Reading Section 1

Reading Section 1

"Etymology and Extracts"

In Etymology Herman Melville offers an academic analysis of the word, whale and shows that the word has different levels of meaning and connotation. In Extracts he lists an eclectic collection of historical and contemporary quotations about whales. The listing quickly shows the importance of whales.

Literary purists insist that a reader begin the reading of Moby Dick by reading Melville's prefaces, Etymology and Extracts.

We suggest that you read them if you wish, but do not feel required to read the prefaces. Neither are crucial to the story.

Begin reading the novel at Chapter 1 and read through to the last chapter. Then, come back and read the two prefaces if you are curious about them.

Chapters 1 - 21

Ishmael, our story-teller, arrives in New Bedford. Note his reasons for wanting to ship out and his basic morality, his personal world view (his philosophy of life) at this time.
  1. What does he have to say about the differences between landsmen and seamen? And which are you? A landsman or a seaman?

  2. What is his attitude toward religion and spirituality? Is there a distinction to him?

  3. What conclusion(s) has he drawn about the ideal of the Noble Savage and Christianity? What prompted him to even consider the two types?

  4. Does he seem to believe in Free Will, Fate, or a combination of the two, such as Machiavelli supports in the closing chapter of The Prince?

  5. By the end of Section 1, Chapter 21, does he seem to take a particular philosophical stance, or is it too early to determine?

  6. In the chapters entitled, The Pulpit and The Sermon. What is the preacher's lesson?

  7. If you are not familiar with the Biblical story, Jonah and the Whale, please read about it here.

  8. Section 1 Vocabulary: Best viewed at full web site ( on tablet, laptop, or desktop.