How Has Moby Dick Influenced Modern Literature?

I am studying Herman Melville's Moby Dick and need to understand its influence on today's literature. Can someone explain how this classic has shaped contemporary works?

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Herman Melville's Moby Dick has significantly influenced modern literature, and its echoes can be seen in various literary works and genres today. There are several ways this influence is evident: 1. Deep Characterization: Ahab's portrayal, juxtaposed between sanity and madness, is a masterclass in deep characterization. His obsession with the white whale is both his life's purpose and destruction. Modern authors often employ such character complexity, leading to profoundly developed characters combating personal demons. 2. Allegory and Symbolism: Moby Dick's most significant influence lies in its use of allegory and symbolism. The eponymous white whale has been interpreted as nature, God, the unknowable, obsession, and different philosophical and metaphysical concepts. Modern literature often leans on this kind of symbolism to add layers and depths to their narrative. 3. Metafiction: Melville’s novel is full of asides, tangents, and digressions that at times blur the line between the narrative and reference manual. Passages about cetology or the intricacies of whaling have no direct influence on the plot but instead paint a vivid picture of the whaling world. This literary device, known as metafiction, is used extensively in modern novels to challenge the reader's comfort with traditional narrative structures. 4. Rich Themes: The timeless themes explored in Moby Dick like revenge, obsession, and the human confrontation with the divine and nature are recurrent in modern literature. The novel's exploration of these themes has given modern authors a template to investigate such grand, existential questions in their works. 5. Quest Narrative: Melville pretty much nailed the ‘quest narrative'. Ahab's relentless chase of the white whale across the oceans has been a mainstay in novels, where characters embark on journeys seeking something, tangible or intangible, driving the narrative forward. 6. Philosophical Engagement: Moby Dick has been a biographer's dream, especially because it explores philosophical conundrums about existence, God, destiny, and free will. Many twentieth-century novels often engage in similar philosophical engagements, driving readers to question the purpose and meaning of existence and life. Moby Dick did not receive critical acclaim in Melville's time but has since become a seminal work in the American and global literary canon. This rich, multifaceted novel has profoundly inspired and continues to influence generations of writers and literature itself. This influence is not just in the form of shared themes and narrative techniques, but also in encouraging them to push boundaries and be unafraid of the readers finding their work difficult.
Answered on September 7, 2023.
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