Melville's Moby-Dick: Is Ahab, Ahab?

Melville's Moby-Dick: Is Ahab, Ahab?

Length: 957 words (2.7 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
In Melville's Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Ahab calls himself "madness maddened" and across the oceans he unleashes his madness in an unerring quest to wreak his hate upon the white whale, that agent or principal of the "inscrutable malignancy" lurking behind the phenomenal world. Milder asserts that by making Ahab mad, Melville found the means to present an apocalyptic act of a hero, free of the constraints of realism, that might express the disillusionment of the cultural moment that had witnessed the end of religion, the frustration of the Romantic quest, and the end of the possibility for spiritual meaning in the universe. Thus, Ahab is rendered believable. But by making Ahab mad, he risked rendering him irrelevant. For Ahab to remain important for the reader, he must not be reduced to mere madness. Once he speaks only for the aberrant, one need no longer grapple with him, need not account for Ahab. We dismiss Calibans, Pucks, even Iagos, but we cannot easily dismiss Lear and McBeth and Hamlet or Ahab. The madman and the possessed can be exiled from our affinities as wholly "other," such that one inscribes their behavior in a circle of experience separate from our own, for unless by some event beyond our control we ourselves become monsters or madmen, the madman's reality remains sufficiently and safely different from our own. To attempt to account for Ahab, one must acknowledge his reality as a possible reality and admit the potential for the Ahabian in one's own possible reality.

While Milder's identification of the demonic adds another significant resonance and heuristic lens, an interpretation based upon the demonic risks reducing Ahab to one possessed, which like Ahab's "madness," can reduce Ahab to the wholly aberrant or mechanical.

Like a Romantic visionary or transcendentalist, like a Whitman, Ahab seeks to match the universe, to see through the veil of Maya to the Absolute behind it. But unlike Whitman, Ahab's expanding self does not embrace the universe but strikes against the white wall of reality shoved near to him. He rages against this wall like one embittered by some secret betrayal. He rails against an absence of meaning in the universe when it seems it once held out a promise of redemption. Like a lover betrayed, he seeks to strike back at whatever force perniciously acts behind the pasteboard masks of the universe.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Melville's Moby-Dick: Is Ahab, Ahab?." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Dec 2018
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=101892>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Melville's Moby Dick: Comparing the Missions of Ahab and Ishmael Essay

- Herman Melville began working on this novel Moby Dick in 1850. In this book Melville challenges the relationship man have with his universe, his fate, and his God. Ahab represents a human being made up of evil, when he decides to questions God fate, and goes against God when he tries to strike Moby Dick the whale. The whale in this novel represents God. Moby-Dick, can teach you many things if you can remain focused long enough. However, the most important lesson that can be learned from the work is not that hard to understand....   [tags: Moby Dick, compare]

Research Papers
1654 words (4.7 pages)

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

- 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....   [tags: Moby Dick Essays]

Research Papers
1598 words (4.6 pages)

Essay on Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife and Melville's Moby Dick

- Challenging Writing as a Male Tradition in Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife and Melville's Moby Dick In Sena Jeter Naslund's novel Ahab's Wife, there is repetitive reference to "the chaos of the waves (40);" Naslund uses these images of turbulent water in contrast to the precise and patterned nature of stitched quilts. She equates the process of "writing a book" to the "posture of sewing (70)." She asserts "when one stitches, the mind travels...And books, like quilts, are made one word at a time, one stitch at a time (70)." The consequences of making this type of connection within a literary narrative authored by a woman writer are penetrative to the fundamental assumptions about the cr...   [tags: Comparison Compare Contrast Essays]

Free Essays
868 words (2.5 pages)

Essay about Comparing Melville's Moby Dick and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife

- Sena Jeter Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife, charts the sorrows of people who have lost loves. Ahab's Wife is about the healing process after trauma and loss. Naslund's novel speaks to the imperfect, wounded, restless part of humans, the part that is ever questioning the meaning of existence. It teaches healing that is a reaction to this essential imperfection, this essential doubt. Naslund's novel is written as a response to Herman Melville's Moby Dick: about a wounded sea captain who seeks revenge against nature, against "the ungraspable phantom,"1 the "heartless immensities"2 for wounding him....   [tags: Comparison Compare Contrast Essays]

Research Papers
1748 words (5 pages)

Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story

- Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story Throughout my reading of Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife, I was disturbed by the fact that the most tempting way to situate the two novels in a relationship was to categorize them as "male" and "female." Moby Dick was, of course, the man's story and Ahab's Wife was its womanly counterpart. This comparison makes sense when you consider the gender of the authors, Melville and Naslund, the gender of their respective narrators, Ishmael and Una, and the experiences portrayed throughout the texts....   [tags: comparison compare contrast essays]

Research Papers
1587 words (4.5 pages)

Ahab as the Hero of Moby Dick Essay

- Ahab as the Hero of Moby Dick     One might think it a difficult task to find a tragic hero hidden in the pages of Moby Dick. Yet, there is certainly potential for viewing Ahab as heroic despite unfavorable responses to him by the reader. In the original formula coming from the Greeks, the tragic hero had to be a high-born individual of elevated status possessed of a fatal flaw which resulted in their downfall. With Othello Shakespeare redefined elevated status to include position alone rather than being linked to societal or birth status....   [tags: Moby Dick Essays]

