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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Musing in a Time of Angst

From: The Symphony

"Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike."



This passage seems, to me, to be the crux of the book. Melville, via Ahab, asks Starbuck, who controls us? Is everything we do managed by someone else - controlled by an other 'invisible power?' And, if so, are characters like Judas and Ahab fated to play out their roles? Ahab seems to feel that we are fated to be who we are. Meaning our roles are random. Meaning there is nothing in control.

That's a hard one.

This passage is also the reason I feel Moby-Dick was not a critical success in its time. These are truly difficult questions. Shoe shopping is easier.

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