On the Death of Ahab
Ahab is one of the main characters in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
Moby-Dick was first published in 1851. During that year, only 5 books of this novel were sold. However, nowadays it has been considered to be one of the great American novels and a treasure of world literature. The narrator in this novel is a sailor called Ishmael. He told his adventures and voyage on the whale-ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ahab had his purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. Because in a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, so he wanted to take revenge.
Ahab is a tyrannical captain whose mind is almost occupied by the revenge to Moby Dick. In the Bible, Ahab is the evil idol-worshipping ruler in the Book of King. During the final chase, Ahab hurls his last harpoon into Moby Dick’s flesh and Ahab, caught by a loop in his own
harpoon’s rope and unable to free himself, is dragged down into the sea by injured whale Moby Dick. When fighting with Moby Dick, Ahab yelled his revenge words: “…to the last I grapple
with you; from hell’s heat I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee” (Moby Dick,
chapter 135)Ahab finally dooms the crew of Pequod (except for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby Dick. Ahab is killed by his own twisted obsession and desire for revenge. Moby Dick eventually destroys and sinks the Pequod.
To some extent, Ahab is inhuman. Many of his behaviors are depart from the ethical principles of human society. Ahab first began whaling at the age of eighteen and he had continued in this trade for forty years. He had wife and son, but he spent less than three years on land. He whaled on the sea for so many years, not because of economy benefits, but the feeling of conquering nature. During the forty years, Ahab was always the winner on the sea. However, he experienced failure when he encountered Moby Dick. He could not accept this fact, so he wanted to take revenge and to show that he was still the winner in the end. It seems that Ahab regarded himself as a whale. Ahab desired to kill Moby Dick and so did Moby Dick. To some extent, it was a fight between animals for the purpose of survival rather than a fight between human and animal.
The law of jungle means the weak are the prey to the strong. All animals must observe this law. Actually, during the forty years of whaling, Ahab always lived by the law of jungle. The fighting between Ahab and Moby Dick best embodied the law of jungle. The law of jungle takes place of ethical principles of human society in Ahab’s world. Ahab regarded the fighting with the whale as
a life-or-death struggle.
After losing a leg, the law of jungle was fixed more deeply in Ahab because of his desire to revenge. For most time, Ahab’s behavior was resulted from his animal-liked instinct. He had lost his judging ability of human beings. During the chase of Moby Dick, Ahab had opportunities to change the fates of Pequod and himself. But he paid no effort. Ahab's motivation for hunting Moby Dick is explored in the following passage:
The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious
agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a
heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to
whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the
ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;—Ahab did not fall down and
worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he
pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up
the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain;
all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly
personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white
hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and
then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. (Moby-Dick,
Being a part of human society, Ahab dealt with his conflict with Moby Dick like an animal. He was unable to dissolve his hatred by sense of human. His wrong ethical thoughts resulted in his tragedy in the end.