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11. Even before we meet Ahab, Melville has announced that he wants us to consider him a hero, when Ishmael describes the Quaker sea captains of Nantucket (a group to which Ahab belongs) and says that such men "of greatly superior natural force," could easily become figures "formed for noble tragedies." And as soon as Ahab appears on the Pequod's deck, he is linked to figures of heroic greatness. In the chapter "Ahab," he's compared to the Greek hero, Perseus; in the chapter "The Chart," he's compared to another Greek hero, Prometheus. His relationship with Pip indirectly links him to Shakespeare's tragic hero, Lear, and the prophesies given him by Fedallah link him to Shakespeare's Macbeth. When Ahab isn't being compared to human heroes, he's compared to great forces of nature: to a great tree struck by lightning ("Ahab") to "the last of the Grisly Bears" ("The Cabin-Table"). Perhaps most impressive is the comparison (in the chapter "The Try-Works") of Ahab to a Catskill eagle, who, though he plunge into a dark gorge never to return, still flies higher than other birds.
12. The chapter "The Doubloon" is particularly important because it shows in miniature some of the major themes of Moby-Dick. Many of the events and objects in the book are intended to have a symbolic meaning beyond their surface meaning. We must, as Ahab says, look behind "the pasteboard mask" to find the truth. But as we've also come to learn, objects and events can symbolize different things to different people. And so as Ahab studies the doubloon he sees a symbol of his pride, his courage, his eventual victory. Starbuck sees a symbol of Christian hope. The materialistic Flask sees only a coin worth sixteen dollars, or 960 cigars. In short, as Ahab himself admits, the doubloon "to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self." Or as Pip more plainly puts it: "I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look"- and no one sees the same thing.
13. The gams are meetings between whaling ships to exchange mail and news. The Pequod has nine of these meetings during the course of Moby-Dick, and each sheds a slightly different light on its captain and its quest for the whale.
Ahab violates the spirit of the gams, for they are supposed to be social gatherings, and he cares only to use them to obtain information about the whale. The first ship met is the Goney, whose captain is about to answer Ahab's question when his trumpet falls into the sea-a sign that even Ahab can't make all mysteries known to him. The Town-Ho has information about Moby-Dick in the form of the story of Radney and Steelkilt but Ishmael tells us that Ahab never learns that story. The incompetence of the German ship Jungfrau and the French ship Rose-Bud have prevented them from knowing anything about the whale; the foolish happiness of the American ship, the Bachelor, prevents it from even believing in the whale. When Ahab does receive information, it is always intended to discourage him from his quest: the Jeroboam's mad prophet warns that Ahab's hunt will end in death. The Samuel Enderby's captain and surgeon take the common sense view of the whale as a hazard to be avoided and think Ahab mad for not doing the same. The Rachel has lost a child to the whale, and the Delight has seen its joy turn to sorrow. In short, the gams are either incapable of helping Ahab with his search or actively discourage him from continuing it. It becomes a sign of his madness that he continues anyway.Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version