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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 54: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 44: The Chart

“And here, his mad mind would run on in a breathless race; till a weariness and faintness of pondering came over him; and in the open air of the deck he would seek to recover his strength. Ah, God! what trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.

Often, when forced from his hammock by exhausting and intolerably vivid dreams of the night, which, resuming his own intense thoughts through the day, carried them on amid a clashing of phrensies, and whirled them round and round and round in his blazing brain, till the very throbbing of his life-spot became insufferable anguish; and when, as was sometimes the case, these spiritual throes in him heaved his being up from its base, and a chasm seemed opening in him, from which forked flames and lightnings shot up, and accursed fiends beckoned him to leap down among them; when this hell in himself yawned beneath him, a wild cry would be heard through the ship; and with glaring eyes Ahab would burst from his state room, as though escaping from a bed that was on fire.”




We get much more insight into Ahab’s tortured mind in this chapter. How Ishmael knows what goes on in Ahab’s mind is beyond me, but he seems to – or an omniscient narrator has stepped in and taken over for a few chapters. Anyway.

At night, it seems, Ahab’s mind fixates even more firmly on Moby Dick. And the narrator is right. How much torment does the thought of revenge give us? When Ahab has his nightmares, he wakes up with something like night terrors.

The description of the chasm opening in him and the wild cries and glaring eyes remind us that the entire ship is aware of Ahab’s nightly terrors. And yet the crew follows him. That is the way of a cult leader, I suppose. The excuse is “Yet these, perhaps, instead of being the unsuppressable symptoms of some latent weakness, or fright at his own resolve, were but the plainest tokens of its intensity.”

The take-away from this chapter seems to be this: “God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.” It is a warning to all of us, right? It should have been a warning to all of them too.

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