Study Guide

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville in Ecocriticism

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

A crazy captain loses a leg to a giant whale. Said crazy captain then gets a ship and fills it with salty characters who love to discuss the meaning of life. Together, they all hunt down the whale who ate the captain's leg.

But the whole venture doesn't go as planned… to say the least. Why?

Melville's view of nature is essentially that man is an island surrounded by stuff that wants to kill him. As our narrator, Ishmael, teaches us: nature is hungry, and humans are delicious.

See, nature is personified as a kind of beast who actively seeks to eat you for dinner. Why frame nature in this way, you might ask? When we put our Ecocriticism hats on, Shmoopers, we realize that Melville is trying to teach us something about people, through his portrait of man's anthropocentric relationship to the environment.

Specifically, he's trying to say that we see monsters everywhere because we've got monsters inside of us. Everything non-human in Moby-Dick ends up being a symbol of some repressed human fear. And many of these monsters are born, in the ecocritical view, from our modern-day disconnect from the true spirit of the natural world.

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