The Genre(s) of Moby-Dick

In considering these genres, think about this question: Who is the hero of Moby-Dick, Ahab or Ishmael?

Some critics have suggested that Moby-Dick is a quest-romance, a past-tense journey of discovery, inside a present-day anatomy.


The Hero's Journey (adapted from Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces)

Not all of these stages will appear in every quest-narrative.

I. First Stage: Separation or Departure

1. The "call to adventure" or signs of the vocation of the hero.
2. "Refusal of the Call" or the folly of the flight from the god.
3. "Supernatural Aid," the unsuspected assistance that comes to one who has undertaken his proper adventure.
4. "The Crossing of the First Threshold."
5. "The Belly of the Whale," or the passage into the realm of night.

II. Second Stage: Trials and Victories of Initiation

1. "Road of Trials," or the dangerous aspect of the gods.
2. "Meeting with the Goddess" (Magna Mater), or the bliss of infancy regained.
3. "Woman as the Temptress," the realization and agony of Oedipus.
4. "Atonement with the Father."
5. "Apotheosis"
6. "The Ultimate Boon" or gift.

III. Third Stage: Return to and Reintegration with Society.

According to Joseph Campbell, this stage is "indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world . . . and is the justification for the hero's long retreat from the world."

This is the most difficult requirement, because if the hero has won enlightenment, he may wish to continue his retreat and not bring what he has learned back to the community; also, his community may reject or otherwise not understand the gift that he brings to them. Also, if a hero has cut corners and skipped some parts of his initiation and skipped ahead to his goal, he may be "blasted from within and without."

1. "Refusal of the Return," or the world denied.
2. "The Magic Flight," or the escape of Prometheus.
3. "Reescue from Without."
4. "Crossing of the Return Threshold," or the return to the world of common day.
5. "Master of Two Worlds" of initiation and daily life.
6. "Freedom to Live," the nature and function of the ultimate boon.

The Epic

1. It features a major hero and a secondary hero who is something of an anti-hero, something of a clown.
2. The hero is a figure of great national importance.
3. The setting is ample in scale.
4. The hero performs superhuman deeds in battle.
5. He encounters supernatural beings.
6. It begins in medias res with the poet stating his argument and addresses an epic question.
7. It contains stylistic features of epics:
--Catalogues of principal characters.
--Epic similes.
--An elevated style of writing.


1. Serious plays representing the disastrous downfall of a central character, the protagonist.
2. The protagonist should be noble or larger than life.
3. The play centers on the imitation of an action that is serious and complete
4. Tragic plays achieve a catharsis through incidents arousing pity and terror.
5. The hero's downfall results from hamartia (tragic flaw), often in the form of hubris (excessive pride leading to divine retribution or nemesis)

6. The tragic hero experiences anagnorisis, or "the point in the plot at which the protagonist recognizes his or her or some other character's true identity or discovers the true nature of his or her own situation."


Written analysis of some subject which purports to be thorough and comprehensive. One famous model is Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621).