Luther College American Novel class to host 25-hour reading marathon of Melville's 'Moby-Dick'

Feb. 29, 2012           

Luther College students will set forth on a "literary voyage" that will rival Captain Ahab's unrelenting pursuit of the great white whale when they conduct a 25-hour marathon reading of Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby-Dick."

The event will begin Friday, March 9, 4 p.m. in the Concourse of Valders Science Hall on the Luther campus and will continue until 5 p.m. Saturday, March 10.

The marathon reading is part of the spring semester's American Novel course taught by Erik Grayson, visiting professor of English. The event is open to the public with no charge for admission. Participants may come and go at their convenience throughout the daylong reading.

The majority of readers will be members of the Luther campus community. The event will feature food, costumes, and other surprises.

"We invite people from the local community to stop by for some or all of the event," said Professor Grayson.

"One purpose of the marathon reading is to cultivate and share a collective enthusiasm for a work that many students think of as intimidating or dismiss as 'one of those boring books I didn't understand in high school English.'"

"Moby-Dick; or, The Whale" was the initial title of the landmark novel written by the American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851.

"Moby-Dick" is regarded as one of the signature novels in the history of American literature. In the telling of the romanticized story of a whaling expedition, Melville writes in stylized language and uses symbolism and metaphor to weave several complex themes into the narrative.

Through the words and thoughts of the main characters, Melville examines 19th century concepts of social class and status, good and evil, duty and conscience, personal beliefs and the tenets of Christian religion. Realistic descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship are blended with Shakespearean literary devices, including characters' extended soliloquies and asides, to create a novel that is considered a treasure of world literature.

"Moby-Dick" is the story of a common sailor, Ishmael, and his uncommon voyage on the whaleship "Pequod" commanded by Captain Ahab. Ahab has one purpose: to find and kill a mysterious and anthropomorphically evil sperm whale that on a previous voyage destroyed his ship and bit off his leg. The destruction of the great white whale becomes a mad passion for Ahab who invests the animal with malice and evil cunning.

Ahab's desire for revenge twists the whaling voyage into a quest that exposes and tests the character of the ship's crew as they are manipulated, coerced and finally destroyed by their captain's monomaniac obsession.

"Moby-Dick" received mixed praise and criticism when it was first published but is now generally regarded as a canon of American novels.

Erik Grayson