Through characterization how do we learn about Captain Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick?Moby Dick by Herman Melville
In Melville's Moby Dick, while Captain Ahab is introduced to the reader as the paradoxical "grand, ungodly, godlike man," Ahab does not appear in the novel until Chapter 28 after the ship "shot out from her harbour" in a foreboding "merciless winter." Ishmael writes that on a grey and gloomy morning he answered the forenoon watch and perceives Captain Ahab:
There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them....His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze,...Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you sqw a slender rid-like mark, lividly whitish....Ahab became that way branded...in an elemental strife at sea.
Then, in Chapter 36, Ahab assembles the crew on board. Hammering a "gold ounce" onto the mainmast, Ahab tells the crew that whoever first sights the white whale shall have it. He admits to them that the pursuit of Moby Dick is his reason for going to sea. When the first mate Starbuck objects to his "vengeance on a dumb brute" being blasphemous, the monomanical Ahab replies,
Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me....Truth hath no confines.
He tells Starbuck that he has meant no insult to him; rather, he seeks to know what is behind the "pasteboard mask" of nature. To him, the
"White Whale is that wall...I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it...I will wrek that hate upon him."
Melville's use of internal monolgue for Ahab reveals his intensity worthy of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. In Chapter 37, Ahab reflects that he is
"damned in the middle of Paradise....What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do! They think me mad...but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!
He challenges Moby Dick to come for him. Ahab's obsession is presented as a ravenous monster, rapidly assuming an existence outside his mind. In Chapter 41, Ishmael narrates,
Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell forthat in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The white whale swam before him as the monomaiac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a hert and half a lung. That intangible malignity which...even themodern Christians ascribe one-half of the world...Ahab...deliriously transferring its idea to the adhorred white whate, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it....He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.
In Chapter 119 Ahab prays aloud to the white flame of St. Elmo's fire. Before this incident, he has hurled the quadrant to the deck, trampling upon it. This act is seen as a symbolic gesture in which he parts company from reason. Certainly, his refusal to turn back after storms and after Captain Bloomer, who has lost an arm to Moby Dick advises him (In Chapter 100 he asks Fedallah, "Is he crazy?") as well as his refusal to assist another captain in finding his lost son because he must pursue Moby Dick indicate the obsessiveness and madness of Ahab.