The Moral Ambiguity Of Ahab Essay, Research Paper
The moral ambiguity of Ahab is prevalent throughoutHerman Melville s Moby Dick. Ahab does not represent pureevil or pure goodness. Melville often refers to Ahab as monomaniacal, suggesting amorality or psychosis. In thechapter The Symphony, Melville gives the reader a glimpse ofAhab as a sympathetic human being. The moral ambiguityintensifies when Melville juxtaposes Ahab s maniacal side withhis sympathetic side leaving the reader uncertain of Ahab smoral character. Throughout a great portion of the novel, Melvilleportrays Ahab as the maniacal, disturbed captain of thePequod. His crew thinks he is insane for devoting his wholelife to chasing Moby Dick. Ahab remains a virtuallyone-dimensional character until the chapter The Symphony where he openly shares his feelings with Starbuck. Inallowing the reader to see the subtle complexities of Ahab sobsession, Melville establishes that Ahab is not an inhumanmachine of revenge. Ahab admits that the life he leads is oneof desolation of solitude (491). He claims that the worldhas given him no sympathy. This confession replaces hisprevious portrait as the depraved lunatic. He mourns becauseof his basically non-existent marriage. Ahab never sees hiswife leaving her a widow with her husband alive (492). Hismad chase after Moby Dick takes away his chance to have ameaningful relationship with his wife and a normal familylife. Ahab breaks down and repents his sins. He spills hisheart and soul out to Starbuck. Ahab tells Starbuck lowernot when I do (492) when he is speaking of the chase of MobyDick to come. These words show that he is capable of humanlove. He does not want to hurt anyone else on the Pequod. Ahab knows that he alone is solely driven to chase Moby Dickand does not want to bring anyone else down with him. Ahabtouches Starbuck s heart with his sympathetic words. Starbucksays my captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! (492) in recognition of Ahab s greatness. Despite all ofAhab s anger and madness, Starbuck sees him in a differentlight. This chapter shows Ahab s sympathetic, humane side.
Although Ahab recognizes his obsession and repents toStarbuck, fate drives him to destruction. He knows that hisobsession with chasing Moby Dick is crazy, but he cannot stop. Forces beyond his control drive his obsession. Fate causesAhab s obsessive hatred and determination. He sincerelybelieves that the whale is an emblem of pure evil, and he hasto destroy it. He shows his humanity to Starbuck in TheSymphony. After Starbuck recognizes his captain s greatness,he asks Ahab why should any one give chase to that hatedfish? (492) Starbuck wants to return home to see his familyand live to see the light of another day. Ahab s speech giveshim a small hope of living. Ahab says he cannot turn back,and he does not know what forces have control over him. Ahabasks Starbuck what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing isit; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruelremorseless emperor commands me? (685) Ahab cannot doanything to stop fate, but fate taunts him. He realizes thathe is crazy and obsessive and repents his sins to Starbuck. Nevertheless fate takes hold of him. Ahab says that [f]ateis the handspike (493), and he can do nothing to change hisdestiny. He accepts that he is doomed and continues the madsearch for Moby Dick. The inevitable circumstances of Ahab slife cause him great pain and suffering. The constantstruggle he must endure is greater than that of anyone of theother crew members. He knows there is no escape for him. Melville leaves the reader to analyze the moral statusof Ahab. Melville makes no attempt to delineate a moralhierarchy and in doing so, completes the ambiguity. Ahab isneither good or evil. Until The Symphony Melville portraysAhab as a maniacal man on a vengeful search. In TheSymphony Ahab breaks down and cries to Starbuck realizingthat his life is a mad, obsessive chase for a whale. Ahab istruly sorry for his anger and madness, but he cannot stop theforces of fate driving his obsession. Fate is the drivingforce in determining the outcome in Ahab s life, and heaccepts his inevitable destiny. This acceptance shows hiscapability of human emotion. Melville allows the reader todetermine the moral status of Ahab.