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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 48: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 41: Moby-Dick

“Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. [ . . . ] Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.




Damn – that’s some good writing, right? So far this chapter has been a sort of reasoning out by Ishmael of why everyone followed Ahab and stood in awe of Moby Dick. Now we get to the philosophy. The whale, it seems, actively goes after people. And Ahab took it personally. But not because of the whale himself – but for what the whale represents. All the earthly pain we suffer. All the mental anguish we take on. And, Ish says, we all understand this on some level.

The difference between us and Ahab is minimal. Some people drink, do drugs, watch too much TV. Some take revenge.

I think about this chapter often. If nature is random. If anyone can be hurt in the line of action, then where is God in all this? Sure we have free will, but who is in charge of all this chaos in the world? Is anyone? And if all hurtful acts are random, then are we important at all? Can we control anything? Ah – Ish seems to realize – we can take control by seeking revenge.

It’s super complicated, but the book is meant to be. And, back then, even now, questioning religion is not the thing to do. Go back to the chapter where Ahab says, “"Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks.” The pasteboard mask is a socially constructed reality. Ahab is living his version of reality. Where he is missing a leg. And it was intentional. And all he can do is strike back.

So much more to go, but wow, right?

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