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CHAPTER 37: SUNSET
Now you hear what in the theater would be three soliloquies. The first is Ahab's. He compares himself to a ship leaving a wake through the envious waves; his head feels as heavy as if it were burdened by a crown made with nails from Christ's cross. Once he had been encouraged by sunrise and soothed by sunset; now, in the middle of Paradise, he can't enjoy anything-this is his damnation.
Is Melville comparing this driven man with Christ? Is Ahab battling evil to save mankind? Or is he Lucifer, rebelling against God out of pride?
Ahab knows he's convinced everyone but Starbuck to join his quest; they may think he's mad, but it is madness of a high order. It was prophesied that he would lose a leg; now he declares himself a prophet and says the whale that cost him a leg will be dismembered. He will be the prophet and the fulfiller of the prophesy. Nothing will stop Ahab; his will is like a railroad running on iron rails to its goal. "Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!"
Next we hear Starbuck. He knows that he's sane, and that Ahab is mad, yet he knows as well that Ahab has defeated him. Ahab has placed himself above all other men and equal to God. Yet Starbuck can't bring himself to revolt (a hint that Ishmael's suspicion about Starbuck's fatal flaw may be correct). Starbuck feels like a rundown clock; the noisy cries of the crew are only signs of life's horrors.
Stubb has an entirely different outlook, fatalistic, unconcerned. Ahab may be odd, but "a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer." For in any case, it's all predestined.
Do you think Melville is saying that one of these views is true? That all are partly true? That none is true?
CHAPTER 40: MIDNIGHT, FORECASTLE
The rest of the crew has erupted in a riot of singing, drinking, and dancing. You'll notice something desperate about the celebration, though; Pip doesn't want to share in it; Tashtego doesn't want to join in; Daggoo takes offense at the Old Manx Sailor, and a Spanish crewman tries to start a fight. Earlier Ahab had united the men behind his quest, but it seems now a false unity: The men are still, in Ishmael's words, isolatoes. It is not a unity based on love, like the unity of Ishmael and Queequeg. The atmosphere of tension increases with the winds and waves of an approaching squall.Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version