Moby Dick Essay, Research Paper
Ahab can sense by smell that Moby Dick is near. Climbing up to the main royal-mast head, Ahab spots Moby Dick and earns himself the doubloon. All the boats set off in chase of the whale. When Moby Dick finally surfaces, he stoves Ahab’s boat. The whale is swimming too fast away from them and they all return to the ship.
Saying that persistent pursuit of one whale has historically happened before, Ishmael *comments that Ahab still desperately wants to chase Moby Dick though he has lost one boat. They do sight Moby Dick again and the crewmen, growing increasingly in awe of Ahab and caught up in the thrill of the chase, lower three boats. Starbuck stays to mind the Pequod. Ahab tries to attack Moby Dick head on this time, but again, Moby Dick is triumphant. He stoves Ahab’s ship and breaks his false leg. When they return to the Pequod, Ahab finds out that Fedallah is gone, dragged down by Ahab’s own line. Starbuck tells him to stop, but Ahab, convinced that he is only the “Fate’s lieutenant,” says he must keep pursuing the whale.
. Still on the look out, the crew spots the white whale for a third time but sees nothing until Ahab realizes, “Aye, he’s chasing me now; not I, him–that’s bad.” They turn the ship around completely and Ahab mounts the masthead himself. He sights the spout and lowers again. As he gets into his boat and leaves Starbuck in charge, the two men exchange a poignant moment in which Ahab asks to shake hands with his first made and the first mate tries to tell him not to go. Dangerously, sharks bite at the oars as the boats pull away.
Starbuck, in a monologue, laments Ahab’s sure doom. On the water, Ahab sees Moby Dick breach. Seeing Fedallah strapped to the whale by turns of rope, Ahab realizes that this is the first hearse that the Parsee had forecasted. The whale goes down again and Ahab rows close to the ship. He tells Tashtego to find another flag and nail it to the main masthead. The boats soon see the white whale again and go after him. But Moby Dick only turns around, and heads for the Pequod at full speed. He smashes the ship. It goes down without its captain. The ship, Ahab realizes, is the second hearse. Impassioned, Ahab is now determined to strike at Moby Dick with all of his power: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!” After darting the whale, Ahab is caught around the neck by the flying line. He is dragged under the sea. Tashtego, meanwhile, is still trying to nail the flag to the ship’s spar as it goes down. He catches a sky-hawk in mid-hammer and the screaming bird, folded in the flag, goes down with everything else.
In the Epilogue, Ishmael wraps up the story, saying that he is the only one who survives the wreck. All the boats and ship were ruined. Ishmael survives only because Queequeg s coffin bobs up and becomes his life buoy. A day after the wreck, the Rachel, still cruising for her first lost son, saves Ishmael.
Whether Moby Dick the whale continues to swim on after the destructive climax is uncertain. In Chapter 54 (The Town- Ho’s Story), the only chapter that takes place after the sinking of the Pequod, Ishmael refers to the whale’s immortality. But, it might also make sense if Ahab and the whale died together, too, since their fates had been linked since the beginning. First, Ishmael says only “one” survived the wreck–presumably himself. Second, the novel is, after all, a tragedy and, in most tragedies, there is a sense of poetic justice. For example, the tragic mechanism that dictates that a hero take responsibility for his own actions dictates that Ahab die by his own hand. And so he is dragged down by the line he throws into the whale out of pride. When the ship is destroyed, Ahab recognizes his own handiwork, saying sadly, “Oh, Ahab, Ahab, lo, thy work.”
But how did we expect Ahab to act? He is, after all, ruled by emotions and the heart. Ahab himself says, “Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal men! to think’s audacity. God only has that right and privilege.” What seems like pride to everyone else then–a willful refusal to listen to other authorities–is to Ahab actually a form of deference to God. But Ahab still keeps a hearty sense of pride or proud struggle despite the downturn in his fate. Telling Tashtego to nail another flag to the masthead may seem extravagant, but Ahab can broadcast that his spirits are not flagging if the flag goes up. Once he understands (and accepts) what will happen to him, he also accepts how he is built: “I Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief.” We feel the extent of his desperation. The depth of his emotions determines the greatness of his legacy and work. Recall this spirit of relativism in the image of the Catskill eagle.
The gap between the very emotional Ahab and the painfully rational Starbuck grows. They see the same events, but while Starbuck says they are bad omens, Ahab thinks they are welcoming. When the whale swims away from the boat, for example, Starbuck says that this is the whale letting them stop this crazy chase. But not Ahab–it is only another whale trick that he has figured out. This willfulness only shows to Starbuck that “Moby Dick seeks thee [Ahab] not. It is thou, thou that madly seekest him!” Not only do they read the world in their own separate ways but the plot now physically separates them from each other. Starbuck watches the ship; Ahab goes forth and hunts. Moreover, Starbuck wonders whether he can activate his heart on any profound level: “Feel thy heart,–beats it yet?” Starbuck asks himself. “Stir thyself, Starbuck!”
But Ishmael does skillfully handle Ahab’s relationship with the crew. If Ishmael said in Chapter 27 that the crew members were “Isolatoes” who were “federated along one keel” following Ahab, we can see exactly how they have become dominated by Ahab. They run into each other “in one concrete hull” which is “both balanced and directed by the long central keel all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to.” Ahab is no longer just their leader that pulls them along a track; Ahab is their keel.
Ishmael also pays attention to the structure behind these chapters. In Ahab’s interactions with the whale, he grows increasingly confrontational. The first lowering was just like any other, not caring exactly how the patient approached the whale. The second lowering heads for Moby Dick straight-on. By the third lowering, makes the ship itself (not just the boat) take on the whale head-on. Ishmael has also folded drama into the texture of his novel. The epilogue also owes much to Shakespearean studies in which characters like Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the clown from Twelfth Night deliver a short monologue. This gloss at the end completes the frame effect nicely, since the book opens with commentary by Ishmael.