Though, consumed with the hot fire of his purpose, Ahab in all his thoughts and actions ever had in view the ultimate capture of Moby Dick; though he seemed ready to sacrifice all mortal interests to that one passion; nevertheless it may have been that he was by nature and long habituation far too wedded to a fiery whaleman's ways, altogether to abandon the collateral prosecution of the voyage. Or at least if this were otherwise, there were not wanting other motives much more influential with him. It would be refining too much, perhaps, even considering his monomania, to hint that his vindictiveness towards the White Whale might have possibly extended itself in some degree to all sperm whales, and that the more monsters he slew by so much the more he multiplied the chances that each subsequently encountered whale would prove to be the hated one he hunted. But if such an hypothesis be indeed exceptionable, there were still additional considerations which, though not so strictly according with the wildness of his ruling passion, yet were by no means incapable of swaying him.
To accomplish his
object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in the shadow of the
moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew, for example, that
however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was over Starbuck, yet
that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual man any more than
mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual mastership; for to the
purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in sort of corporeal
relation. Starbuck's body and Starbuck's coerced will were Ahab's, so
long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck's brain; still he knew that for
all this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his captain's quest, and
could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from it, or even
frustrate it. It might be that a long interval would elapse ere the
White Whale was seen. During that long interval Starbuck would ever be
apt to fall into open relapses of rebellion against his captain's
leadership, unless some ordinary, prudential, circumstantial influences
were brought to bear upon him. Not only that, but the subtle insanity of
Ahab respecting Moby Dick was noways more significantly manifested than
in his superlative sense and shrewdness in foreseeing that, for the
present, the hunt should in some way be stripped of that strange
imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that the full
terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure background
(for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation unrelieved
by action); that when they stood their long night watches, his officers
and men must have some nearer things to think of than Moby Dick. For
however eagerly and impetuously the savage crew had hailed the
announcement of his quest; yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less
capricious and unreliable- they live in the varying outer weather, and
they inhale its fickleness- and when retained for any object remote and
blank in the pursuit, however promissory of life and passion in the end,
it is above all things requisite that temporary interests and
employments should intervene and hold them healthily suspended for the
Nor was Ahab unmindful of another thing. In times of
strong emotion mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times
are evanescent. The permanent constitutional condition of the
manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White
Whale fully incites the hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round
their savageness even breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in
them, still, while for the love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they
must also have food for their more common, daily appetites. For even
the high lifted and chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to
traverse two thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre,
without committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious
perquisites by the way. Had they been strictly held to their one final
and romantic object- that final and romantic object, too many would have
turned from in disgust. I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of
all hopes of cash- aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some
months go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this
same quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would
soon cashier Ahab.
Nor was there wanting still another
precautionary motive more related to Ahab personally. Having
impulsively, it is probable, and perhaps somewhat prematurely revealed
the prime but private purpose of the Pequod's voyage, Ahab was now
entirely conscious that, in so doing, he had indirectly laid himself
open to the unanswerable charge of usurpation; and with perfect
impunity, both moral and legal, his crew if so disposed, and to that end
competent, could refuse all further obedience to him, and even
violently wrest from him the command. From even the barely hinted
imputation of usurpation, and the possible consequences of such a
suppressed impression gaining ground, Ahab must of course have been most
anxious to protect himself. That protection could only consist in his
own predominating brain and heart and hand, backed by a heedful, closely
calculating attention to every minute atmospheric influence which it
was possible for his crew to be subjected to.
For all these
reasons then, and others perhaps too analytic to be verbally developed
here, Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good degree continue true
to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod's voyage; observe all
customary usages; and not only that, but force himself to evince all his
well known passionate interest in the general pursuit of his
Be all this as it may, his voice was now often heard
hailing the three mastheads and admonishing them to keep a bright
look-out, and not omit reporting even a porpoise. This vigilance was not
long without reward.
Here's Ahab pondering how to keep his crew from mutiny. A few chapters ago, he showed his hand. The crew saw him in all of his monomaniacal glory. He whipped all his men into a frenzy, convincing them of the importance of hunting Moby from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic. Now, however, he must somehow sustain their loyalty during the long, tedious days at sea. Therefore, Ahab must put on his mask again, become a whaling captain again instead of the Great Avenger. He's like a crazy Superman putting back on his Clark Kent glasses.
I think we all do this every day of our lives. We hide our particular quirks and weirdnesses as we go to work or church or school. We do this to avoid strange looks and ostracism. We want to fit in, be accepted and liked. So we all become Clark Kent or Diana Prince. Hide our capes underneath coats and tee-shirts.
For example, I have been writing Bigfoot poems for a couple years now. I've become a little obsessed with all things Bigfoot. I own several Bigfoot tee-shirts. Listen to a podcast called Sasquatch Chronicles all the time. My sister went for a trip downstate yesterday. On her way back, she passed through a town that had a huge statue of Bigfoot outside of a store. I'm now planning to visit the town to take a picture of the statue. If there were Bigfoot vacation packages, I might even consider booking a weekend in Bigfoot country (although I sort of live in Bigfoot country--many documented sightings in the Upper Peninsula).
I am open to the possibility of the existence of Bigfoot. In my writing, I use the big hairy guy as a metaphor for the big things in life--love, loss, grief, joy, isolation. However, it wouldn't surprise me if, eventually, it's proven that there is an unknown species of primates or apes living in the United States. If Donald Trump can be President of the United States, anything is possible.
Now, I don't go around talking about Bigfoot all day long. Then I risk the possibility of becoming an Ahab. No, I keep Bigfoot under wraps, only drag him out on special occasions--poetry readings and workshops, birthday parties, and Mother's Day. Other than that, I'm Peter Parker, cub reporter for The Daily Bugle. I don't go out into the woods to howl at the midnight moon or tree knock with a baseball bat.
The important thing is that I DO let Bigfoot out every once in a while. I think every person needs to do that. If your alter ego is Julia Child, you should cook octopus in the kitchen every once in a while. If your alter ego is Robin Hood, you should shoot some arrows occasionally. And if your alter ego is Donald Trump, you should seek therapy.
Saint Marty is thankful today for Bigfoot.