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Moby Dick Captain Ahab's Motives

Decent Essays
Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, recounts the story of an obsessive quest for vengeance led by Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab’s vengeance originated when his leg was torn off at the jaws of the unconquerable sperm whale, Moby Dick. Ever since this tragedy, Ahab makes it his life’s purpose to hunt and kill the whale. Decades later, he gains the rank as captain of the whaling ship, The Pequod, where he intends to finally fulfill his goal of killing the whale. Throughout the journey, Captain Ahab’s first mate, Starbuck, continually attempts to reason with the captain of the dangers and consequences associated with hunting Moby Dick, since Captain Ahab appears too blind with madness to see them. Starbuck and Captain Ahab serve as contrasting…show more content…
Starbuck agrees to the mission to hunt whales and make a profit, but not at the expense of the crew’s safety. On the other hand, Ahab is fixated on Moby Dick and will chase him at all costs, whether it means losing barrels of sperm oil due to missed opportunities, or the potential destruction of the ship and death of its crew mates. When Starbuck discovers Ahab’s selfish motives, he addresses the captain by exclaiming, “…I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab?” Starbuck was the only crew member on board The Pequod that vocalized his objections to hunting Moby Dick, and through these objections he reveals the absurdity and selfishness of Captain Ahab’s vengeful intentions. Starbuck is an experienced whaler who has an accurate estimation of the strength of many whales, including Moby Dick. When meeting his crewmates he voiced that he will have, “no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale.” Starbuck believes that it is not unreasonable to fear whales, especially Moby Dick. Countless whaling ships have attempted to kill the mighty whale; however, the actions of Moby Dick, when resisting the whaling men, always results in far more destruction to the whaling members and their ships, than the whaling men had ever achieved on Moby…show more content…
Starbuck and Captain Ahab are drastically different characters, not only due to their experiences, but in part to their differing attitudes toward life. Melville demonstrates these contrasting human attitudes through the use of these two characters. Captain Ahab attributes deep and personal meanings to the objects and beings he interacts with in life. This is apparent in the way he views Moby Dick. The perceptions and the negative characteristics he attributes to Moby Dick, as being literally evil incarnated, were created by himself. The narrator describes Captain Ahab in his moments of deeply concentrated insanity, “thy thoughts have created a creature in thee…a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.” Starbuck represents the opposing attitude, as being a realist and the logical representative of the crew. He views the captain as absolutely crazed and at times is fearful of him, “Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous!” Starbuck openly insults his captain’s madness and views the whale as a creature with no purposeful intentions. Starbuck’s thoughts and defiance help the reader to understand that Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal desire to kill the whale is the source of his weakness. Unfortunately, as the members of The Pequod begin the chase and hunt for
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