Weeks 9-10: Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (film viewing)

I’m recommending the above event for those interested in important issues relating to Brooklyn and New York.


Hi Students,

Thank you for your interesting comments on the supernatural works of Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving. Last night, I watched the new suspense film A Haunting in Venice, which also had inspiration from Poe (particularly his “Fall of the House of Usher”).  It’s a fantastic film which I highly recommend.

We’re heading into the final 6 weeks of the course, so be sure to check your mid-term grades (Pass, Needs Improvement) in this and all your classes.

It’s also a good time to start thinking about your final essay. I ask that you focus on one of the authors we’ve read or will soon be reading (check the weekly schedule). You may draw from responses you post to each week’s reading if you like. Once you know your topic (author and theme), email me at: mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu 

I’m also available during zoom office hours on Tuesday(3-5pm)  if you want to brainstorm a topic with me.

The Final Essay is due Wed., Dec. 20.



For the final assignment, I want to stress that you stay away from generic Internet sources and the AI tool (ChatGPT). Stay true to the Emersonian dictum to “trust thyself” and your own amazing voices and original analytical skills.


One of the greatest friendships in the history of American Literature is the one between two of our finest authors, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

Hawthorne was a popular writer of short stories in the 1830s and 1840s but became truly famous with the publication of his novel The Scarlet Letter (in 1850).  The novel is set in the time of the Puritans in New England (in the 1600s) and focuses on a young lady named Hester Prynne who has a child (Pearl) out of wedlock.  The father is none other than the minister of the highly religious community, Reverend Dimmesdale.  Dimmesdale does not confess to his “sin” and leaves Hester to handle the scorn that is thrust upon her by her fellow townspeople. 

Watch this film trailer of the book (starring Demi Moore): HERE

Read Chapter Two (“The Marketplace”, pages 54-68) of The Scarlet Letter (1850), in which a pregnant Hester Prynne must step up on a scaffold in the middle of town and face an abusive crowd demanding she confess who the father is.

Hawthorne’s works were very influential to Herman Melville. He too had been a popular writer of sea voyages (he had gone on a two year whale voyage himself).  In 1851, inspired by the truth-telling of Hawthorne, he wrote Moby-Dick, or the Whale, a lengthy novel considered to be one of the greatest works in Western literature. 

Moby-Dick features a narrator named Ishmael who decides to leave his boring day job in New York City in the 1840s to go on an adventurous whaling voyage.  He boards the whaling ship, the Pequod, and quickly befriends a fellow whaleman from the Pacific Islands named Queequeg (adorned with amazing tattoos across his entire body).  The co-star of the novel, however, is the mad crazy Captain Ahab who really only wants to chase down a white whale named Moby-Dick who in a previous voyage bit off Ahab’s right leg (he now walks with a peg leg).  A symbol of revenge and arbitrary authority, Ahab’s obsessive quest to harpoon Moby-Dick (spoiler alert) causes the Pequod to sink.  All but Ishmael survives.

Read the famous opening chapter of Moby-Dick HERE

Watch this biography of Melville that includes a discussion of his friendship with Hawthorne: HERE

Post Assignment (Allow yourself time to watch the recommended film):

By Monday, Nov. 20, watch either the classic film version of Moby-Dick (1956) HERE or an excellent recent film version: HERE .  Each version is free.  Alternately, watch this fantastic film version of The Scarlet Letter on Netflix : HERE

Choose a scene from one of these films to discuss in connection with a theme/topic you find particularly compelling.  Be sure to refer directly to the above mentioned film (s)(not some other source).

Extra credit if you watch both!



