Although his early adventure novels—Typee (1846), Omoo (1847), Redburn (1849), and White Jacket (1850)—brought Herman Melville a notable amount of popularity and financial success during his lifetime, it was not until the 1920’s and 1930’s, nearly fifty years after his death, that he received universal critical recognition as one of the greatest nineteenth century American authors. Melville took part in the first great period of American literature—the period that included Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau. For complexity, originality, psychological penetration, breadth, and symbolic richness, Melville achieved his greatest artistic expression with the book he wrote when he was thirty years old, Moby Dick.
Between the time of his birth in New York City and his return there to research and write his masterpiece, Melville had circled the globe of experience—working as a bank messenger, salesman, farmhand, schoolteacher (like his narrator, Ishmael), engineer and surveyor, bowling alley attendant, cabin boy, and whaleman in the Pacific on the Acushnet. His involvement in the mutinous Pacific voyage, combined with accounts of a notorious whale called Mocha Dick that wrought havoc in the 1840’s and 1850’s, certainly influenced the creation of Moby Dick.
The tangled themes of this mighty novel express the...
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