Great Books: Moby-Dick

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1 Great Books: Moby-Dick Teacher s Guide Grade Level: 9 12 Curriculum Focus: Literature Lesson Duration: Two class periods Program Description Herman Melville's Moby-Dick was published in 1851 to little acclaim. His great novel, exploring the themes of good and evil, racial intolerance, and our relationship to nature, was so offensive to contemporary readers that they refused to buy it. Discover how Melville's experiences as a young seaman influenced his story, and how Moby-Dick itself influenced scores of American writers. Lesson Plan Student Objectives Moby-Dick is grounded in facts that Melville acquired in his own experience at sea. New England was the center of a prospering whaling industry in the 19th century. Many 19th-century Americans kept journals. Materials Great Books: Moby-Dick video History textbooks, books, other resources about 19th-century America, especially the whaling industry Published journals of Herman Melville (see Procedures) Procedures 1. Ask students to describe the setting and the characters of Moby-Dick. Explain that Herman Melville based much of Moby-Dick and other adventures on what he saw for himself when he was at sea. 2. Tell students that, to gain insight into the setting, characters, and background of Moby-Dick, they will be doing their own research on the whaling trade in 19 th -century America. Their first assignment is to research the whaling industry in New England in the early 1800s to better understand the daily life and challenges of the sailors and captains. 3. Then, based on their research, students should compose at least five journal entries from the point of view of an imaginary sailor or captain while he is out at sea on a whaling voyage. Here are some possible topics for students research and journal entries:

2 Great Books: Moby-Dick: Teacher s Guide 2 Information about the port of departure Information about the kind of men who signed on for whaling expeditions Information about regions to which the ship travels Information about how the crew spends its day waiting for whale sightings Information about a whale chase and kill 4. Another option you may give students is to use their research to write the journal entries from the point of view of a character from Moby-Dick, such as Starbuck, Stubb, or Flask. 5. To get the feel of what 19th-century journals sound like, suggest that students read some of Melville s own entries. The following original sources in their latest editions will help: Journal of a Visit to London and the Continent, edited by E.M. Metcalf (Harvard University Press, 1948) Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant, edited by H.C. Horsford (Princeton University Press, 1955) The Melville Log, edited by Jay Leyda (Harcourt, 1951) Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, edited by E.M. Metcalf (Harvard University Press, 1953) 6. Remind students that their journal entries should include historical facts from their research. However, they should also include the feelings of the fictional journal writer, such as shifts in emotions over long periods at sea. 7. Encourage students to illustrate the journal entries with drawings sailors may have created during their voyages, such as sketches of ships, boats, and whales. Assessment Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson. 3 points: Student s journal contains at least five entries, includes many historical facts appropriate to the time and place of the written pieces and several references to the person s emotions during the voyage, and employs correct grammar, usage, and mechanics. 2 points: Student s journal contains at least five entries, includes some historical facts appropriate to the time and place of the written pieces and some reference to the person s emotions during the voyage, and employs mostly correct grammar, usage, and mechanics. 1 point: Student s journal contains fewer than five entries, does not include historical facts or any reference to the person s emotions during the voyage, and shows significant errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics.

3 Great Books: Moby-Dick: Teacher s Guide 3 Vocabulary allegory Definition: A literary device in which fictional characters symbolically represent a moral or universal principle Context: Melville creates a cosmic allegory out of the unglamorous whaling industry. idyllic Definition: Pleasingly beautiful in a simplistic or natural way Context: Melville lived an idyllic childhood until the age of eleven, when his father fell deeply in debt and then unexpectedly died a year later. nemesis Definition: A formidable opponent bent on retribution or vengeance Context: For two days, Ahab tries to kill his nemesis, but Moby Dick will not die. premonition Definition: Forewarning or presentiment of an event Context: Melville had a premonition that the American public would not accept Moby-Dick. unprecedented Definition: Never having been done before; without precedent Context: It was a time of unprecedented change; the Industrial Revolution was transforming the American landscape. Academic Standards Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit This lesson plan addresses the following national standards: Language Arts Reading: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts. Arts Art Connections: Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines. Arts Visual Arts: Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts. Behavioral Studies: Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.