  1. Mumin Khan

    In the iconic 1956 movie version of “Moby-Dick,” the dramatic and passionate sequence where Captain Ahab fastens a gold doubloon to the mast and declares that the first man to discover the white whale would receive it as a reward is especially interesting to examine. This incident serves as a metaphor for the issue of greed and its negative effects. The vast and wild beauty of the sea contrasts sharply with the gold coin, a symbol of wealth and material desire, emphasizing the danger and futility of putting money gain before respect for human life and the environment. In addition to demonstrating his own obsessive fascination with Moby-Dick, Ahab’s actions incite his crew’s greed and erode their sense of unity and common purpose. The scenario is a potent illustration of how the quest for money and retribution can result in moral degradation and tragedy. This issue is prevalent throughout Herman Melville’s work and is still pertinent in conversations today regarding the negative effects of materialism and unbridled ambition.

    When Hester Prynne is seen carrying her baby daughter Pearl while standing on the scaffold in the town square in the movie rendition of “The Scarlet Letter,” it is a very moving and important scene. The subject of social criticism and public humiliation is perfectly captured in this instance. The scarlet letter “A” emblazoned on Hester’s chest stands for the condemnation of sin and the severe standards of Puritan society. Hester’s respectful yet hurt attitude together with the audience’s acerbic and condemning looks effectively portray an individual’s fight against society’s expectations and the brutality of public humiliation. The scenario also emphasizes the idea of a woman’s fortitude and resiliency in the face of difficulty. Hester’s inner fortitude and the injustices experienced by women in a patriarchal society are demonstrated by her silent perseverance and reluctance to disclose the identity of her child’s father. This scene in the movie is a strong choice for your project because it not only adheres to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original story but also provides a powerful and emotionally charged portrayal of one of the novel’s main themes.

  2. Mariam Otero

    The symbolic significance of Captain Ahab’s refusal to let go of the rope in his final encounter with Moby Dick is a powerful representation of his all-consuming obsession. His declaration, “You can take me to hell and back before I’ll let go of this rope! We are one, you and I, we are one,” reveals the depth of Ahab’s fixation. As Ahab is pulled underwater with Moby Dick, caught in the very rope he promised never to let go, the irony is harsh. The rope, initially a tool of pursuit, transforms into a metaphorical link between Ahab and his obsession. In refusing to let go, Ahab becomes entwined with the object of his relentless pursuit, sealing his fate inextricably with Moby Dick.

    This scene serves as insight on the destructive nature of obsession. Ahab’s refusal to release the rope, even at the cost of so many lives, illustrates the blinding power of unchecked ambition. His single-minded pursuit led to the tragic death of himself and almost all of his crew.

  3. Sajeevan

    Moby Dick(1956)

    Captain Ahab’s obsession with finding the white whale and killing it leads to his death and led to other people dying. Captain Ahab’s obsession started after the whale ate his leg one time when they went hunting. After that, he hired whale hunters to hunt the white whale which ate his leg. Captain Ahab announced that whoever hunts the white whale would be awarded with Spanish gold. The hunters started hunting but they couldn’t find the white whale. They found another whale and killed it on the way to finding the white whale. A lot of different whale was killed by the hunters because of Captain Ahab’s obsession. In the end, they were able to find the white whale and try to kill it. Captain Ahab climbed on the white whale and tried to kill it, but the white whale went into the water and Captain Ahab died. After that, the white whale killed all the other hunters and destroyed their ship. Only one hunter escaped from the ship and survived from the white whale.

  4. Jessica GP

    The movie “Moby Dick” is a great representation of the environmental destruction that we humans have caused to the world over the years. In the movie, Ahab becomes obsessed with vengeance against the great white whale who took his leg, disregarding everything else except his pursuit of revenge. “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last, I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” This quote highlights Ahab’s singular focus on revenge against Moby Dick and reminded me how relentlessly we pursue profit and advancement at the expense of nature. Also, the same scene when Ahab says these words as he is stabbing Moby Dick and he bleeds out to me symbolizes the destruction caused to nature by overfishing, deforestation, or pollution. The blood of Moby Dick is the irreversible damage caused by humans to the environment. There is no doubt that we should be more aware of the harm we have caused to our environment and perhaps take steps to protect the natural habitats we have left.

