Moby Dick


Captain Ahab

In a certain light, Ahab can be seen as extremely one-dimensional, having poured his entire life and soul into his one single obsession: to hunt and kill the White Whale. This makes Ahab a static character in some ways, since his obsessive quest for revenge never falters from beginning to end of the novel. However, he is also a complicated, meditative thinker whose melodious monologues account for much of the novel’s poetry. Ahab is a strong-willed, charismatic captain whose crew’s devotion to his purpose has more to do with Ahab himself than with the gold he promises them. Although many of his crewmen think him mad, there is no mutiny aboard the Pequod, and even the first mate Starbuck, who at one point considers murdering Ahab in his sleep, is eventually won over by the captain’s personal strength. Although Ahab’s men sense they are doomed—and Fedallah has even seen the future, predicting his own death as well as Ahab’s—they fight lustily against Moby Dick until the bitter end. Even though Ahab is a narcissistic man, projecting himself onto the world around him and only seeing through this limited view, he is nonetheless capable of compassion and tenderness, as seen in his relationship with the cabin boy, Pip, as well as his confidential, tender remembrances to Starbuck about his family on land.

Ultimately, Melville casts Ahab as a tragic, Shakespearean hero, a great man destroyed by hubris. Ahab’s arrogant pride causes him to choose revenge, hatred, and spite over a comfortable life of simple, human joys. Because Ahab strives to overreach God, to become a god in his own right, he suffers a tragic demise. 

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Essays About Moby Dick