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Ahab As Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper

Hemanth Venkataraman

Ahab Essay

In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is a tragic hero. He is the commander in the story, and has many interrelated flaws which lead to his ultimate downfall. These tragic flaws include his pride and ego, obsession with revenge, and his determination to defy destiny. Counteracting these negative images of Ahab, are other demonstrations of his practical and sympathetic side, which induce pity for him by the reader, and by separating him from a classic antagonist, truly make him a tragic hero.

In the chapter entitled ?Sunset? we learn a great deal about Ahab and flaws in his personality are revealed. His single-mindedness, leading to his description by Melville as a monomaniac, is shown as he vividly describes his one and only purpose of killing the whale. He is so consumed by this one purpose that he says he can never enjoy anything. He does not care how much time or money it takes; he must destroy the whale which he perceives as the greatest symbol of evil in the world. He is viewed by others as a madman and even calls himself ?madness maddened.?

Although in many tales such determination to achieve a goal has been a positive characteristic, Ahab elevates this obsession to an extremely negative quality by declaring that he is a prophet. Not only is he a prophet, he contends, but he is confident he will kill Moby Dick. He will ?dismember the dismemberer? who took his leg and fulfill his own prophecy, making him even greater than the Gods themselves. He compares himself to the Gods once again, later, while the carpenter is designing a new leg. He feels the crew is not even worthy of his presence.

This excessive pride, or hubris, in Ahab is used in accordance with Melville?s theme of the consequences of trying to circumvent predestination. Ahab is attempting to defy God?s will, which is to leave the whale alone as a combat to evil. Instead, he pursues the Great Whale and this pursuit leads directly to his dramatic downfall at the conclusion of the story.

However, Ahab also has a humane side. Readers sympathize with him when he describes his wife and children who were left alone. It is also surprising that he is fascinated by Pip. It is also shown that Ahab recognizes the need for economical gains during the voyage when he agrees to capture whales for oil and other resources, displaying his practical and sensible side which is so well hidden elsewhere in the story.

Ahab finally dies chasing the one thing he could never have. He fulfills the parsee?s prophecies rather than his own. As a tragic hero, he possesses numerous flaws which lead to this terrible downfall, but he also induces our sympathy. Rather than a tyrant, Ahab can be viewed as a misguided leader. His ego and overconfidence blind him from seeing the correct path — in the sea and in life. Even as Starbuck makes one final plea to discard the mission during the last chase, Ahab refuses and screams, ?I am blinded!?


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