Ahab's Quest for the Meaning of Life in Melville's Novel, Moby Dick

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Ahab's Quest for the Meaning of Life in Melville's Novel, Moby Dick

"Each life unfulfilled you see,

It hangs still, patchy and scrappy;

We have not sighed deep, laughed free,

Starved, feasted, despaired-been happy."

Robert Browning

Introducing the idea of the evolution of species, Darwin emphasized on the importance of the "struggle for existence" as the driving force for that process. Facing scarcity of resources in their habitats, some species gain certain traits that help them utilize the available resources in a more efficient way. Thus, given a competitive advantage over the other species in that habitat, the species that are better adapted to their environment have greater chances for survival than others do. Drawing on the history of H. sapiens, Nietzsche supplanted Darwin's "struggle for existence" with "struggle for power" as the driving force for ontogenetic development and evolution of the phylogeny. What instills power into people?

Knowledge rather than physical strength gives people the necessary power to claim their lives. On the intrapersonal level, knowledge of one's goals and motivation are the prerequisites to attain one's life. Understanding one's self and the mechanisms one uses to compose coherent stories of the numerous observations equals making sense of the universe. The ability to comprehend one's own inner world complements the ability to compose an articulate story to account for the findings. Therefore, on the interpersonal level it is of paramount importance that one is able to articulate one's ideas by molding them into palpable notions by means of language and, thus, maintain ascendancy over people. Yet, having attained power to live, people face only death. Analyzing Ahab's experien...

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...esult only in renunciation of the aim and death. In the course of the game Ahab's values lose their meanings. Embracing the ideal of knowledge of the universe, Ahab aspires to break free from the bonds of ignorance and claim his own life. Assuming the responsibility for his actions in order to extricate himself from the bonds of religion, he repudiates his freedom. Yet, attaining the power that comes from the realization of the absurdity helps other people live. Living for the sake of others: Isn't this altruism moral?


Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Accessed on April 18, 2004 http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html

Coelho, Paulo. Veronika Decides to Die. London: Harper Collins, 2000

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Norton Critical Editions, 2001

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin Books, 1990

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