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Course Description

Herman Melville’s canonical American novel only became the object of critical acclaim and widespread popularity more than seventy years after its 1851 publication. The dramatic, harrowing story of a charismatic, totalitarian demagogue’s power over his crew may speak more to twentieth- and twenty-first-century readers than it did to its contemporaries. Framed as the story of a monomaniacal captain’s pursuit of revenge against a great white whale, it’s more than a maritime adventure tale; it's also a treatise on seagoing ecosystems and a philosophical exploration of issues of class, labor, race, masculinity, suffering, conquest and destruction, good and evil, and the existence of God. With styles ranging from encyclopedic to poetic, Melville reflects Western literature from Homer and the Bible to Shakespeare, Milton, and Coleridge. Marked by ambiguity, the novel presents many opportunities for interpretation. We’ll see at least part of the 1956 movie with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. | Lecture (plus questions); Facilitated discussion; Viewing videos
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