Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Clifford J. H[?]

First Committee Member

Clair C. Olson

Second Committee Member

Lawrence J. Osborne


In commencing the study of the style of Moby Dick, the student is confronted with several questions. Most important, perhaps, is the question of how much the style has contributed to the importance of the book, to the great adulation accorded it by many critics during the last quarter century.

Did Melville’s peculiar ways of expressing his ideas have some particularly timely appeal to the post-WWI Generation? It is a highly mannered style, unique as that of Tristram Shandy. Yet while Sterne’s book was greatly enjoyed by the author’s contemporaries, Moby-Dick aroused very little contemporary interest. Was the style of the book a barrier to its appreciation by earlier readers?

A great deal of Moby-Dick criticism is highly subjective. It is often difficult to find a basis for it in the text, which frequently seems merely to have afforded a spring-board for creative thinking on the part of the critic. The imagery and the symbolism are stretched to include concepts that appear remote from the author’s words. How much is the style responsible for this accretion of mystical thinking upon the text?

Opinions are extreme as to the ultimate position of Moby-Dick among the landmarks of literature. Some critics rate it with Shakespeare and the Bible; some view it as a monstrosity. While this happens to some degree to most works which are finally accepted as literary masterpieces, how much is the divergence among Moby-Dick critics intensified because the style of the book has caused difficulties of interpretation?

To answer such questions demands first a definition of style as it is to be applied to Moby-Dick. What is style? What constitutes “good” style? How far can an individual author be judged by such set canons? Based upon this there should follow an objective description of the style of the book, its form, its language, its imagery. How does Melville use words? How does he put together his sentences? What over-all design does he employ, and how does he relate the parts to the whole? Such an analysis can be better understood if the source of certain stylistic peculiarities is considered. Melville, like many English-speaking authors, owes a great debt to the Bible and to Shakespeare. How was his use of these sources peculiar to himself? What other important sources are apparent in his work? Finally, a review should be presented of various critical opinions of Melville’s style. Upon what are these evaluations based? How far is the critic interpreting Melville, and how far is he riding a hobby horse of his own?





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