Madness In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Melville, the author, creates an aura of uncertainty in the novel, Moby-Dick. There is an atmosphere where anything can go wrong at any point. Many of the characters face one sort of madness or another throughout the story. Characters such as Pip and Ahab go crazy. Both go through traumatic experiences and they have a tough time adapting because of it.

Melville creates an atmosphere that can cause any man to go crazy. After making the decision to leave their families behind, the sailors are compelled to go to sea for months at a time. Sailors must try to kill one of the largest sea animals without being killed. The Pequod is isolated in the middle of the ocean without seeing civilization for months at a time. While killing the whale, they see the blood of the whales shoot out of the blowhole. Sailors get drenched in blood. The atmosphere of doom and the feelings of inevitability grow stronger as the narrative progresses. “There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. […]” Ishmael tries to comprehend what happened to Pip and explains why Pip tried to escape the Pequod. This passage is a warning against giving in to escapism, fantasy, daydreaming, suicide and suggests that woe and madness can be profitable states for one with enough greatness of soul.

Ahab, the Pequod’s obsessed captain, suffers from the one flaw that all legendary heroes suffer from. His overconfidence leads to the death of the whole crew of the Pequod except Ishmael. In the beginning we knew Ahab as a man of few words. He was recovering from the loss of his leg after dueling against Moby-Dick. Ahab stays in his room at the beginning when we first see him in chapter 29. He was an imposing, frightening figure who sent shivers over the crew of the Pequod. The atmosphere on the Pequod changed Ahab. Ahab finds a friend in Pip after Pip attempts to jump ship. During the crew’s quest to kill Moby-Dick, Ahab develops a monomania of Moby-Dick. In chapter 135, Ahab finds Moby-Dick and the crew of the Pequod attempt to kill the ‘White Whale’. ‘Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!” The whale’s victory was inevitable, but it did not defeat the spirit of Ahab. In an ultimate demonstration of rebellion, Ahab uses his “final breath” to curse the whale.

On the other hand, Pip, a young African American, is one of the lowest-ranking crew members on board the Pequod. Pip’s job is to humor the sailors and play music on his tambourine. ‘Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant […].’ Ishmael clearly thinks highly of Pip in the beginning of the book. After one of Stubb’s oarsmen gets injured, Pip is assigned to Stubb’s boat. On the first time out, Pip jumps out of the boat which forces Stubb to come back and save Pip. The next time a whale is sighted, Pip again jumps overboard and is left stranded in the sea while Stubb’s and the others’ boats are dragged along by their harpooned whales. By the time the crew rescue him, the other sailors think that Pip went mad. Ishmael however thinks Pip had a mystical experience. ‘So, man’s insanity is heaven’s sense.’ Pip changed for the worse. The crew thought Pip had gone mentally dead. He had no soul anymore.

The atmosphere on the Pequod created by Herman Melville is the reason Moby-Dick is called the ‘Great American novel.’ The constant uncertainty of the state of the sailors’ lives forced characters such as Ahab and Pip to go crazy. Now we will end where we first started, “Call me Ishmael.”

Works Cited

  • Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick.2nd., Norton Critical Edition, W.W. Norton Company, 2002. 


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