hey, isn’t this offensive?
We don’t think so. Moby-Dick is many different things, including serious high art, a confrontation with existential meaninglessness, a trauma narrative, a radical literary experiment, and (in our view) an elaborate dick joke. First-time readers of Moby-Dick are often surprised to discover that the book is screamingly funny and playful. Melville’s novel is about playing with words and their meanings; so is Dick.
We really don’t understand how this weird and subversive book found its way to the apex of the American literary canon. Canons are so often about excluding people. Maybe what this game says is this: There are plenty of canonical texts that want to exclude you, but Moby-Dick isn’t one of them. This novel, America’s national epic, is weirder, funnier, and more subversive than you think. As is America.
did dick really mean that at the time that Moby-Dick was written?
Yes. Melville wrote Moby-Dick in 1850-51. Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang (Oxford University Press, 2011) cites an instance of dick being used to refer to a dick in 1836. The usage may in fact be much older than that. For example, there seems to be a pun about girls “playing with dicks” in this bawdy ballad printed in 1719.