Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Moby-Dick features several characters who seem insane. How does insanity relate to this story? How do these characters contrast with one another?
2. Ishmael frequently refers to the relationships between men in terms normally used to describe heterosexual romantic relationships. What is the literal and symbolic importance of homoeroticism in Moby-Dick?
3. Describe the playlike scenes interspersed throughout Moby-Dick. What is the function of these scenes? In what ways do they differ from the rest of the narrative?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Why does Ishmael include so many digressions in his narrative? Why does he draw on so many other disciplines (geology, art, biology)? Choose one of these digressions (the chapter on “Cetology,” for example) and discuss the ways in which it comments on the main narrative.
2. Describe Ishmael’s method of narration. Is he reliable or unreliable as a narrator? Why is he the one to tell this story? What would the narrative have been like if Ahab were the narrator?
3. How is the concept of fate used to organize the narrative? Does fate justify Ahab’s actions? What is the relationship between fate and prophecy? What does fate have to do with religion, particularly Christianity?
4. Explain some of the biblical references in Moby-Dick. How does Melville use the Bible as a literary model and as a source for thematic material?
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