Since then I've read it at least four times that I can keep track of (I like to focus on a theme each time, so my copies have markings in them that remind me of that reading.)
I try to figure out if it's an adventure story, or a grand metaphor. But if it's just a story, what the heck is up with all the Ahab/Fedallah hooplah. And why all the philosophical stuff? No, that can't be it.
But what does it mean, then? Maybe that's why I keep coming back---because there's absolutely no end to the layers (a lot like a whale, actually, but... whatever.) Melville's intended layers, certainly, but then---and in this way it's a lot like biblical studies---there's all the critical opinions over the years and just general readers opinions.
Just glancing at a diagram I made in the back, from one reviewer, is Moby the embodiment of evil, or just another whale---but more dangerous than most? Is he immortal? A total myth? Is he simply a huge whale, and thus a huge prize, both of glory and oil? Just a big smart fish---or, as Ahab has come to believe, the very power that limits and controls man? Is he god, like the crazy "prophet" Gabriel believes? How about the avenger of justice for the innocent, such as Steelkilt on the whaler Town-Ho?
I don't know, and I want to comprehend it, and I can't. And I guess that's what makes me love it. Not to mention the whales are cool and it's all about the ocean.
As an aside, I hope this summer to travel down to New Bedford (which is only about an hour and a half from me) this summer. See the whaling museum, etc. The whaleman's chapel mentioned in the book. But then, I've said that for many summers!
A quick technical aside---In case you don't know, Melville lived quite a bit of this book. Not Moby, certainly (that was for the crew of the whaleship Essex, a story told in Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea) but he was a crewman on a whaler that left from New Bedford, deserted in the Marquesas, captured by cannibals (Queequeg, anyone?) on Nuku Hiva.
So, even in what many think is the greatest novel of American Lit, the author is basically writing about his own life. As does Thomas Wolfe in Look Homeward, Angel. And many others. I always thought a novel came from some amazing creative spot I don't have access to, but the more I study it, the less I think that's true. The characters, perhaps.
I plan to add a bit more to this, but for now I must go. Dentist's appointment, then the writing they pay me for! :) (With a bike ride in between).