The following is a brief synopsis and plot summary for Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Spoiler note: plot and/or ending details follow. ;-)

  1. Moby-Dick is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The novel describes the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, led by Captain Ahab, who leads his crew on a hunt for the whale Moby-Dick.
  2. The language is highly symbolic and many themes run throughout the work.
  3. The narrator's reflections, along with complex descriptions of the grueling work of whaling and personalities of his shipmates, are woven into a profound meditation on hubris, providence, nature, society, and the human struggle for meaning, happiness, and salvation.
  4. Moby-Dick is often considered the epitome of American Romanticism.
  5. At the beginning of the book we are presented with the narrator, Ishmael.
  6. Ishmael has set his mind to join a whaling vessel, and he arrives in the town of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
  7. He seeks lodging at an inn called the Spouter, where he is lodged with a mysterious harpooner.
  8. This harpooner, a tattooed cannibal named Queequeg, quickly becomes a friend to Ishmael.
  9. The two decide to enlist together in the crew of the Pequod, a ship held jointly by three men, known as Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad and Captain Ahab.
  10. As Ishmael and Queequeg sign their names, although they have yet to meet Captain Ahab who will be commanding the ship.
  11. Captains Peleg and Bildad are left behind on shore with a purely financial interest in the voyage.
  12. As the ship sets sail, we are introduced to the other main characters: the three mates, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb, and the two remaining harpooners, Dagoo and Tashtego.
  13. Ahab, however, remains unseen.
  14. We are told that he is below decks and is not feeling well. After several days, Ishmael finally spots the one-legged Ahab standing on the quarter-deck.
  15. Ahab broods and behaves erratically. He paces the deck, the ivory heel of his false leg making a thudding noise.
  16. When Stubb suggests to Ahab that something be done to dampen the sound, Ahab flies into a rage and calls Stubb a dog.
  17. When Stubb objects to this insult, he says “Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”
  18. The peculiar attitude of Ahab continues. He throws his pipe off the ship. He asks his crew to yell more loudly if they should spot a white whale.
  19. At length, Ahab draws the crew together and announces that a gold coin will be awarded to the crewman who first spots a ‘white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw.’
  20. He then hammers a nail through the coin and into the ships mast.
  21. Tashtego, it turns out, has heard of this white whale before.
  22. He gives the creature a name, saying that some call him “Moby-Dick.” Starbuck reveals that Moby-Dick is the whale who took Captain Ahab’s leg.
  23. The Captain is finally pressed to reveal that in his mind there is no purpose to this voyage other than Ahab’s own vengeance against Moby-Dick.
  24. Over the main part of the story, we are presented with many scenes of the everyday whaling life.
  25. The Pequod lowers its boats, which then chase after and harpoon whales.
  26. In a series of dramatic adventures with various whales, and (often humorous) encounters with other whaling vessels, Melville paints a scene of life on board a whaling ship in the mid 19th century.
  27. The journey comes to its dramatic and tragic end when the Pequod sailing despite dark portents, catches sight of Moby-Dick.
  28. For three days, the Pequod does battle with the white whale.
  29. Moby-Dick shatters the Pequod’s boats, and finally charges the ship itself.
  30. The Pequod is sunk, and Ahab and all the crew disappear under the waves.
  31. Ishmael is the only survivor of the tragedy, and is left floating on the surface of the ocean, rescued briefly afterwards by a passing whaler.