How did Mount Greylock inspire Moby-Dick?
When Herman Melville sat behind his desk at his home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, his winter view was a sea of white with the Greylock massif rising in the distance like “a snow hill in the air.” The Berkshires reminded him of his years as a sailor: “I have a sea-feeling here in the country, now that the ground is all covered in snow … my room seems like a ship’s cabin … when I hear the wind shrieking.”
The first draft of his novel, Moby-Dick, was a routine sea story, but Melville’s mentor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, encouraged him to explore deeper human emotions—obsession, anger, revenge, and lust—through the whale and the mad Captain Ahab. Hawthorne believed that Greylock appeared to the author as a great leviathan in a white-capped ocean.
Some liken the novel to “our American Bible.” One critic called it “a playful, experimental novel,” and another, circa 1850, read the book and proclaimed that Melville had gone crazy. Few novels are as complex as Moby-Dick, which can be read in at least four different ways: whaling adventure, religious odyssey, environmental protest, or Shakespearean political tragedy.
Hard to digest, Moby-Dick was at first a commercial flop, selling barely 9,000 copies in its first 50 years. “I wrote the gospels of this century, I should die in the gutter,” the author complained. Not until the 1920s, 35 years after his death, did the Greylock-inspired classic assume its honored place in American literature.