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Is Moby-Dick worth reading? Show more Show less
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"Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale" is is often touted as one of the greatest novels of all time, or at the very least, one of the greatest American novels. "Moby-Dick" is thought to be both revolutionary in its scale and scope, while also being a celebration of literature's past. At the same time, the novel finds critics in its verbose and seemingly pointless meanderings on whales and whaling. Is "Moby-Dick" truly worth reading?

Yes, Moby-Dick is worth reading. Show more Show less

"Moby-Dick" is one of the greatest novels of all time in several respects.
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Moby-Dick is contemporarily relevant philosophically

"Moby-Dick" is not simply a story. The novel contains countless and timeless reflections and criticisms on various philosophical concepts that extend far beyond the storyline. Melville explores the concept of knowledge, man's role in nature, free will, and much more in an incisive and meaningful manner.

The Argument

While being a narrative at its heart, "Moby-Dick" is also a philosophical work. Among the many chapters describing the main plot of the story are chapters describing various facets of the whaling industry. In fact, one of the main criticisms of Melville's magnum opus are such diversions from the plot. But these prove to be just as rewarding as the main story if given the time and thought. For example, the chapter "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish" does nothing to forward the plot of the story. But this chapter considers in whaling terms the idea of property and what one really possesses. Melville ties in politics, slavery, religion, and more, while not straying too far from the narrative of the story. Or, when considering Ahab himself in tandem with the time period "Moby-Dick" was written in, many consider the novel to be a critique of the contemporary transcendentalists. Emerson's "Self-Reliance" details the necessity for individuality and to avoid conformity. Melville took this idea to its extremes with Captain Ahab in his pursuit of revenge against the White Whale. Ahab's monomania and refusal to concede his individual quest ultimately lead to disastrous consequences. In addition to considering themes of the past, Melville also looks forward to the future. Written before the abolition of slavery in America, Melville considers the morality of slavery and racial dynamics as a whole. His philosophical witticisms are just as pertinent today as one imagines they might have been one-hundred fifty years ago. So although "Moby-Dick" is not a strictly philosophical work, there is no doubt that there is much philosophical value in the novel.

Counter arguments

Although the novel does contain some philosophy, the rare philosophical gems do not make the book worth reading as a whole. Scattered between onerous and long-winded passages on seemingly nothing, Melville's points on philosophy in no way make up for the drone of the rest of the novel. The philosophical chapters are perhaps Melville at his worst–pretentious, ungraspable, and lacking any true meaning.

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    This page was last edited on Thursday, 27 Aug 2020 at 15:54 UTC

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