“I feel that the difference between a merely good and a truly great piece of fiction is not solely in the nature and structure of the story conveyed, or in the themes or characterization, or in the success with which the writer puts him or herself within particular literary conventions (genres); it is mostly in the style–or, at any rate, in the way style and other components (such as themes and characterization) are complementary. The greatness lies not at the ‘global’ but at the sentence level.”
In other words, Zimmerman believes that what makes a literary work great is the nuances within each sentences — choices regarding syntax, specific literary devices, and other points of style. In what way would you say that this applies to the prose in Moby-Dick?
Recommended Elements of Your Response
Much of Moby-Dick is difficult to work through. There are extended sections of the novel, for example, where Melville categorizes the various types of whales. That chapter is not what makes this one of the great American novels — at least not in isolation.
There are many passages from Moby-Dick that you could use to answer this question; for a top-level paper, you will need examples from three different ones.
This quotation gives the first description of Ahab from Ishmael’s point of view:
He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus. (p. 129)
The description goes further, but here are some examples of elements you could use in a response to this essay question. Note how, in these two sentences, Melville compares Ahab to someone who has just escaped execution (“cut away from the stake”) and expresses his otherworldly appearance of strength (“compacted aged robustness”). The otherworldly ambiance continues in the comparison to an ancient statue out of bronze, followed by the direct allusion to Perseus, the hero who slew Medusa and the Kraken.
It is the richness of descriptive passages that makes Melville’s prose amazing to behold. The painstaking labor of writing and revising ensures that elements like these find their way into sentence after sentence.