Moby-Dick is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab does not mean to use the Pequod and her crew to hunt whales for market trade, as whaling ships generally do. Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby-Dick, a great white whale of tremendous size and ferocity. Comparatively few whaling ships know of Moby-Dick, and fewer yet have knowingly encountered the whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off Ahab’s leg. Ahab intends to exact revenge on the whale.
In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore a number of complex themes which he believes are universal. Through the main character’s journey, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of gods are all examined as Ishmael attempts to determine his personal beliefs and his individual significance. The narrator’s reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor’s life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices such as stage directions, extended soliloquies and asides.
Often considered the embodiment of American Romanticism, Moby-Dick was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851 in an expurgated three-volume edition entitled The Whale, and later as one massive volume, by New York City publisher Harper and Brothers as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale on November 14, 1851. The first line of Chapter One—”Call me Ishmael.”—is one of the most famous in literature. Although the book initially received negative reviews, Moby-Dick is now considered one of the greatest novels in the English language and has secured Melville’s place among America’s greatest writers.
Moby-Dick appeared in 1851, during an important period in American literature. The year before, Melville’s good friend and neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne published his bestseller The Scarlet Letter. The year after, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life among the Lowly, which would become the second best-selling book in America in the 19th century after the Bible.
Moby-Dick is a highly symbolic work, but also includes chapters on natural history. Major themes include obsession, religion, idealism versus pragmatism, revenge, racism, hierarchical relationships, and politics.
All of the members of the Pequod’s crew have biblical-sounding, improbable, or descriptive names, and the narrator deliberately avoids specifying the exact time of the events and some other similar details. These together suggest that the narrator—and not just Melville—is deliberately casting his tale in an epic and allegorical mode.
The white whale itself, for example, has been read as symbolically representative of good and evil, as has Ahab. The white whale has also been seen as a metaphor for the elements of life that are out of our control
Sections of the novel depart from the progression of the plot entirely and discuss at great length the biology and ecology of whales and related species. Many of the claims are inaccurate —- for example, Ishmael insists that the whale is a fish, although they had been classified as mammals for almost a century (which he acknowledges dismissivelyour control
Moby-Dick begins with two prefaces: “Etymology” and “Extracts.” “Etymology” provides origins for the word “whale” as well as its spellings in Classical, Romance, and Germanic languages and the usually overlooked “Feegee” (Fijian) and “Erromangoan” (Erromanga). In “Extracts,” excerpts on whales are culled from numerous works. Listed mostly chronologically, the quotations come from fiction, poetry, plays, anonymous sea chanties, the Bible and other religious works, legal references, histories, scientific and naturalist treatises, biographies, economic studies, philosophical texts, travelogues, and reading primers. The range shows myriad perspectives on whales and whaling, from materialist to political to metaphysical. 
The crew-members of the Pequod are carefully drawn stylizations of human types and habits; critics have often described the crew as a “self-enclosed universe”.
The name ‘Ishmael’ also appears in the Bible as that of the first son of Abraham in the Old Testament. The name has come to symbolize orphans, exiles, and social outcasts—in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells the reader that he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation from human society. In the last line of the book, Ishmael also refers to himself symbolically as an orphan
Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the Pequod who is driven by a monomaniacal desire to kill Moby-Dick, the whale that maimed him on his last whaling voyage. A Quaker, he seeks revenge in direct opposition to his religion’s well-known pacifism. Ahab’s name comes directly from the Bible
Moby-Dick is a mottled sperm whale with a white hump, of extraordinary ferocity and size, but is also possessed of ineffable strength, mystery, and power. The color white is explored in the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale”. It calls into question the meaning of the chapters on cetology. The symbolism of the whale is not clear; many things, including nature, providence, and fate have been suggested.
In popular culture, Moby-Dick is often depicted as being an albino whale. For example, in the huge whale mural at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, a white sperm whale with a red eye and several harpoons (detached from their boats) stuck in its back is prominently displayed.
The three mates of the Pequod are all from New England
Frank Starbuck, the young first mate of the Pequod, is a thoughtful and intellectual Quaker from Nantucket.
Stubb, the second mate of the Pequod, is from Cape Cod, and always seems to have a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face
Flask is the third mate of the Pequod. He is from Martha’s Vineyard.
The harpooneers of the Pequod are all non-Christians from varying parts of the world. All come from Islands. Each serves on a ship officer’s boat.
Daggoo is a gigantic African harpooner with a noble bearing and grace. He is the harpooneer on Flask’s boat.
The crew as a whole is exceedingly international, having a makeup of both the United States’ and the world’s population. Chapter 40, “Midnight, Forecastle,” highlights, in its stage-play manner (in Shakespearean style), the striking variety in the sailors’ origins. A partial list of the speakers includes sailors from France, Iceland, Holland, the Azores, Sicily and Malta (Italy), China, Denmark, Portugal, India, England, Spain, Chile and Ireland. Considering that this variety is in only one part of the ship (the forecastle) there could be many other nationalities on board. Melville gives an overall impression of the crew as being a melting pot of every conceivable ethnicity.