Captain Ahab In Moby Dick As A Symbol Of Destructive Masculinity

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Herman Melville authored the novel Moby Dick in 1851, a first-person narrative that entirely explores Captain Ahab’s deadly quest aboard the Pequod whaling ship. Previously, an enormous white whale, Moby Dick, had bitten off his leg. Therefore, he swore to hunt and kill it in retaliation to embrace long-awaited revenge. In literature, Melville’s story depicts multiple instances of masculinity through the introduction, exposition, and denouement that entails male lead characters, whereas female roles are precluded from the major scenes. For example, the novel narrates an all-male quest led by Captain Ahab, although some minute scenes resurface with female characters such as Aunt Charity (Melville 74). Feminine acts are brief and insignificant in the development of Melville’s story. For that reason, Moby Dick is a masculine narrative that represents a century that was propelled by patriarchy and gender separatism (Spengler, 154). Mostly, Moby Dick embraces multiple scenes embedded with metaphors that represent and unveil Captain Ahab’s masculine wrath and his obsessive desire to kill the giant white whale. His intense desire bypasses the original meaning of whaling that was initially a source of income. Melville employs masculinity metaphorically in his literary work purposely to depict differing social identities in the United States while juxtaposing it with rejection and deconstruction. Therefore, in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab symbolizes destructive masculinity in the United States during the nineteenth century when he hunts for the white whale and ultimately loses his life.

Captain Ahab’s masculinity drives his obsession to kill the white whale while rejecting the destructive effects the quest has in store for him. Ishmael commences the first-person novel by narrating that their journey, as led by Captain Ahab, was propelled by strength, bravery, and courage. According to Melville, the story unveils that Ishmael had great admiration for Ahab’s bravery as their leader, and he sparkled and glowed, so his fellows cold bow down and respect him (Melville, 85). During the nineteenth century, American literature exhibited and mirrored that period’s existing norms where the male gender valued respect and recognition. For this reason, through Moby Dick, Melville expressed the existent shadows of ethos and masculine ideology by dramatizing the mysterious result of self-imposed masculinity. In the narrative, Ahab rejects the masculine mystique when he conveys his destructive will and obsession to hunt and kill the white whale, and his unabated desire overflows to his crew aboard the Pequod. On the other hand, Baurecht (60) argues that Melville was fascinated with Ahab’s super-masculinity as well as its consequences, and he recognizes how manhood fearfully imposes obligations on Ahab. Further, Melville critically focuses on how Ahab is propelled by his masculinity, coupled with the zeal and anxiety to kill the massive whale to restore his lost masculine identity. On that note, the captain emerges as a symbol that represents the destructive nature of masculinity because Ahab strives to express his manhood through his perception of how the male gender should be. However, when he loses his leg on his encounter with the white whale, he damages his masculinity and his working relationship. Consequently, he embarks on restoring his lost masculine dignity by being obsessed with the white whale and going on a quest to kill it while overlooking the self-destructive effects of being immersed on such a journey.

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Although Captain Ahab had lost his leg to the white whale, he is overshadowed by his perfect masculinity. In Moby Dick, Ishmael observes that despite Captain Ahab being one-legged, he is flawless due to the intense manliness they feel within themselves, and it bled with a keen defeat at the spectacle that was undraped of a man ruined in valor (Melville, 85). The fear of exhibiting cowardice haunts Ahab, therefore, he desperately desires to overcome it. According to his perception, his journey to entirely terminate Moby Dick is significant for him since it would erase his weakness as a disgrace and failure. For this reason, Ahab does not accept losing his leg. Instead, he embraces a society that masculinity before anything else. With that in mind, he has to prove to them by retaining his initial position as an ideal man that asserts power over a whale that had previously threatened to thwart his masculine title. In his argument, Baurecht describes Ahab’s destructive masculinity that it made him a tragic hero that always strives to conquer (Baurecht, 55). Besides, Baurecht states that the essence of masculinity results in the test of a person’s courage, and it hopes to triumph during battles either figuratively or literally in a competition of masculinity in a middle-class society at the marketplace (Baurecht 56). Melville vividly unfolds Captain Ahab’s driving force that guides him in his quest. By illustration, Ahab had initially lost to the white whale by losing his leg, in the reinstatement of his masculinity he has no option other than giving his best, as a man, to avenge his previous loss. His male dominance and certitude, as well as his delusions to avenge, are symbolized by his metaphoric masculine passion for killing Moby Dick. Therefore, Captain Ahab’s perfect masculinity overshadows his past failures of losing his leg to Moby Dick, and he goes on a destructive quest to reclaim his lost position.

