The story of Moby Dick is a familiar childhood memory for most people, having been bestowed upon them as a classic by eager parents. Written by Herman Melville, the book has been widely loved and read by millions over the years after it’s publishing in 1851, and gone on in the ages to come to be regarded as a literary classic.
Set in a period of social inequality and racism, the book plunges to the heart of these issues along with exposing the exploits of the whaling industry, and man’s foolish beliefs revolving faith and their ability to conquer the unknown. One of the most enjoyable and entertaining reads in history, the story of Moby Dick presses on more serious themes, two of the most important of those being man’s eternal struggle to understand and define god and gods ways, and the infallible nature of man in his beliefs that human power is more powerful than the hand of god and nature.
The story begins when Ishmael, an intelligent and well educated sailor decides to find work on a whaling ship, out of some philosophical belief that whaling is his destined calling. The situation is queer in a way, considering that he also believes that working aboard a whaling ship is the equivalent of committing suicide, and all whalers are destined for doom. While staying at a whaling inn, he finds himself sharing a room with a strange man named Queequeg. Taking a liking to his gentle and kind ways, they both develop a friendship and decide to find work together.
The two of them get employment on a ship called the Pequod, inhabited by whalers and harpooners, all of different race, color, social background, religions, and countries. The ship is captained by a one-legged maniac by the name of Ahab, who crazed by vengeance is on a mission to hunt the great white sperm whale, feared for his fatal aggression and known by sailors as the great ‘Moby Dick’. In his quest for revenge on the great Moby Dick who took the good captain’s leg in a recent encounter, Ahab smuggles his own special harpoon crew on board the ship, led by an old Parsee named Fedallah who everyone believed had prophetic abilities. The captain Ahab nails a gold doubloon to the mast and tells the whalers that the first one to spot the great Moby Dick would receive this doubloon as a prize.
Along their journey across the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Pequod comes across and passes many other whaling ships, all who tell tragic stories of their horrific encounters with the great white sperm whale, most proving to be fatal. Ishmael believes that the ship is destined for failure, and his opinion is shared by the ship’s first mate, Starbuck. Fedallah predicts that Ahab will see two hearses, after which he will be killed by a hemp rope. Knowing that there are no hearses or hangings at sea, Ahab concludes that this prophecy means that he will not die at sea, and this prediction feeds his infallible nature into believing that he is almighty. When the ship is hit by a typhoon, it’s survival further drives Ahab to believe that it is an omen of victory and success in the face of adversity, and takes it as a precedent sign of his success against the whale.
Driven by his mad vengeance and illogical beliefs, Ahab leads the ship towards the equator, where he is sure he will find the legendary beast. At the first sighting of the whale, Ahab launches the harpoon boats, and his own boat of special harpooners is attacked and they are killed. The following day Ahab catches a glimpse of the beast again, and launches another attack, in which Fedallah is caught in one of the harpooning lines and dragged by the beast to his fatal end.
On the third and final encounter between the whale and Ahab’s crew, Moby Dick attacks the Pequod and sinks it, and Ahab is caught in the harpooning line and killed along with the rest of the crew who get dragged into the whirlpool from the force of the drowning ship and die . The book ends when Ishmael, who has been thrown aboard far enough from the sinking site to survive the wrath of the whirlpool is rescued by another whaling ship and taken to shore.
Ahab is the most prominent figure in the story, and the driving force behind the values and deeper meaning that Melville intends to portray through the book. Ahab’s headstrong and dominant nature leads the crew of the Pequod to their deaths along with his and eventually at the end of the story he is killed by his infallibility, which was his base dependence for his entire operation against the great Moby Dick.
Ahab symbolizes the arrogant parts within all of us, the part which believes that we can conquer anything if we believe enough. He misconstrues the prophecy of his death and his survival of the typhoon to be signs of success to come, reinforcing the fact that reality, destiny and faith are what we as people interpret them and believe them to be. He is eventually killed by a ‘hemp rope’ in the form of a harpoon line, as predicted in Fedallah’s prophecy. Fedallah’s prediction is symbolic of the warning signs we choose to ignore everyday, and the better half of our judgement that advises us against certain situations in life, and his death represents our infallibility which eventually leads to our destruction or demise.
The crew are a representation of a very deep concept, the concept of social injustice and racial inequality. On the whaling ship, all men of different color, caste and creed work together in a combined fight against the great Moby Dick. Each of the whalers is a white man dependent on a colored harpooner to do his dirty work. One cannot survive without each other. This juxtaposing dependency of one another is representative of our united fight as a human race against the forces of nature, where everyone is equal and nature and god do not discriminate based on religion or color.
The story, although simple and uncomplicated, explores at it’s core the depths of an eternal and almighty issue or concept, the concept of man’s fight against nature. The entire essence of the story is in the teaching that man, no matter what his destiny and what he believes the ‘omens’ may be telling him, cannot win in the fight against nature and the almighty superior power that some might consider to be a god. Nature is ruthless, and man’s vengeance in trying to oppose it will never be fulfilled. Although it is important to unite in the face of adversity, there is no greater power than the power of nature, and not all the humans in the world together can control it. Melville tries to teach people to respect the awesome power of nature and accept it, and give little heed to predictions and prophecies as they are simply interpretations of what man wants to see.
The Moby Dick audiobook has been passionately narrated to take it’s readers on board the Pequod, and unite them with the sailor’s quest to find Moby Dick. Listeners will be spellbound by the exciting and thrilling expeditions of the sailors and the whaling crew, and the description of the story so vividly will give listeners a first hand experience of hard learned lessons Melville intends to teach through this masterpiece. For those who have never read the classic tale of Moby Dick and for those who have indeed read it in the past and loved every minute of it, the Moby Dick audiobook is a must listen, and an experience that shouldn’t be missed!