Posted: August 15th, 2013
Moby Dick: Ahab
Ahab is a sailor and a whale hunter. He owns a ship called the Pequod. During a routine whale hunting sailing excursion, he is dismembered by a white sperm whale. The whale, he comes to learn later is called Moby Dick. He also learns that any ship that encountered Moby Dick was followed with disasters and misfortunes if not sunk. Though he gets this information, he is focused on his quest to seek revenge on the albino whale and make sure it pays for his leg. However, he does not plan to go on this journey alone, he convinces his crew and several others to accompany him in the mission. The egomaniacal whale hunter wishes to play the role of God and get rid of the ‘evil’ that he sees in Moby Dick and his obsession towards the whale is driven by an evil thirst for vengeance.
Ahab is a Quaker by religion and his name is derived directly from the Holy Bible. The name was of an evil king who was slain due to his evil doings, greed and disobedience, “When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?” (Melville 222). Ahab, having been given the name, symbolizes that his life was doomed from the get go and his passion to seek vengeance on the whale, would make his life not end well. The dogs’ licking the evil king’s wounds symbolizes a very dark path ahead filled with deep sorrow. His obsession with the whale also shows his ungodliness since he does not believe in anything else but himself and his desires. He ignores religion, common sense, pleas and advice from fellow sailors who have had an experience with the whale and the omens he encounters and like the biblical character that he is named after, he receives punishment for his stupidity (Fish & Spring 123).
Ahab is described as grand due to his great mind. He is very intelligent, he has great abilities in the sea, and his instincts that he uses in the sea are what make Peleg refer to him as grand. He is described as godlike because he possesses a defiant fight with the world and worldly things that places him above mortals. He acts like no ordinary man and this quality is what makes Ahab seem like a god in his own way. He also views the loss of his leg as an insult to him and as a representation of all the evils that God has sent down to punish humankind.
Ahab can be said to be godly and ungodly at the same time due to his fight against an extraordinary force that has taken control of his thoughts. The extraordinary force can be either God or an evil spirit commanding him to follow the whale. Ahab himself does not know what has taken hold of him since he says “What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me?” (Melville 132). He considers the force driving him unearthly and admits it to be his master since he cannot control it. In his trance, he could be held by evil spirits, Godly spirits or just spirits brought about by his imagination.
Ahab’s appearance also makes him appear godlike. The narrator, Ishmael says that he looks like a man who has been “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.” (Melville 179). Ahab has a white scar that runs down his face. Apparently, he got the scar from a lightning bolt that hit him and although they are not sure, members of his cabin think it runs down his body too. He has one leg and the other, bitten off by a white whale, is replaced by a bone from a sperm whale’s jaw. He is thus part whale himself. His blasphemous nature shows his ungodliness. He believes in nothing else but himself and Starbuck tells him that he is seeking revenge from a “dumb brute . . . that simply smote thee from blindest instinct” (Melville 234). Even then, he does not give up or change his mind but rather he says, “I would strike the sun if it insulted me” (Melville 258).
Ahab is so determined to kill Moby Dick that he challenges his crewmembers to try to convince him not to hunt down the whale. He says, “Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!” (Melville 274). The soliloquy that Ahab chants shows just how much he is determined to get the whale and he accepts his fate. He has no control whatsoever of his actions and he describes his path as one forged with “iron rails” and that he has to run along it since it was set for him. He uses these words to convince his crew to go on the suicide mission with him.
Ahab believes himself to be godly. He believes his sole purpose is to get rid of the evil incarnate whale that lurks in the seawaters where he sails. The words, ”All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.” (Melville 314), show how wrongly Ahab interprets the situations that occur to him. He views his loss of a leg as a challenge from Moby Dick to pursue it rather than an accident, a warning or even a punishment. He also views the loss as a form of persecution that he is being put through by evil (Melville, McCaughrean & Fowler 58).
Ahab’s ungodliness is seen in the end of the book where he delivers his last blow on Moby Dick as he dies. He is caught by the neck on the rope of his harpoon while the harpoon is lodged in the flesh of the whale. He is pulled by the whale into the sea and as he is being dragged and sees his fateful end, he says, ” Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!” (Melville 336). Ahab dies in the ocean contrary to the prophecy that Fedallah, his prophet, tells him. Moby Dick destroys the Pequod, Ahab’s ship, and all the men are thrown into the sea. Ahab is defeated by the whale as a typical mortal but in spirit, he uses his final breath to curse the whale and his terrible fate. He believes himself to be already in hell and as he delivers his final blow, everything goes quiet and all the crewmembers except Ishmael and the ship follow the whale to the depths of the sea marking the end of Ahab (Melville 350).
Ahab, the captain of the Pequod obsessed with a whale is a hero to some, a villain to some and a mad man to others. He is extremely overconfident and this overconfidence makes him deaf to anyone or anything. He does not even use his own common sense. He views himself as a god since he thinks he can do whatever he wishes anytime he wishes and not even nature can catch up with him. He views Moby Dick, the whale, as an evil adversary who brings evil to the world and his inevitable fate is to get rid of this evil. Ahab is not evil nor is he godly; he is just a normal man who has a great passion that drives him to do inexplicable deeds. He gets great misfortunes, probably greater than he should get and to the reader he gives a perception of a great similarity to every person. Ahab is also not supernatural since he talks of a wife and a child that he has back in the mainland. His obsession and vengeance are what make him a human being that acts like a god.
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