Moby Dick or The whale
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The product of a year and a half of writing, the book draws on Melville's own whaling experience, on his reading in whaling literature, and on literary inspirations such as Shakespeare and the Bible. The detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and the process of extracting whale oil, as well as life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew, are mixed with exploration of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God. In addition to narrative prose, Melville uses a wide range of styles and literary devices ranging from songs, poetry and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides.
The author changed the title at the very last moment in September 1851, and so the work first appeared as The Whale in London in October 1851, and then under its definitive title Moby-Dick in New York in November. The British edition of five hundred copies was not reprinted during the author's life, the American of almost three thousand was reprinted three times at approximately 250 copies, the last reprinting in 1871. These figures are exaggerated because three hundred copies were destroyed in a fire at Harper's; only 3,200 copies were actually sold during the author's life.