaling ship called the Pequod. Ahab is the captain of the ship. He wants to kill a white whale called Moby Dick. The whale bit his leg off. The book received mixed reviews. It did not sell very well during its author's lifetime. Moby-Dick is now thought to be one of the greatest novels ever written.

Moby Dick
Melville about 1860

Melville took 18 months to finish his book. He based it off of things he had seen while sailing, and also books on whaling he had read. It contains a lot of information on whale hunting, whale oil, and life aboard a whaling ship. It also explores social status, ideas about God, and revenge.

The book was first published in London in October 1851. It was published in three volumes and was called The Whale. It was published In New York a month later in November and, was in one complete volume. It was called its current title, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale.



Ishmael travels from Manhattan to New Bedford, Massachusetts because he wants to sail on a whaling ship. He finds out that he cannot leave because there are no ferries from New Bedford to the island of Nantucket late at night. Ishmael stays at an inn. The inn has lots of people, so he has to share a bed with a cannibal named Queequeg. They become friends. The next day, Ishmael and Queequeg attend a religious sermon about Jonah. After, they head for Nantucket. Ishmael chooses the whale ship Pequod to sail on. The Pequod's captain is named Ahab. Ahab is described as moody and odd. A man named Elijah tells Ishmael and Queequeg that bad things will happen on the ship. The Pequod leaves the harbor on Christmas.

Ishmael talks a lot about cetology throughout the novel. Some chapters talk only about whales and whaling, and not about characters.

At the end of the novel, the Pequod sees Moby Dick. They chase him for three days. Ahab is killed when the rope of his harpoon ties around him and pulls him out of his boat. The rest of the men are killed when Moby Dick destroys their ship. Ishmael is the only one who survives. This is because a coffin lifebuoy comes to the surface of the ocean beside him. The coffin was made for Queequeg when he was sick, but he got better. Ishmael stays on the coffin until the boat the Rachel rescues him.





Ishmael is the narrator of the novel. He is the only one to survive when the Pequod sinks. He likes whales and knows a lot of information about them and whaling. He likes to go on long tangents about this information. He does not do a lot to affect the story.

Ahab is a captain who has only one leg because Moby Dick bit off one of them a long time ago. Ahab has sworn revenge on the whale. He is from Nantucket and has a wife and son. He is 58.



Starbuck is the first mate of the ship. He is from Nantucket, and also has a wife and son. His father and brother died at sea. He is wise, religious, and calm. He is around 30.

Stubb is the second mate. He is from Cape Cod. He is happy and carefree. He is usually seen smoking a pipe. He is the one to abandon Pip when he falls into the sea.

Flask is the third mate. He is from Martha's Vineyard. He is short and does not like whales. He kills them for fun.

Pip is the Black cabin boy. He is from Alabama. It is implied he escaped from slavery. During a whale hunt, he gets scared and falls into the ocean. The crew cut the line and pull him back in. Stubb tells him that if he falls back in, he won't pull him back in again. This is because losing a whale means losing money. Pip falls again, and he is left in the ocean for a few hours. This causes him to become crazy and ramble a lot. Ahab is seen showing some kindness to Pip.



Queequeg is a cannibal from a made-up island called Rokovoko. He has lots of tattoos. He is Polynesian. He is one of the harpooners. He and Ishmael are close friends.



Tashtego is a Native American from Martha's Vineyard. He is another harpooner.



Daggoo is from Africa. He is another harpooner.



Fedallah is a Parsee. He is Ahab's harpooner. He appears on the ship without the other men (except for Ahab) knowing about it. He predicts Ahab's death, but says that he will die before Ahab.


  1. Chase, Richard Volney, ed. (1962). "Melville and Moby-Dick". Melville: a Collection of Critical Essays. Spectrum. pp. 56–61.