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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Is Ishmael fated to take his voyage on the Pequod, or is it a choice? Is Ahab fated to be locked in combat with Moby Dick, or could he opt out of his quest for revenge? In general, what roles do fate and prophecy play in shaping the ways Moby-Dick’s characters behave?
  2. Why does this novel shift so much in point-of-view? Why does it sometimes take on the formal characteristics of a play?
  3. People often claim that Moby-Dick has two kinds of chapters—the ones that actually advance the plot, and the ones that give background information on whaling. After reading the novel, what do you think of this distinction? Are there other ways to classify Moby-Dick’s chapters?
  4. A common piece of advice from people who want to get through Moby-Dick faster is to skip the whaling chapters and just read the ones "where stuff happens." How does this change the reader’s experience of the novel? What pros and cons are there to reading Moby-Dick this way?
  5. How does Melville tend to end chapters that focus on details of whaling? Why does Melville choose to conclude these chapters in this manner? Hint: good examples are Chapter 60: "The Line," Chapter 68: "The Blanket," and Chapter 78: "Cistern and Buckets."
  6. Is Ishmael a central or peripheral narrator? Is this novel about him, or is it about Captain Ahab? How can you tell? (See our comments on "Point-of-View" for help getting started on this one.)
  7. Why are there so few women in Moby-Dick? Remember, the women we meet in the novel are pretty much limited to Aunt Charity and Mrs. Hussey, plus a few mentions of Starbuck and Ahab’s wives at home. What roles do these women play in the narrative?

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