How do you account for the "magnetism" between Ahab and his crew?Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A grand ungodly god-like man," Captain Ahab, to whom an old man darkly and ominously at the beginning of the novel, creates mystery in the mind of the crew as he does not emerge to the top-deck until Chapter 28.  Ishmael describes him,

He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all limbs without consuming them, or taking away...from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high , broad form seemed made of solid bronze.

[Captain Ahab] stands erect, staring beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow.  There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication...of the moody stricken Ahab.

Certainly, Ahab is a formidable man in the tradition of the "rugged individual" in American tradition.  His movements are commanding, his language regally Shakespearean.  He appears quasi-divine when he excites them with questions and then the incentive of the gold dubloon as reward for he who sights first the legendary white whale, Moby Dick.

Ahab's magnetism is derived from his mysterious and legendary character himself, the pagan ceremony over which he plays the role of the high priest as the men partake of the communion of the wine as warriors against the whale, but, especially, his dramatic manner of speaking.  As the assembled men listen, Ahab tells them,

"Hark ye yet again--....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 for th the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!...Are they not one and all with Ahab, in this matter of the whale?...the best lance out all nantucket, surely he will not hang back. when every foremast -hand has clutched a whetstone?

Something is touched in the "innermost being" of the men as Ahab declares his physical and metaphysical mission in pursuing Moby Dick.  In the communion ceremony, Ahab alludes to himself as the Pope and the crew as the cardinals, he gives the pagan communion religious significance.  The men are mesmerized:

A wild, mystical, sympathetic feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.