Thursday, January 21, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 44: The Chart

The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.

In this chapter, Captain Ahab is alone in his cabin, consulting charts/maps of the world’s oceans, attempting to plot a course that would allow him to intercept the white whale, Moby Dick.  The author writes, “it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses in the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.”  For Ahab, this hunt is intensely personal, and takes a real toll on his body and mind: “Ah, God!,” Ishmael notes, “What trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved vengeful desire.  He sleeps with clenched hands and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

Ahab’s monomania is described as a kind of personal hell: “When this hell in himself yawned beneath him, a wild cry would be heard through the ship; and with glaring eyes Ahab would burst from his state room, as though escaping from a bed that was on fire.”  The author describes a kind of dissociation between Ahab’s reasoning mind and his eternal living principle, or soul: “As the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own.”

Melville (or Ishmael), shows great compassion for Ahab’s tormented/dissociated monomania: “God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”  This is a reference to the Greek myth of Prometheus, a Titan who stole fire from the gods to help mankind.  As punishment, he was chained to a rock and every day a bird of prey came and ate his liver.  A horrible punishment for a lofty and noble act. 


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