People’s dreams can make them insane. One person can be entirely focused on a particular event that the event soon begins to take over their life and influence others. Captain Ahab’s intent is finding and killing Moby Dick, the whale that maimed and disfigured him years ago. His obsession with this whale puts many others in danger, such as Ishmael, Starbuck, and himself. Captain Ahab uses his shipmates as bait for Moby Dick himself. The day the ship leaves the dock on a search for whales, the men are trapped in a world gone mad with no escape. Ishmael, Starbuck, and Captain Ahab are all trapped in an unfortunate tragedy.
Before boarding the ship, Ishmael sees a person on the dock beside the whaling boat. This person’s name is Elijah, coincidentally sharing the same name as the prophet. Elijah hints to Ishmael to turn back from this voyage while he still has time. Elijah states that Ahab shall smell land where there be none, Ahab shall go to his grave but will rise within one hour and beckon, and all save one will be destroyed. Ishmael disregards him and continues. When Ishmael is ready to board the ship, Elijah warns him again. This is a sign that something terrible will happen once aboard the ship and everything and everyone will be traumatized. If only Ishmael would know, he will soon be trapped in Ahab’s crazy world.
Performing a pagan ritual before the groggy crew, Captain Ahab swears the men to join him in hunting down the white whale Moby Dick and killing him to satisfy Ahab’s desire for revenge. Starbuck is horrified, while the crazy ranting of their captain wildly inspires members of the ship. “This is an evil voyage. I fear the wrath of God. Service to mankind that pleases God is not revenge.”1 Greatly fearing what Ahab has in store in the world gone mad, Starbuck foresees tragedy. Nailing a doubloon to the main mast follows the crazy ranting and Ahab says, “Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!”2 Starbuck tells Ahab that he came to hunt whales, not his commander’s vengeance. As the savage harpooners drink, “Death to Moby Dick!” Starbuck mutters, “God help me!—keep us all!”3 Starbuck is well aware that Ahab will soon place all the men in immediate danger.
Spending most of his time on deck and only seldom descending into the cabin, Ahab appears to be a sympathetic character in some aspects. During the night watches, old Ahab is on deck, pacing with his artificial leg. Ahab has been in search for Moby Dick before but Moby Dick escaped the loony captain. Ahab has been trapped in a world gone mad for an extremely long time. Since the day he was unable to catch the feared Moby Dick, his life was never the same. Ahab himself is trapped in madness and states, “May God damn us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!”4 Starbuck sees Captain Ahab’s whale map and disagrees. Ahab defined he distinctly knew what he was doing, “Dumb brute blasphemy—kills and mutilate out race. I would strike the sun if it offended me,”5 and he would not let Moby Dick get away this time no matter what the circumstance. Ahab was well aware of the trapped world he was inflicting on the shipmates but was only out for one thing; his fanatical self.
Therefore, the innocent men are trapped in a world gone mad the very day the ship leaves the dock. Ishmael, Starbuck, and Captain Ahab are all trapped in a world of tragedy. These men were trapped by the madness of Captain Ahab. It was indeed their freewill to board the ship, but when they boarded they were unknowing of Ahab’s lunacy and hatred for Moby Dick. People’s dreams can indeed make them ballistic and Ahab was one of those people.
1. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick. “Moby Dick page 4.”
4. Melville, Herman. p. 3
5. Melville, Herman. p. 4