  5. Jimmy

    Captain Ahab’s last encounter with the white whale in Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” is a theatrical sequence in the 1956 adaptation. Ahab’s furious fixation with Moby-Dick, whom he thinks to be the embodiment of all evil and misery in the world, culminates in this moment. Ahab (Greg Peck) confronts the whale in a dramatic and violent scene when he displays a mix of ferocity and fanaticism. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale intensifies during the Pequod’s journey, impacting himself and the rest of the crew. His unrelenting hunt for the whale turns into a metaphor for man’s conflict with the elements, destiny, and his own inner demons. After spotting Moby-Dick, Ahab launches a vicious attack in this pivotal sequence. His blind fury consumes him and passion that he is blind to the immediate threat this meeting poses to him and his men. The drama comes to a head when the whale drags Ahab into the water while he’s tangled in his own harpoon line. His death serves as a metaphor for the devastating force of obsession and retaliation, as well as an actual one. After that, the whale strikes the Pequod, causing it to sink and killing nearly every member of the crew save Ishmael. This terrible conclusion serves as a powerful reminder of the unfathomable power of nature and the futility of seeking revenge (Moby-Dick 1956).

    The sequence from “Moby-Dick” eloquently captures the main themes of the book, which include obsession, retaliation, and the struggle of the individual against uncontrollable forces. It’s a powerful depiction of Ahab’s terrible demise and evidence of Melville’s investigation into the depths of both the natural world and human psychology.

  6. Waleed Yahya

    Moby Dick

    The Chase/Showdown

    In the movie Moby Dick, there was this scene where Ahab finally fought with his enemy one on one. This scene is called Final Chase. Captain Ahab is a sailor who’s mad because a white whale named Moby Dick bit off his leg. To get back at the whale, Ahab hires a crew and promises them lots of gold if they can catch Moby Dick. So, the whole story is about Ahab trying to get revenge on the whale for taking his leg. While they were trying to get back at Moby Dick, Captain Ahab and his crew ended up killing a bunch of innocent whales. Ahab was so focused on revenge that he risked his own life and got many of his crew members killed in the process. It was a dangerous and wild mission, all because Ahab really wanted payback. When they finally caught Moby Dick, Ahab climbed onto the whale and was trying to kill him. The whale dove into the water, bringing Ahab down with him. Ahab didn’t make it out alive. Then Moby Dick destroyed the ship and almost everyone else on board lost their lives. Only one person managed to escape the ship. It’s a heartbreaking tale that warns us about letting revenge take over a person. Ahab’s revenge led to disaster, proving that seeking revenge isn’t always the best path to take.

  7. waleed yahya

    In the movie Moby Dick, there was this scene where Ahab finally fought with his enemy one on one. This scene is called Final Chase. Captain Ahab is a sailor who’s mad because a white whale named Moby Dick bit off his leg. To get back at the whale, Ahab hires a crew and promises them lots of gold if they can catch Moby Dick. So, the whole story is about Ahab trying to get revenge on the whale for taking his leg. While they were trying to get back at Moby Dick, Captain Ahab and his crew ended up killing a bunch of innocent whales. Ahab was so focused on revenge that he risked his own life and got many of his crew members killed in the process. It was a dangerous and wild mission, all because Ahab really wanted payback. When they finally caught Moby Dick, Ahab climbed onto the whale and was trying to kill him. The whale dove into the water, bringing Ahab down with him. Ahab didn’t make it out alive. Then Moby Dick destroyed the ship and almost everyone else on board lost their lives. Only one person managed to escape the ship. It’s a heartbreaking tale that warns us about letting revenge take over a person. Ahab’s revenge led to disaster, proving that seeking revenge isn’t always the best path to take.

