Moby-Dick (1851)

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And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him. Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity touching this Leviathan.

Melville employs a fragment of Job 1:15 for the epigram of the epilogue: “…and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” In the same way, the reader, after 625 pages of pure sublime masterwork, escapes alone to tell others of the experience. And it is a large, profound experience. As Melville says himself, through his surrogate Ishmael, “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme” (497). Having found success with his first two novels, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life and Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas, and then failure with his third, Mardi and a Voyage Thither, a dense philosophical work, Melville seems to have found the Aristotelian golden mean in the Genesis of American literature: the mighty Moby-Dick or, The Whale.

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