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Herman Melville's dark classic "Moby Dick" reaches its climax after many long chapters on the anatomy of whale, the abnormal and evil connotations of white, and the strange introspections of the obsessed Captain Ahab, who seeks the great white whale for revenge, but also as the key to some metaphysical answer. For when the first mate, Starbuck tells Ahab "To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous," Ahab replies,
Hark ye yet again--the littlelower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the molding of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me the White Whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the White Whale agent, or be the White Whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me....By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspikes. Who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go man?Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?
A dark Romantic, Melville perceived the dark side of Nature, a Nature working against man. The climax comes to Melville's novel when Ahab and his ship, the Pequod, catch up to the "inscrutable malice," Moby Dick in Chapter 133: "\
There she blows!--there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!
None of the crew win the doubloon, for it is Ahab who first spots the whale. The whale turns as the boat containing Ahab nears, opening his mouth to tear into its side. Ahab would stay this force of fate as he "made one final effort to push the boat out of the bite." Withdrawing momentarily from his prey, Moby Dick turns sideways and churns the water "in his vengeful wake," Ahab's head "was seen, like a tossed bubbel which the least chance shock might burst. But, he is rescued and the second boat gives chase. This chase lasts for a significant three days. On the second day, Ahab tells Starbuck:
This who act's immutable decreed. Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant, I act under orders.
On the third day,Time itself now held long breaths with keen suspense and Ahab tells Starbuck, "For the third time my soul's ship starts upon the voyage, Starbuck." Finally, Moby Dick succeeds in killing Ahab, who having smashed the other two boats, meets his lonely death as Fedallah is seen lashed by harpoon lines to Moby Dick's flank and Ahab harpoons Moby Dick, in trying to "break through the pasteboard mask" of this creature, and Ishmael falls out. Ahab's harpoon line runs afoul and, as he stoops to dodge it, the line is pulled around his neck. Thus, he and Moby Dick return to the lower depths.
Ishmael, whose Biblical name means he is meant to wander, is drawn into the vortex of the sinking Pequod; Up shoots a coffin from the whirlpool that he uses as a buoy until he is rescued.
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