Let's face it: Moby-Dick is a difficult book. From its mere reputation, to its length, to its long digressions about the minutiae of whaling, to Melville's baroque prose and extremely subtle touch with irony, the novel presents no shortage of challenges. Teachers will probably be best off admitting this difficulty and presenting reading Moby-Dick as an adventure that is not easy but offers great rewards.
Getting students to understand Moby-Dick's themes and appreciate its humor and its continued relevance today can all be difficult to accomplish because Melville's grandiose language often makes it tough to figure out just what he's saying. Still, once you parse this prose, Melville can be downright hilarious. The opening of the novel is a great place to start showing students that once we translate Melville back into everyday English, all kinds of insights (and laughs) emerge.
It's easy for students to overlook the fact that Ishmael is so sick of New York he's worried he might shoot somebody. Once students get past the archaic language, they see that Ishmael is either a little unbalanced, or just has a common case of stir-craziness. Breaking down Melville's prose into language students can relate to – "hypos" into "wigging out" – can help them sympathize with Ishmael and begin to understand the novel's many relevant themes, such as urban modernity, boredom, and the search for escape and adventure.