Herman Melville’s classic masterpiece tells the story of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a white sperm whale of tremendous size and ferocity. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg and Ahab intends to take revenge. The first line—Call me Ishmael—is one of the most famous opening lines in American literature. Moby-Dick is considered one of the greatest novels in the English language and has secured Melville's place among America's greatest writers.
An ambitious and far reaching allegorical voyage which, though not exactly a success, was Melville's first attempt at a book on the scale of Moby-Dick. Here is a passage which is reflective of the style, and outlook, of Mardi:
So, if after all these fearful, fainting traces, the verdict be, the golden haven was not gained;-yet in bold quest thereof, better to sink in boundless deeps, than float on vulgar shoals: and give me, ye gods, an utter wreck, if wreck I do.-Herman Melville
When Billy, a handsome, unpretentious, stuttering young able-seaman, is falsely accused of inciting mutiny, he lashes out, kills his accuser and is condemned to die. Written in allusive and beautiful prose, many-layered, resonant with ideas and meanings, Billy Budd has inspired drama, films and opera and continues to elude interpretation.
The main theme of the novel, however, is generally considered to be the vulnerability of innocence in a fallen world. Billy, a victim of one man's unnatural hatred, is the embodiment of goodness destroyed by evil, but as "the criminal pays the penalty of his crime", a greater justice comes into play.
The original source for this text has not been identified. The text has been checked for italics against Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., eds, Billy Budd: Sailor (An Inside Narrative) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).