Individual vs. Nature
The voyage of the Pequod is no straightforward, commercially inspired whaling voyage. The reader knows this as soon as Ishmael registers as a member of the crew and receives, at secondhand, warnings of the captain’s state of mind. Ahab, intent on seeking revenge on the whale who has maimed him, is presented as a daring and creative individual, pitted against the full forces of nature. In developing the theme of the individual (Ahab) versus Nature (symbolized by Moby-Dick), Melville explores the attributes of natural forces. Are they ruled by chance, neutral occurrences that affect human characters arbitrarily? Or do they possess some form of elementary will that makes them capable of using whatever power is at their disposal?
God and Religion
The conflict between the individual and nature brings into play the theme of religion and God’s role in the natural world. The critic Harold Bloom has named Ahab “one of the fictive founders of what should be called the American Religion,” and although Melville wrote his novel while living in the civilized Berkshires, near the eastern U.S. seaboard, and set it on the open seas, the reader must not forget that America at that time had moved westward. To Ahab it does not matter if the white whale is “agent” or “principle.” He will fight against fate, rather than resign himself to a divine providence. Father Mapple, who gives a...
(The entire section is 1164 words.)
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