Moby Dick

Book: By Herman Melville.

Inciting Event: The nominal main character Ishmael signs on aboard the Nantucket whaler Pequod and hears the first rumblings about the strange Captain Ahab. Everything up to this point has been setup, before finally brushing Ishmael (and the readers) up against what will be the main conflict created by this very specific ship and its very specific captain.

This is also a good example of a main character who is not the protagonist. Ishmael is barely a character at all, more just a device for sharing the story. It is always Captain Ahab who drives this story and who is, therefore, the protagonist.

First Plot Point: After the Pequod finally leaves Nantucket (and after 10% of the book is devoted to the first of many massive info dumps about whales and whaling), Captain Ahab nails a golden coin to the mast and promises it will be rewarded to the first man to spy the infamous white whale Moby Dick—who cost Ahab his leg on a previous voyage.

This is not a complicated story. It is only ever about Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick. Here, we are introduced to that conflict for that first time. Here, we learn exactly what this story is really about.

First Pinch Point: The narrative in this story is thin, at best, but it’s interesting to note that when the narrative does surface from amidst the bulk of the textual information, it almost always does so near the correct timing for the structural beats.

Its pinch points are its weakest structural moments, but they serve to illustrate the stakes in the overall conflict of “man vs. whale.”

Here, the Pequod sights whales for the first time on the voyage, but when one of the boats goes in pursuit, it is upended, nearly stranding its passengers.

Midpoint: The Pequod finally kills the first whale of its voyage—which cues yet another tremendous info dump about harvesting and butchering whales, among other things. Still, it’s a big moment in the story—the biggest so far and is an appropriate Midpoint.

Second Pinch Point: In pursuit of a second whale, the Pequod’s whalers kill him, only to have him sink out of sight and out of their grasp—which many of them take as an ill-omen.

Third Plot Point: Hot on the heels of the symbolism of the harpooner Queequeg’s near death and his obsession with his coffin, Ahab demands the ship’s blacksmith forge him a special harpoon, with which he intends to kill Moby Dick.

This moment isn’t a low moment particularly, but it’s an intense use of symbolism and tension that highlights the stakes.

Climax: Ahab and the Pequod finally sight Moby Dick for the first time and close with him in their fatal battle.

Climactic Moment: Moby Dick destroys the Pequod and Ahab.

Resolution: Only Ishmael survives to tell the tale.

Notes: Unquestionably, there is much in this story to admire, including a surprisingly solid structure. The Great American Novel, however? I think not, if only because perhaps a bare 20% of its 600 pages is actually novel, the rest being a textbook-style revelation of (at least partially questionable) information about whales and whaling.

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