  8. Rujin Chen

     Feel the Fear, “the air is so foul” said by Steelkilt when he got beaten by other shipmen in Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” (the newer version movie)

    Steelkilt’s character in “Moby-Dick” embodies various themes, including the fear of oppression, the fight for juristic, and the struggle against authority. His storyline reflects the tension between the crew and Captain Ahab’s leadership.

    Steelkit’s defiance and subsequent punishment showcase the fearlessness of standing up against perceive injustice, even though it leads to his physical confrontation and punishment, ultimately highlighting the theme of power, rebellion, and the consequences of challenging authority in the movie.

    Moreover, “the air is so foul” refers to the atmosphere aboard the whaling ship Pequod. It shows the tense, oppressive, and suffocating environment experienced by the crew as they face lots of challenges during they chasing the white whale, Moby Dick.

    Overall, it symbolizes not only the physical discomfort but also the psychological and emotional strain the crew endures throughout the harrowing journey.

  9. Nia

    A classic tale of obsession and revenge, “Moby Dick” revolves around Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of the white whale, Moby Dick, symbolizing the destructive consequences of unchecked revenge and nature’s overwhelming power. With scenes that vividly depict Captain Ahab’s single-minded pursuit of revenge against the white whale, “Moby Dick” explores the darker side of human nature and the consequences of letting vengeance consume one’s soul. One notable scene is when Ahab addresses his crew and reveals his obsession with Moby Dick, pledging to hunt the whale to the end of the earth. Ahab’s desire for vengeance increases as the journey progresses, resulting in intense and dramatic encounters with the elusive whale. In addition to the relentless pursuit of Ahab, there are symbolic interactions between man and nature that emphasize the theme of obsession and its destructive consequences.

  10. Taylor Edwards

    Moby Dick (1956)

    In the film “Moby Dick” (1956), one compelling theme is the destructive pursuit of an unattainable goal, which is vividly portrayed in a scene where Captain Ahab rallies his weary crew to continue chasing the white whale. Despite their ship’s critical damage and casualties, Ahab’s obsession with revenge prevails. He passionately addresses the crew, describing Moby Dick as the embodiment of evil and promising them glory and redemption if they succeed in capturing or killing the beast.

    Director John Huston effectively showcases the allure and dangers of unyielding obsession in this scene. The crew members, torn between their loyalty to Ahab and their own doubts, question the sanity of their captain’s relentless pursuit. Ahab becomes a metaphor for the human desire to conquer the unconquerable, exemplifying the destructive consequences of such obsessions for both individuals and the collective harmony of the crew. As Ahab’s monomania intensifies, the crew members become mere pawns, forsaking their own lives and well-being.

    Through this scene, “Moby Dick” (1956) explores the complexities of obsession and the perils of pursuing unattainable goals. It serves as a cautionary tale, reminding viewers of the consequences of becoming consumed by obsessions and losing sight of what truly matters in life.

  11. Akeria

    In the film Moby Dick, the film mostly goes further into detail about Captain Ahab’s and his encounter with wanting to torture and set revenge on the white whale “Moby Dick”. Moby Dick had bitten off Ahab’s leg so with Ahab tries to capture the whale. One particular and notable scene in the film is when Ahab gathers his crew and hatches a plan to kill Moby Dick. I think what this scene symbolizes is a form of retribution and getting even so it can somewhat in a way make us feel better and better in the situation. Ahab gotten so caught up with wanting to get revenge that he didn’t care about the damage it caused and the harm he put others in. Revenge is never always the solution nor the answer.

  12. Bai Ngai

    After losing his leg to the white whale in a horrific occurrence, Captain Ahab develops an unwavering fascination with tracking down the animal that finally erupts in a devastating and terrible ending. Ahab recruits a group of whale hunters to help him find Moby Dick by promising them Spanish treasure. The crew kills numerous whales indiscriminately along the way, which adds to the hunt’s cost due to Ahab’s unwavering obsession. Herman Melville’s version of “Moby Dick” shows the dramatic unfolding of Ahab’s obsession. Ahab’s obsession with finding Moby Dick by displaying the fierce emotions the actor Greg Peck portrays through a violent scene.

