Influence Review: ‘Moby Dick’

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(Image taken from: http://www.avidly.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/moby-dick1.jpg)

Quite possibly my favourite literary work of all time; Moby Dick breaches an area of my soul that no other work ever has. The book in itself is a masterpiece, incorporating complex humanitarian themes such as Religion and monomaniacal obsession together, creating a relationship between the opposing forces that seems to have been made in heaven (excuse the pun). I am currently reading the book for the third time, and is something that I regularly engage in reading in short bursts, often with weeks or months in between my next reading, in order for my mind to fully digest and understand the themes within.

The pivotal two characters within the book, and the two that regularly fuel my intense adoration for this book, are the titular character himself; the Great white Whale, and the Captain of the ship that chases him, with an unending obsession; Captain Ahab.

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(Image taken from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Moby_Dick_final_chase.jpg)

Ahab

Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the ship, he lost his leg to Moby Dick on a  previous voyage, and has developed a fatal obsession with the great white beast.  There is something of Ahab within all of us; his dream is to slay Moby, and he begins to lose his mind over this; Even neglecting his own health and well-being for his obsession with the whale; ‘I do not sleep, I die.’ Likewise, we often put ourselves through stress and sometimes possible self-infliction of torture, in order to achieve something that we deem as our life’s purpose. Ahab is a tragic character, one that sheds little light on his character himself, but what little is known shows a distinctively human side to Ahab, something that we immediately empathise with him for; He describes that he was raised as an orphan, and whaling has been all he has ever known since beginning when he was 18 (he is 58 at the time of the book’s plot), and has a small son and a young wife back at home, that he misses dearly. However, he feels that he cannot return to them until he achieves revenge on the whale; something that he perceives will finally let him rest (foreshadowing, as he is laid to rest by not the whale, but his own hand).

I am a massive sucker for tragic characters, two of my favourite literary characters besides Ahab being the brutal Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte), and the tragic, lonely Lok (The Inheritors – William Golding), And Ahab is no exception to this rule. He is a victim of his own sadness, and deems himself with the power of a god, able to slay the mighty Moby where other humans cannot, and strives to surpass him with a bloodied harpoon. There is also a lot of religious imagery to Ahab, referencing the damned nimrod and the fallen Seventh King of the Hebrew bible , of which his name is derived from. He is also a Quaker, which showcases a demonic aspect to him; Quakers were known for their pacifism, and his first mate Starbuck, who is also a Quaker, is quick to ponder these facts over anybody else on the ship.

Ahab’s final death, is one of great symbolism. After three days of chasing the Whale, his obsession, Starbuck exclaims ‘Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!’ However, Ahab does not heed these warnings, and his ship is torn asunder by the white whale, after ramming the Pequod, which begins to sink. Ahab throws his accursed harpoon into the whale, one that was forged through a ritual and the sacrifice of his own blood, of which the trailing rope line catches around the neck of Ahab, and he is dragged down with the diving whale. He is killed not by the thing of his obsession, but by his own hand, and the act of attempting to slay something that is seemingly of a higher existence.

Ahab’s greatest flaw is that he struggles to comprehend the lack of control he seems to have over his own fate, It’s beautifully poetic.

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(Image taken from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Moby_Dick_p510_illustration.jpg)

Moby Dick

Moby Dick, however, is a different kettle of fish entirely. He is not something that seeks Ahab, nor does he obsess over his leg or the possibility of him coming back. No, the Whale seems to encompass many themes of which are out of humanity’s control; Nature, the Sea, and even God himself. The stowaway cabin boy of the ship even states; ‘That ain’t no whale; that a great white god.’ The whale is often used as a metaphor for each character’s own wants and fears; Starbuck sees him as a threat, Ishmael tries to understand what exactly the ‘White Whale’ is in a vastly philosophical sense, Pip sees him as a being of great power, as well as many of the crew perceiving the whale as an omnipresent being; everywhere at once, impossible to kill, and rather like a mysterious seafaring God. However, Ahab is the most maniacal when it comes to his preconceptions of the whale; he pushed every sadness, every pain and anger that he has ever suffered, as well as every betrayal that has been pushed onto humanity from Adam down, and he hates the whale with every fibre  of his being.

The only thing that The whale obviously portrays is his animalistic nature, and his tendency to defend himself from the whalers, which is nothing more than his instincts.

This is a rather short entry on this book, but as I am currently re-reading it I thought I should mention it here.

Starbuck, first mate: [to Stubb and Flask] It is an evil voyage, I tell thee. If Ahab has his way, neither thee nor me, nor any member of this ship’s company will ever see home again. 

Stubb: Aw, come on, Mr. Starbuck, you’re just plain gloomy. Moby Dick may be big, but he ain’t THAT big.

Starbuck, first mate: I do not fear Moby Dick – I fear the wrath of God. 

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