Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
- Full Title: Moby Dick; or, The Whale
- When Written: 1850-1851
- Where Written: Pittsfield, Massachusetts
- When Published: 1851
- Literary Period: Pre-Civil War American fiction; the “transcendentalist” and “post-transcendentalist” eras
- Genre: Novel of the sea; whaling novel; episodic novel; novel of ideas; precursor to the modernist novel
- Setting: Primarily on the Pequod, a whaling vessel, throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, in the late 1840s
- Climax: On the third day of the chase, Moby Dick causes Ahab to kill himself, by snagging himself in his own harpoon-line; Moby Dick then smashes into the Pequod, drowning all aboard except Ishmael, who lives to report the story of the whale.
- Antagonist: Moby Dick, the White Whale
- Point of View: Mostly first person from Ishmael’s point of view, although a number of sections appear to be narrated by a third-person-like presence, since Ishmael cannot have seen the events being reported in the narrative
Short chapters. Although Moby Dick is often regarded, in the popular imagination, as a novel of interminable length, it is actually divided into 136 rather short chapters—some of which are no longer than a couple paragraphs. This style of writing, in which a larger narrative is broken into much smaller chunks, is known as “episodic” writing.
Alternate title. Perhaps as a way of emphasizing the novel’s concern with whales and whaling, Moby Dick was initially titled The Whale when it was released in England in 1851.