Captain Ahab and Moby Dick: Literary critics point to a variety of themes and juxtapositions when analyzing Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." Some see the land opposed to the sea or Fate opposed to free will. Most mention man versus nature or good versus evil. A perspective that seems overlooked though is the perspective of the self and the other. The self and other is when one discovers the other (something not us) within oneself, when one realizes that one is not a single being alien to anything that is not them. There are many such relationships throughout the book, such as that of Ishmael and Queequeg and Ahab and Starbuck. However, this paper will focus on the essential relationship, which is of Ahab and Moby-Dick.
By recognizing the other within ourselves, we are saved from hating the other in itself. Captain Ahab struggled to see Moby-Dick within himself, in this began the book's main problem of the self and the other. Before I get to this problem lets track the character of Ahab's development up to that point. Chapters early in the book describe Ahab as having lost his leg to Moby-Dick. This character development suggests that Ahab is the victim of an attack by a vicious animal. However, by chapter 36 "The Quarter Deck', Ahab is described as a man infatuated with destroying a great white whale, named Moby-Dick.
By chapter 37 "Sunset', it is obvious that Ahab is mad and in chapter 44 "The Chart', the reader is made aware of Ahab's 'monomaniac thought of his soul.' He was so obsessed with Moby-Dick that he couldn't sleep. Ahab must have had some cause for his feelings toward the whale. It seems that Ahab and many other sailors have been exposed to the story of Jonah, which may have established man and whale as enemies. Also, is chapter 54 "The Town-Ho's Story' Melville tells of an account of Moby-Dick's capabilities. In this story, Moby-Dick snatches R adney from his ship and takes him below the ocean's surface. However, for some reason Ahab does not hear this story.
Melville may be showing the reader that the whale can be violent, and by not allowing Ahab to hear this story he (or the reader) won't be able to use this information as an excuse for Ahab's madness. By telling only the reader of the Town Ho's story, both the characters of Ahab and Moby-Dick are developed further. The character of the whale is set up as a dangerous being and the character of Ahab is set up as a crazy man who has extensive knowledge of the whale's actions yet he fills in the blanks, so to speak. In essence, Ahab makes Moby-Dick what he is. In chapter 99 "The Doubloon" Melville again shows Ahab's madness.
Since Ahab hasn't yet been able to destroy the whale, he offers any member of the crew who can destroy the whale an expensive coin. In the following chapter, Ahab is confronted with Enderby someone who seems to symbolize rationality. However, Ahab refuses to listen. Here Melville again shows that Ahab is totally consumed with destroying the whale, and that Moby-Dick is also a merciless creature, since Enderby lost one of his arms to him. However, Enderby does not feel the same fury that Ahab does, which is why I said he seems to symbolize rationality and this rationality mirrors Ahab's obsession. Enderby has comes to terms with Moby-Dick and his experience with him.
He did not fill in the blanks, as Ahab has done. If Enderby could get over it Ahab could too, but he doesn't, this foreshadows destruction and it also brings light to the extent of Ahab's madness. Moby-Dick might symbolize evil and if so Ahab's obsession to kill Moby-Dick is evil as well in my opinion. This goes back to what I said in the beginning, that it seems evident that the other exists within the self. The evil that Moby-Dick appears to have is the evil within Captain Ahab. Ahab cast his own feelings and instincts onto Moby-Dick, because Ahab can not accept himself as he is.
The disgrace of Moby-Dick was created, to some degree, by Captain Ahab. While Ahab may try to establish himself as a hero, deep down he is also evil. It is this similarity that is the problem. When it becomes too obvious that the other is no different from the self, the other becomes kind of like a scapegoat.
Take this for an example: the Nazis were not happy with a range of things pertaining to their quality of life. The Jews engaged in various religious practices that were thought to be very unusual and the Jews were hated for this un usualness. It became evident soon that the Jews, as people were no different than the Nazis. Therefore, protrusion and creation were needed. The Germans were reminded of all types of things, it was even alleged that the Jews were an inferior race of people that would destroy humanity if they were allowed to reproduce, especially with non-Jews.
The solution was that the Jews would be exterminated, just like any other germ or virus. Therefore, the Jews were made into a scapegoat for much greater fears, concerns, and insecurities. Ahab created 'Moby-Dick' as the object toward which to direct his hate. Some might say that the whale serves as a fetish object. Sigmund Freud said that people who have gone through traumatic experiences often use fetish objects to function normally.
Fetishes usually are shown sexually, since normally people have trouble expressing their sexuality and need the fetish object as an alternative. The fetish keeps their sexuality alive. In Ahab's case, obviously there was no sexual fetish object. However Moby Dick did serve as an object of self-defense. Ahab's identity as Moby-Dick's enemy was kept unharmed. Therefore Ahab may have needed to create Moby-Dick for his own sake.
In order to justify his own hatred and tendency toward evil Ahab had to create Moby-Dick as an evil and destructive entity. Moby-Dick had to be made into a fearsome opponent, to explain Ahab's failed attempts at destroying it. By Ahab creating Moby Dick this way Ahab created himself. Just like a master and slave relationship the self and the other are linked. There can be no slave without a master and there can be no master without a slave. When a master defeats and creates a slave, the master creates a role as 'master' for himself or herself as well.
In Melville's book, Ahab played the role of hunter and Moby-Dick became the hunted. The self / other relationship can be far more complicated than what has been offered here. Many racists, sexists and those who cannot tolerate homosexuality do not always follow the standards. Ahab and Moby-Dick are a special case of the relationship, and they are one that deserves consideration. Once again when I say self / other I am referring to a type of linkage of two separate beings.
It is when one (the self) discovers the other (something not us) within oneself, when one realizes that one is not a single being alien to anything that is not them. The main point of this paper is the main problem of the self and the other which is that Captain Ahab struggled to see Moby-Dick within himself. Since he could not see this he hated and became obsessed with Moby Dick and thus apart of himself.