Study Guide

Herman Melville Great White Whale

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Great White Whale

On 14 November 1851, Moby-Dick was published in the United States. (It came out a month earlier in London.) The story of Captain Ahab's fatal, monomaniacal hatred of the giant white whale that ate his leg was astonishing. The book was a simultaneous combination of an adventure story, a detailed account of the whaling industry, a cautionary tale, and a metaphor whose meaning scholars still argue over today. Literary critics were—mostly—enthusiastic. "Of all the extraordinary books from the pen of Herman Melville this is out and out the most extraordinary," a British reviewer wrote. "Few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod's whaling expedition."

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