Moby Dylan: An Analysis of Bob Dylan’s Summary of Moby-Dick in His 2017 Nobel Lecture

10 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2017 Last revised: 19 Jun 2017

Date Written: June 11, 2017

Abstract

In his 2017 Nobel Lecture, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan summarized and paid tribute to three books that had influenced his life and work: Melville’s Moby-Dick, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and Homer’s Odyssey. An analysis of Dylan’s summary of Moby-Dick shows him referencing passages and scenes from more than 25 chapters in the novel, from Loomings to the Epilogue. Most of these references are identifiable and accurate, but in some cases Dylan has mixed characters together, and twice he attributes scenes to the novel that don’t appear in it. Whether these scenes are new inventions or have other non-Melville sources is not clear. The themes of Moby-Dick “work [their] way into more than a few of my songs,” says Dylan, so musicologists interested in his literary sources and his process of composition may wish to examine Moby-Dick in greater detail to determine the full scope of its influence on his work.

Note: An appendix on Andrea Pitzer’s discovery of Dylan’s Nobel sources has been added to this paper as of 18 June 2017.

Keywords: American literature, Andrea Pitzer, Bob Dylan, genetic criticism, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, musicology, Nobel Prize, novels, plagiarism, song lyrics, source studies, SparkNotes

JEL Classification: O34, Q22, Z11

Suggested Citation

O’Hara, Robert J., Moby Dylan: An Analysis of Bob Dylan’s Summary of Moby-Dick in His 2017 Nobel Lecture (June 11, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2984395 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2984395

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