Research Papers
1179 words (3.4 pages)

Essay about Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

- Herman Melville's Moby-Dick      Herman Melville began working on his epic novel Moby-Dick in 1850, writing it primarily as a report on the whaling voyages he undertook in the 1830s and early 1840s. Many critics suppose that his initial book did not contain characters such as Ahab, Starbuck, or even Moby Dick, but the summer of 1850 changed Melville’s writing and his masterpiece. He became friends with author Nathaniel Hawthorne and was greatly influenced by him. He also read Shakespeare and Milton’s Paradise Lost (Murray 41)....   [tags: Herman Melville Moby Dick Essays]

Research Papers
1914 words (5.5 pages)

Essay about Herman Melville 's Moby Dick

- At the conclusion of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and after three days of chasing the whale, the flag atop the Pequod’s main mast had become weathered and torn. Ahab instructs Tashtego to mount a new flag on the main mast and the Indian from Gay Head Massachusetts promptly complies. Tashtego’s compliance to his captain’s order is so diligent that even after the whale has struck the mortal blow against the ship, Tashetego continues to hammer in the flag as he and the mast sink into the sea (Melville 531, 535)....   [tags: Moby-Dick, Herman Melville, Allegory]

Research Papers
946 words (2.7 pages)

Herman Melville's Moby Dick Essay

- Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" In Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, a recurring theme of death is seen throughout the book. A coffin appears at the beginning of the book and at the end of the book, Ishmael sees a large oil painting that foreshadows and represents many things and events that follow in the book, and Fedallah makes a prophecy talking about hearses and predicts Ahab’s death. Ishmael stays at The Sprouter-Inn, whose proprietor was a man named Peter Coffin. In the end, Ishmael clings to a coffin for over a day until rescued by another boat....   [tags: Moby Dick Melville Death Essays]

Research Papers
679 words (1.9 pages)

The Old Man And The Sea and Moby Dick Essay

- The Old Man And The Sea and Moby Dick       One might say we are presented with two fish stories in looking at Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, a marlin in the former and a whale in the latter.  However, both of these animals are symbolic of the struggle their hunters face to find dignity and meaning in the face of a nihilistic universe in Hemingway and a fatalistic one in Melville.  While both men will be unable to conquer the forces of the universe against them, neither will either man be conquered by them because of their refusal to yield to these insurmountable forces.  However, Santiago gains a measure of peace and understanding about existe...   [tags: Moby Dick Essays]

Research Papers
1367 words (3.9 pages)


Ahab thus enacts a negative reverse of Carlyle's Professor Teufelsdrockh in Sartor Resartus who, though faced with "Cloth-webs and Cobwebs," of Imperial Mantles, Superannuated Symbols, and what not: yet still did he courageously pierce through. Nay, worst of all, two quite mysterious, world-embracing Phantasms, Time and Space, have ever hovered round him, perplexing and bewildering: but with these also he now resolutely grapples, these also he victoriously rends asunder. In a word, he has looked fixedly on Existence, till one after the other, its earthly hulls and garnitures have all melted away; and now, to his rapt vision, the interior celestial Holy of Holies lies disclosed.


Ahab seeks to rend asunder, to pierce, strike through the mask of appearances, yet he hunts not for the "interior Holy of Holies" but rather to wreak his hate upon the inscrutable malignancy lurking behind the veil. Rogin comments that Ahab seeks "vengeance both against the God of his fathers and (like them) against the pagan deity of nature" (125). He rightly calls Ahab's quest an ascetic hunt (125).

But Ahab's flaw, which defeats him, is his not believing his own philosophy. He is too much a realist, believing too much in the pasteboard masks. "All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks." All visible objects -- including that which is Ahab. To fixate upon one external phenomenon in the wavering veil only reifies it. By focussing his hate upon the white whale, Ahab mistakes the veil for the "reasoning thing" behind it, the phenomenon for the noumen. The harpoon must be turned inward. Emerson said "I become a transparent eyeball." Thoreau restates the idea: "It was no longer beans I hoes, nor I that hoed beans." "We are laid asleep in body and become a living soul," says Wordsworth. And Whitman later will say, "I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags./ I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles."

Ahab seems rather to unleash his almost superhuman vengeance against the very fact of the inscrutability of the universe. In part, Ahab resembles Kant, who while accepting the limitations of human knowledge and experience, being limited by the a priori categories of human experiencing of the world, still insisted upon "the thing in itself," which lies beyond our capacities of perception and of which we ultimately can know nothing. Fitche and Schiller, however, dispensed with the concept of "the thing in itself" and saw human experience and action partaking of the divine intelligence, and through which the universe manifests itself. Ahab's desire to pierce through the phenomenal world seems like the Kantian believing in "the thing in itself" the "truth" or real presence outside of appearances. Emerson, too, in a less radical approach speaks of Letter to Hawthorne, April 16, 1851: at 555: As soon as you say Me, a God, a Nature, so soon you jump off from your stool and hang from the beam. Yes, that word is the hangman. Take God out of the dictionary, and you have Him in the street."

W O R K S C I T E D

Carlyle, Thomas, Sartor Resartus, Book III, Chapt 8

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick; or, The Whale. New York: Norton, 1967.

Rogin, Michael Paul. Subversive Genealogy. Berkeley: U Ca P, 1979.
Return to 123HelpMe.com