YMMV / Moby-Dick

  • Acceptable Targets: Established albinos as one of them.
  • Accidental Innuendo: It was noted even at the time it was published that some of the symbolism and word choices were a bit suggestive, which Melville apparently didn't notice until later pointed out to him.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Captain Ahab — revenge-obsessed madman, a Tragic Hero, or both?
    • Due to the sperm whale being very aggressive by nature and as a result known to attack ships without being provoked the question of whether or not Moby Dick defending himself or attacking ships for no reason is left unanswered. As is the question if he has any idea who Ahab even is.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Ahab; Ishmael mentions at one point that he seems less interested in women than anyone else on board, and while it's mentioned that he is married to a woman, he only even mentions her in passing when she is brought up by Starbuck—and in chapter 132, he even tells Starbuck that he would rather gaze into his eyes than see God (note that in the mid-19th century, religion was essentially the be-all end-all of life, so Ahab saying this carried a lot more weight than it would today).
  • Awesome Moments: After Peleg insults Queequeg, Ishmael jumps in to defend him, but Queequeg calmly pulls him back and shows just how skilled he is with a harpoon.
    Queequeg: Cap'n, ee see him small dark spot on water there? Ee see him? Well, s'pose him one whale eye! Well, den...(throws harpoon and hits the oil spot with a dead bulls-eye) Dat whale dead.
    • Ahab's death in the 1956 film:
    Ahab: (strapped to Moby Dick and stabbing him repeatedly with a harpoon) "From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee! THOU DAMNED WHALE!"
  • Badass Gay: Captain Ahab. We're not sure whether to emphasize the "badass" part or the "gay" part.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Ahab tends to see himself either as this or as being above all men and possible gods—there is no in-between.
  • Crazy Awesome: Ahab. It is because of his insane obsession with Moby Dick that he created charts accurately mapping the annual movements of the whales, allowing them to follow the herd, kill as they go and fill their hold in record time. His insanity also wins over his crew and makes them all (save for Starbuck) extremely loyal and invested in the hunt for Moby Dick.
  • Fair for Its Day:
    • To modern readers, the three harpooneers can come across as caricatures of Africans (Daggoo), Native Americans (Tashtego) and Polynesians (Queequeg), respectively. However, Melville makes them all sympathetic characters and Ishmael frequently talks about how they're Not So Different from white men. In fact, he deliberately created them to defy stereotypes, with Tashtego being gloomy and fatalistic while Queequeg is cheerful and down-to-earth.
      "Better to sleep next to a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."
    • Through most of Moby-Dick, the sperm whale was a monster, the legendary leviathan to be hunted down and killed for its oil and spermaceti. Melville admonshed people not to burn sperm-candles or lamp oil recklessly, not because he wished to spare the whales' lives, but because so many human sailors died every year on whaling expeditions. In the modern world, just about every species of whale is endangered, and whaling was one of the main reasons for their dangerously low numbers in the wild; "save the whales" is a rallying cry more people support than oppose and thus people are more likely now to cheer on Moby defending himself. Yet at the time the story was written, whale populations were much larger, and nothing was known of whalesong or other such indicators of cetacean intelligence.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Chapter 44 says that sperm whale migrations often match the flight of swallows.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Ishmael and Queequeg. They're even "married".
    • The most egregious examples of this appear in the chapter called "A Squeeze of the Hand", which is about the delights of immersing one's hands in sperm whale oil and kneading it to keep it liquid.
      "Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness."
    • Far, far more egregious are the detailed descriptions of Ishmael's and Queequeg's sleeping arrangements:
      Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.
    • Captain Ahab and Mr. Starbuck definitely have something going on, at least one-sidedly (on the part of Ahab). At one point, Ahab quite literally tells Starbuck he would prefer to gaze into his eyes than see the face of God (which sounds silly nowadays, but would have carried a huge amount of weight back when the book took place, as religion was essentially the be-all-end-all of most people's lives back then).
      “Starbuck, of late I’ve felt strangely moved to thee; ever since that hour we both saw—thou know’st what, in one another’s eyes".
  • It Was His Sled: The ending.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: Moby was a whale hunter. Everyone knows that. Not so many people have read the books.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Ahab dances along the edge of it for most of the story, but finally crosses it when, rather than help the Captain of the Rachel find his lost crewmembers - among them his own son - he chooses instead to pick up the trail of Moby-Dick before it goes cold. In true Greek Tragedy fashion, everything goes downhill fast after he makes this choice.
  • Morality Pet: Arguably Starbuck and Pip are both this to Ahab. Unfortunately, if this is the case, they both fail dismally and Ahab loses it (or—well, loses it even more than he already had) and the ship gets wrecked and everyone dies.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Arguably, "Ahab." I mean, back then, most people would probably have known darn well about the evil biblical king Ahab (so it's not entirely unlikely that in the case of Captain Ahab this trope would overlap with Embarassing Given Name), and while the captain's evil-ness is debatable, he's definitely insane and dangerous.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Father Mapple in the film versions, as played by Orson Welles (1956), Gregory Peck (1998), and Donald Sutherland (2011).
  • Rated M for Manly: An older version of this trope than many are used to. Melville is almost bombastic in expounding how manly and strong whale hunters are, and spares no gore at all in his descriptions of hunting and slaughtering.
  • Rooting for the Empire: In modern culture most people will be cheering Moby on as he kills everyone, no matter how sympathetic adaptations try to make the crew. This is because in modern times with the high intelligence of whales being well known, most people don't see Moby Dick as a remorseless monster but as an innocent victim just defending himself however people with this view fail to realize that sperm whales are very aggressive by nature and have been known to attack ships without being provoked.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Whether or not you approve of whaling, it is more controversial today than it was when Moby Dick was published, what with environmentalism and concern for endangered species.
    • The story does explicitly discuss whether Man could hunt whales to extinction. Already their numbers are diminishing, but the author's opinion is that they'll avoid Man by swimming North to the icy oceans, and so will always be able to evade extermination. It's an opinion based on flawed biology; given better science it could have gone the other way. Even so, Melville gives consideration to it.
    • The narration offers a defense of whaling by mentioning the benefits to humanity whale oil has had and also talks about how the whaling vessels allowed the liberation of the South American countries from Spanish imperial power, led to the successful colonisation of Australia, opened up the Polynesian islands to Europeans and forecasts whalers as being the cause for Japan to end its isolationism. To modern readers this can easily be read as the whaling industry being a figure to blame not only for the decline of cetaceans but also the suppression and decimation of tribal cultures and the resulting tragedy from Japan's rapid modernisation.
  • Vindicated by History:
    • This work in particular took several decades to attain the critical status it enjoys today. Melville was previously a successful author of travel books that are forgotten today; after the failure of Moby Dick, his career declined. As a literary critic noted, he's probably the only writer in history to be ruined by his one masterpiece.
    • In the Reader's Digest: World's Best Reading edition, Thomas Fleming states in the Afterword that critics scoffed at the idea of someone going as far as Ahab did, and everyone around simply obeying...until they lived through World War I.
  • "Weird Al" Effect:
    • More people have heard of Captain Ahab than have heard of the Biblical King Ahab from which he got his name.
    • As Captain Peleg points out early on, Ahab did not choose his name, and he shouldn't think too much about it.