How to Read Moby Dick

a guide for first-time readers

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Reading Section 2

In Section 2, you will be out of sight of land and in the open sea. There you will be tested. Can you endure? Can you continue a journey that seems not to have a destination? Can you live with questions and no answers? Can you live with no questions? Can you endure the Now?

Chapters 22 - 42         Section 2 Vocabulary

  1. Note the author's purpose of Chapter 24: Whaling is an important undertaking, of great significance but little general recognition. Notice his obvious passion for the subject.

  2. The next few chapters in this section review the command levels on board the ship.
  3. Make a six column chart for the characters: Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, Queequeq, Ishmael.
    For each make note of personal characteristics/attitudes and the chapter numbers where the characteristics are seen. You may prefer using another technique, such as webbing.
  4. During this section, get a firm grasp on Ahab's personality and character. "The Pipe," Chapter XXX (30), is important for revealing the internal conflict(s) he is experiencing. Other chapters in this section also are important for the development of Ahab. His leadership skills are shown in The QuarterDeck. Add to your character chart above.
  5. The second person to take careful notes on is Starbuck, the first mate. 
    Stubb and Flask are, perhaps, one-dimensional, but also important. Be aware of their attitude toward their work, life in general, and fate.
  6. Melville's characters are representational at the least, and perhaps symbolic, so spend time and notes determining what belief system they represent. Are they foils of one another? Are the Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask all foils of Ahab?

  7. Chapter 32, "Cetology," is a highly detailed discourse on the various types of whales. Some informal studies show that eight of ten readers who begin reading Moby Dick give up in the middle of this chapter. DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU MUST "UNDERSTAND" this chapter. You can return to it later if you wish. SKIM TO GET THE IDEA. Keep reading. Your goal is to finish the entire book to have the grand overview.

  8. The discussion of Moby as myth and as fact establishes a major theme--the paradoxical realness of reality. After you have finished the novel, you will be asked to talk about the theme of paradox.

  9. Chapter 42,The Whiteness of the Whale, is all about paradox--not just the paradox of Moby Dick, but the paradox of all aspects of Life. What other paradoxical aspects of life can you think of? List them.

If you have not already done so, refer to the Allusion List for possible name symbolism. As a writer in the 18th century American Romantic tradition, Melville chooses most of his names for a purpose.

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