    Ahab’s fixation puts the crew as a whole in jeopardy in addition to himself. The showdown between Ahab and Moby Dick is depicted with Ahab’s blind rage. Ahab’s passion overcomes his sense of the impending danger to himself and his men in this crucial scene. Ahab is killed in the violent encounter when the white whale pulls him into the ocean and tangles him in his own harpoon line. This violent and sad event displays a physical illustration of the power of nature and a metaphor for the destructive force of obsession and revenge. After Ahab is killed, Moby Dick strikes again at the Pequod, sinking the vessel and killing almost all of the crew except for Ishmael. 

  13. Roussena Jean Pierre

    The adaptation of the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne into  an American romantic drama film by “The Scarlet letter” which was first produced year 1850, explains the struggles of the stern Puritan Christian character by the name Hester Prynne who she had a daughter out of wedlock and faces challenges with her daughter Pearl as she gets mocked and judged. All these struggles faced by Hester and other characters are foregrounded by themes which includes love, revenge and sin being the central theme.

    Dimmesdale is tormented by Chillingworth and feels guilty in private. Through atonement, also triumph against sin. Hester later gains respect and become a morally dependable figure. By putting the “A” on himself, Dimmesdale atones for his transgression and passes away. The nature of evil is likewise examined in The Scarlet Letter. While Hester and Dimmesdale’s affair causes them to fall from grace, the tale of Chillingworth, Hester’s estranged husband, who embarks on an unfortunate quest for vengeance, illustrates pure wickedness. Passion and sin are symbolized by use of the red bird in the movie just like the red rose tree mentioned in first chapter (the scarlet letter pg73). Issue of judgement evident as Mrs. Stenholm tells her “ I hope she said she would stay in our house until her husband arrived.”. “I thank you but I intend to have my house as soon as possible” ( film 7:01).

  14. Glory Omoruyi

    In Roland Joffé’s 1995 film adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” one of the most moving scenes that resonates with me has a compelling theme that the forest encounter between Hester Prynne played by Demi Moore and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale played by Gary Oldman. This scene shows the complex interplay between sin, guilt, and societal expectations, revealing the characters’ internal struggles in the face of conforming to societal norm. They set against the backdrop of the ominous forest, which symbolizes a space of both darkness and freedom, Hester and Dimmesdale engage in an extreme and intimate conversation. The forest, traditionally is associated with sin and temptation in Puritan society, and it becomes a sanctuary for the characters to confront their suppressed desires and wrestle with the moral dictates of their community.

    Dimmesdale, is tortured by his concealed guilt, seeks comfort and redemption in this clandestine meeting. The scene captures the intensity of their emotional confusion, comparing the oppressive rigidity of Puritanical society with the liberating atmosphere of the forest. The film’s cinematography employs shadows and natural light to enhance the emotional depth of the characters, reflecting their internal struggles. This scene illustrate the theme of individual versus societal morality. Hester and Dimmesdale, burdened by the weight of societal expectations and religious teachings, find a fleeting escape in the forest where they can confront the complexities of their relationship and personal guilt. The film skillfully elaborate on the distinction of forbidden love and the consequences of straying from societal norms, inviting viewers to question the rigid moral framework that defines the characters’ lives. Through this forest encounter, Joffé’s adaptation looks into the timeless exploration of the tension between individual conscience and societal judgment. This is a compelling portray of Hawthorne’s classic narrative.

