I like your Moby Dick question, but you already haved several fascinating answers, so I'm gonna by-pass this one. As several of your answerers indicate, Moby Dick (to me, at least) is really about two huge natural monsters: Moby Dick himself, or Nature, and Ahab himself, or Human Nature. The ship's crew is pitted against them both, just as we all are in other way or another. However, I must admit I have never been able to think of Moby Dick as THE great American novel. Huck Finn gets that nod from me. For Melville, I like several shorter pieces better, esp. Billy Budd, "Bartleby the Scrivener," and "Benito Cereno." I really like Robert Lowell's dramatization of some of these in Old Glory, which doesn't get much attention these days. But there were a few decades during which the US did indeed declare its independence from European literature. None of these works, I'm convinced, could ever have been conceived or written anywhere else: Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar and Essays (1&2); Thoreau, Walden; Hawthorne, Scarlet Letter; Poe, short stories; Melville, Moby Dick; Whitman, Leaves of Grass; then, Twain, Huck Finn; and all of Emily Dickinson!! The works of each one was a literary Declaration of Independence.