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"I turned around and saw him about 100 rods [500 m or 550 yards] directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed of around 24 knots (44 km/h), and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship." (Owen Chase, First Mate aboard the Essex)
Although Herman Melville was a popular writer during his day, he had become mostly obscure until a literary revival in the early 20th century resurrected his legacy. At the forefront of the revival was the book that is now considered a classic around the globe, and one of the greatest American novels ever written: Moby Dick. The novel is about Captain Ahab hunting a whale named Moby Dick, with a sailor named Ishmael narrating the story. Throughout the novel Ishmael speculates upon concepts such as good and evil, society and religion, and by the time the novel ends, readers come to understand that the novel's plot and characters (including the whale itself) are comprised of metaphors and allegories that Melville leaves for readers to interpret for themselves.
However, while Moby Dick remains a staple among students, Melville was actually inspired by a true story: the shipwreck of the whaleship Essex in 1820. While it was always dangerous to work on a whaleship, the Essex was the first known American ship to be badly damaged by a massive sperm whale's attack, and though whales would sink other ships in the ensuing decades, the entire ordeal encountered by the crew made headlines when the survivors were rescued. When the Essex was wrecked, its crew of 21 tried to survive on uninhabited islands and resorted to desperate measures, including cannibalism of those who began to die.