Ahab as the Hero of Moby Dick Essay

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Ahab as the Hero of Moby Dick

One might think it a difficult task to find a tragic hero hidden in the pages of Moby Dick. Yet, there is certainly potential for viewing Ahab as heroic despite unfavorable responses to him by the reader.

In the original formula coming from the Greeks, the tragic hero had to be a high-born individual of elevated status possessed of a fatal flaw which resulted in their downfall. With Othello Shakespeare redefined elevated status to include position alone rather than being linked to societal or birth status. In this way it was possible for Othello as the military leader to be the tragic hero despite being an outsider in the composition of the society. Melville follows this example in Moby-Dick.
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"The flaw itself [is] a pride that challenges the very nature of things . . ." (Millhauser 76). Ahab, deluded by the prophecies of Fedallah, comes to view himself as immortal, able to overcome anything. Within the dramatic tradition, the heroic idea of being above everything else is a recurring theme. Ahab's "flaw, akin to madness . . . involves equally Ahab's imposing spiritual stature and his inexorable fate" (Millhauser 76). Ahab is blinded by his pride which prevents him from seeing any other path of action or alternative meanings for events that occur other than the one he chooses to fit with his monomaniacal pursuit of Moby Dick.

These two areas of elevated position and a fatal character flaw as outlined by Millhauser and Melville, within the novel itself, distinctly set Ahab off as a potentially heroic character. Ahab is driven to a confrontation with his adversary by a force never clearly spelled out for the reader. However, much is made of the loomings of fate in the lives of men. Further reference is made to the prophecy of Fedallah. Because we pick up the story near the end (from Ahab's perspective), it is difficult to ascertain his full motivations. Along with this fact, it becomes difficult to determine whether Ahab is shaping or controlling his own destiny or not. Moby Dick is Ahab's nemesis. Again Melville is never clear in spelling out how the white whale is to be interpreted.
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