4 Great Books: Moby-Dick: Teacher s Guide 4 Support Materials Develop custom worksheets, educational puzzles, online quizzes, and more with the free teaching tools offered on the Discoveryschool.com Web site. Create and print support materials, or save them to a Custom Classroom account for future use. To learn more, visit DVD Content How To Use the DVD The DVD starting screen has the following options: Play Video This plays the video from start to finish. There are no programmed stops, except by using a remote control. With a computer, depending on the particular software player, a pause button is included with the other video controls. Video Index Here the video is divided into sections, indicated by video thumbnail icons. Watching all parts in sequence is similar to watching the video from start to finish. Brief descriptions and total running times are noted for each part. To play a particular segment, press Enter on the remote for TV playback; on a computer, click once to highlight a thumbnail and read the accompanying text description and click again to start the video. Curriculum Units These are specially edited video segments pulled from different sections of the video (see below). These nonlinear segments align with key ideas in the unit of instruction. They include onscreen pre- and post-viewing questions, reproduced below in this Teacher s Guide. To play a particular segment, press Enter on the TV remote or click once on the Curriculum Unit title on a computer. Standards Link Selecting this option displays a single screen that lists the national academic standards the video addresses. Teacher Resources This screen gives the technical support number and Web site address. Video Index I. Call Me Ishmael (15 min.) An overview of Moby-Dick, Herman Melville's novel about one man's obsession with a great white whale, and an introduction to the book's opening chapters, central themes, and main characters. II. The Metaphor of Whaling (15 min.) Ahab forces the Pequod into a terrible storm in order to chase Moby Dick. A look at the whaling industry and an examination of Herman Melville's unique writing style.

5 Great Books: Moby-Dick: Teacher s Guide 5 III. The Great White Whale and Other Symbols (11 min.) Ahab refuses to help the captain of the Rachel find his missing son, instead continuing his obsessive hunt for Moby Dick. Melville's book is poorly received. IV. Destruction of the Pequod (12 min.) Ahab's obsession leads to his own demise, the destruction of the Pequod, and the death of all crewmembers except Ishmael. Melville dies in poverty and obscurity. Curriculum Units Segment 1. Introduction: Moby-Dick Q: What do you think is the central theme of Moby-Dick? Q: What do you think the whale in Moby-Dick symbolizes? Segment 2. Aboard the Pequod Q: Would you have followed Ahab if you were a Pequod crewmember? Q: How do Ishmael and Queequeg meet? A: They must share a bed at an overcrowded inn the night before setting sail. Segment 3. The Chase Q: Should Ahab have turned away from his obsession with Moby Dick? Q: Why does Ishmael see white as a frightening color? A: Ishmael says that white represents nothingness. To him it is a visible absence of color, a terrifying complete blankness. Segment 4. The Great White Whale Q: Is Ahab's obsession natural or demonic?

6 Great Books: Moby-Dick: Teacher s Guide 6 Q: How does his vision transform Ishmael? A: Ishmael realizes that he must separate himself from Ahab's obsession. He can no longer follow Ahab and must find a new way of living so that he can maintain balance in his life. Segment 5. Melville's Whaling Industry Q: What is a metaphor? A: A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or expression meaning one thing is used to describe something else as a way to show the likeness or similarity between the two objects. A metaphor is closely related to a simile. Q: Why was whaling such an important industry in the 1800s? A: Petroleum was not discovered until 1859 and before that whale oil was the key oil of commerce. It was used for everything. Segment 6. About Herman Melville Q: Why has Moby-Dick endured as a literary classic? Q: Why was Moby-Dick originally a failure? A: It was misunderstood. Members of the religious right, who thought Moby-Dick was appalling and blasphemous, wrote most of the book's early reviews.

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