  15. Christina Bethelmy

    The overall narrative and lore of “Moby Dick” (1956) revolved around “The Pequod” which is named after a Native American tribe from Massachusetts that is no longer alive. It’s a whaling ship, built to track down, trap, then kill whales. It has a number of fewer poaching boats on board which enables the sailors to get close proximity to the whales to spear them with harpoons. Then hunts sperm whales for their blubber, which can be transformed into heating oil, as Ishmael learns the ins and outs of life on the ocean.  Meanwhile, Captain Ahab, their peg-legged leader, remains alone in his cabin.  But Ahab is unimpressed by the ordinary sperm whale they kill, because the captain is very obsessed and determined to be able to find a specific whale, the fabled white whale known as “Moby Dick”, who lost his leg years ago.  Captain Ahab’s passion soon pervades the crew, blinding everyone else with his need for vengeance.

  16. Carolina

    A theme in the movie Moby-Dick I find interesting is Nature vs. Man. A scene that occurs in the beginning of the movie is when Captain Ahab’s wife goes to church. The father speaks about the biblical story of Jonah who is too prideful and goes into the sea and gets swallowed by a whale. The Lord sent the whale to swallow him to teach him a lesson. The father continues to say that one can go into the sea thinking he will not have to surrender to its power, but he has to. This relates to Captain Ahab who is trying to hunt the whale because he had eaten his leg in a past voyage. He is set on taking revenge by hunting and killing the massive whale. The sea itself has awful power and it may have unpredictable threats such as The whale becomes a symbol of the dangers and threats of what the sea can hold. Captain Ahab is trying to conquer it but Nature shows the consequences of humanities destructive actions. In the end Captain Ahab is entangled with the rope around the whale who is still alive. Captain Ahab has underestimated the power of nature. Nature is just unpredictable and uncontrollable and it is a lesson in the film.

    I hadn’t read Moby-Dick but i did hear about the story before. I think the film was good and I’m glad there was a newer version to watch.

  17. Sarah Munassar

    The scene I chose from Moby dick is the last scene that concluded their death fighting the whale. the story is about obsession and what happens when you’re too focused on something. For Ahab and his crew, everything is destroyed by his relentless pursuit of revenge against the whale. Even after they told him to return because they had lost many crew members in the two boats ahead of them, Captain Ahab was so focused on killing and seeking retribution that he showed little regard for his other crew members. This showed the idea of obsession and its destructive consequences. The dangers of becoming consumed by an obsession are demonstrated by Ahab’s fixation with getting revenge on the white whale. The struggle between human dreams and the strength of nature is exemplified by the fight between Ahab’s crew and the white whale. The bond between them was something that I valued. For instance, when Pip got stuck, the other crew member stayed with him and gave him assurances that he would not be leaving. I found it so sweet It brought tears to my eyes. The fact that they were holding hands as the ship began to sink devastated me even more. This shows their strong bond.

    • Sarah Munassar

      In Chapter Two of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” there’s a part where Hester Prynne is made fun of in front of everyone. She’s put up high on a wooden platform in the town square. People are mean to her because they think she did something wrong. She has to wear a big red letter ‘A’ on her clothes to show that she did a bad thing. Lots of people come to watch and make fun of her. This shows how strict the town is about their rules and how everyone judges each other. Hester is all alone in the crowd, which shows she’s not welcome in the town anymore. This scene talks about how harsh it is when people make fun of others in public, and it shows how people judge each other a lot in this town. What’s also crazy is the hypocrisy; the way they were judging Hester while they committed the same sin was unfair.

  18. Brandon Rios

    A scene from the 1956 film “Moby-Dick” that resonates with a compelling theme is the depiction of Captain Ahab`s confrontation with the white whale himself. Captain Ahab`s unyielding obsession with hunting down Moby Dick, the great white whale that took his leg, serves as a powerful exploration of the destructive nature of an all-consuming desire for revenge. 

    As Ahab faces the white whale in a dramatic and climactic confrontation, the scene becomes a metaphor for humanity’s struggle against the forces of nature. 

    The cinematography, dialogue, and the portrayal of the intense confrontation between man and whale in this scene contribute to the overarching theme of the human condition in the face of nature`s formidable forces. It prompts reflection on the consequences of unchecked ambition and the limits of human control over the natural world.

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