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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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POINT OF VIEW

With its opening sentence, "Call me Ishmael," Moby-Dick begins as a straightforward, first-person narrative. Ishmael is telling his story; you follow him to New Bedford and The Spouter-Inn, are with him when he meets Queequeg and when he attends services at the Whaleman's Chapel. You see only what he sees, hear only what he hears.

Yet about one fourth of the way into the book, the point of view begins to shift subtly. In the chapter, "Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb," you hear Ahab and his second mate argue. You're then with Stubb below-decks as he thinks about the argument, and back on deck with Ahab as he tosses his pipe into the ocean. Clearly, Ishmael could not have been in all these places at the same time. The book's point of view is moving from a first-person to a third-person, omniscient narrator who is not directly involved in the action, and who is able to go anywhere to tell the story. From now on, while some chapters will still obviously be told by Ishmael, others will equally obviously describe events-like Starbuck's near-murder of Ahab-which Ishmael could not possibly have witnessed.



This switch in point of view has advantages for Melville. Ishmael leads us into the world of Moby-Dick and gives us a friendly soul to identify with. But as the cast of characters grows larger, and the story more complex, Melville needs the freedom that a third-person, omniscient narrator can provide.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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