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Culture and Recreation

Novels

Why is Moby Dick considered the greatest American novel?

The 1851 novel by Herman Melville (1819–1891), which opens with the familiar line “Call me Ishmael,” has been acclaimed as one of the greatest novels of all time; many regard it as the best American novel. Of course, determining the best is a purely subjective matter, and Melville’s work has many worthy rivals for the distinction, but Moby Dick remains a compelling and finely wrought work—in spite of the fact that it was not appreciated in its day. The story of a whaling captain’s obsessive search for the whale that ripped off his leg, Moby Dick is both an exciting tale of the high seas and an interesting allegory, interpreted as the human quest to understand the ultimately unknowable ways of God. The work first received notoriety some 30 years after Melville’s death.



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