In "Moby Dick" Starbuck realizes that the hatred which Ahab harbors for the white whale is preternatural, not merely vengeance for the loss of his leg. For, Ahab perceives the great whale as possessing characteristics beyond its apparent nature. Starbuck cries,
Vengence on a dumb brute!...that simply smote thee from blindes instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous
Having heard this, Ahab replies, addressing the entire crew,
Hark ye yet again--the little lower 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 moldings of it features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike though the mask!
In the white whale Ahab see "outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it." In short, Ahab endows Moby Dick with these preternatural powers and is driven to capture him in order to "break through the mask" and understand what lies beneath. Ahab is obsessed with the "inscrutable" whale and must kill it; he must know it.
Realizing the madness of Ahab, Starbuck murmurs, "God keep me!--keep us all!"