Captain Ahab’s isolation from his family due to his perceived masculinity destroys him internally. In his narrative, Melville shapes Ahab as a character that is propelled by self-ambition of restoring his once-great position. He is isolated and emotionally detached from both his family and crew. However, Ahab conveys instances of intimacy aboard the Pequod. For example, in ‘The Symphony,’ he converses with Starbuck, and he reveals his emotions by uttering that Starbuck to stand close to him so that he can have an intimate connection (Melville, 354). Through this conversation, he implores and desires emotional and physical intimacy by a yearning to be with Starbuck. Ahab’s denies himself his plea for human connection in most instances in the narrative. Nevertheless, he is moved by emotions much, and it reminds him that through his quest and confinement at sea to terminate Moby Dick, he loses his love and connection with his family. Ahab confirms that he sees his wife and child, but he cannot be with them since he has given chase to Moby Dick (Melville). It is by such a revelation that Melville unfolds to readers that for Captain Ahab to go on a quest to reclaim his lost glory, he sacrificed his family and friends through his intense devotion of putting his life in danger at sea. In comparison to the masculine lives during the nineteenth century in the United States, the male gender was always obsessed with masculine occupations by mostly spending the better parts of their lives on amassing wealth, tending to businesses, or guarding plantations while leaving their families behind. By illustration, in Moby Dick, Ahab’s life is ultimately altered by whaling, where he spends thirty-seven years at sea, and it immensely affects his connection with his family. The conversation Ahab holds with Starbuck conveys his vulnerable emotions when he reveals that his marriage ended when he was in voyage for Cape Horn the preceding day. However, he left an immeasurable death under his marriage pillow (Melville, 356). Therefore, through his depiction of masculinity in the whaling industry, Captain Ahab is isolated from his family, and internally, he is emotionally destroyed.

In his authorship, Melville employs Ahab’s destructive masculinity to symbolize the destruction of the United States. The novel Moby Dick was composed at a time when America was in turmoil after the crowning of the war between America and Mexico. During that time, tensions in politics were imminent due to social divides between slave and non-slave states. Melville composed the novel to foreshadow the ultimate destruction of the United States metaphorically. For instance, in the narrative, Captain Ahab sails the Pequod into the murky sea and encounters other ships. In his observation, Boomer, the Samuel Enderby’s captain, says that Ahab’s ship is headed for its destruction. He opines inquires what the matter is, and he observes that Ahab might be (Melville, 482). Instead of cruising from the sea for safety, Ahab faces danger head-on. The Pequod is an allegory for the United States, and during the nineteenth century, Melville observed that the country was headed towards a path of destruction. In another instance, the author further gives an ultimatum to the nation’s course when Captain Ahab encounters the Delight. Previously, the ship had a heart-chilling encounter with the white whale, Moby Dick, therefore, its crew members toss a dead crewman into the sea just as the Pequod passes them. Later on, Ahab’s ship is engulfed in a typhoon, and after they torch flames on the ship’s masts, Starbuck foreshadows that they are signs from God, and He does not support Ahab’s ill voyage. Starbuck warns against Captain Ahab’s self-destructive masculinity that the idea of terminating Moby Dick is hazardous. The ship’s compasses switch directions after the storm has died down where two of them point, and Ahab’s ship was antagonistically facing the West side. Captain Ahab’s perspective is convergent, and he has an undying desire to kill his lifetime enemy, although he has a crew of thirty men whose lives are at stake. He represents leaders in the nineteenth-century American political era that were individually driven by personal motives and ambitions while overlooking the consequences of their actions on themselves as well as those of their subjects. All the same, in Moby Dick, the Pequod faces destruction; this consequence depicts the ultimate destruction of the United States if narrow viewpoints were adhered to during that time. Therefore, Captain Ahab represents a destructive leader whose convergent political perspectives can destroy a nation.

The novel, Ahab’s destructive masculinity is incomparable to that of Moby Dick. Melville created Ahab and Moby Dick as antagonistic fictional characters that struggle for dominion between their masculinity. Their opposing relationship is that of the hunter and the hunted. Initially, one of his crew members, Ishmael, was introduced to Ahab by Captain Peleg that Ahab was a resembling god (Melville, 78). In comparison to the hunted white whale, Ishmael termed its tail as an attribute that was kept for God, and at the juncture of any occurrence, the tail was more considered than Ahab. Besides, in his observation of the whale’s color, its whiteness represented the Christian deity and the most considerable appeal to humanity. Through Ishmael’s views, the white whale was both demonic and godlike antagonizing features. Similarly, Ahab is perceived as divine yet an unholy man. These two significant characters in Melville’s narrative could be juxtaposed as both immensely powerful. In the nineteenth century, traditional American society, masculinity is correlated to power. On that note, the duo possesses extreme masculinity. Besides, through Ishmael’s first-person narrated, readers notice that Ahab is disconnected from his crew in spite of his prominent position as Pequod’s captain. He states that Ahab exhibited seclusion and isolation, which is equally conveyed by the white whale. Melville, in his novel, employs the two characters as symbols of perfect masculinity in American society during his time where the male gender was barely at home. Further, to depict complete maleness in the novel, the two driving forces in the narrative are free-off feminine traits. Also, during their first encounter, Ahab was ‘‘dismasted’’ by Moby Dick and pronounced as sexually impotent (Melville 116). Irrespective of Ahab’s dominion over his crew as captain, he lacks self-masculine power, so he is separated from his sexual fertility. Therefore, it is evident that since he had lost his sexual potency, his masculinity was compromised and lost. At this juncture, Melville premonitions that Ahab’s loss of maleness to Moby Dick causes his ultimate defeat. As per Moby Dick, the white whale had sexual potency, and it successfully wrecks Ahab’s ship defeating his crew. Ahab and Moby Dick’s struggle for power are propelled by perfect masculinity. Therefore, due to Ahab’s destroyed masculinity, he loses to the sexually potent whale, Moby Dick.  


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