Thursday, March 10, 2022

Captain Ahab's Obsessive Quest for Revenge

“Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.” ~ Captain Ahab speaks these words, in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick, when Starbuck, his first mate on the whaling ship called Pequod, opines that it might be blasphemous to be driven by an intense desire for revenge. 

In the world of Pequod, Captain Ahab is the supreme leader—his sailors obey his every command. He has a godlike view of himself. When he sees a coin that has the image of the three peaks, he says: "There's something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here, three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician's glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self.” 

Ahab is obsessed with the notion that the white whale called Moby Dick has insulted him by inflicting a life-wound on him, resulting in the loss of his leg. He is determined to exact revenge on Moby Dick. He personifies megalomaniac passion and single-mindedness. His cycloptic vision is contrasted with whale vision: the whale’s eyes are on the sides of its head, and each eye works independently, showing both sides of everything, something that humans with eyes located in the front cannot match. Ahab’s obsession to kill Moby Dick leads to not only his death but also the destruction of his ship and the death of almost the entire crew. 

Thus, the whale Moby Dick that had eyes on both sides of its head, and was, metaphorically speaking, capable of looking at both sides of every issue, won the battle against Ahab, who was authoritarian and had an obsessive cycloptic vision. One member of Pequod’s crew survived to tell the tale—he is the novel’s narrator, Ishmael. We are with Ishmael with the novel’s first line, “Call me Ishmael,” and he is there to describe the grisly climax.

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