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Melville's Moby Dick - the megalomanic character of Captain Ahab
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Melville's Moby Dick - the megalomanic character of Captain Ahab

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Posted by Jan den Breejen on September 27, 2000 at 03:34:30:

Melville's Moby Dick - the character of Captain Ahab

Case text:
Ahab and Eddy

In Moby Dick, Melville recounts a whaling journey on which the MONOMANICAL Captain Ahab chases Moby Dick, the gigantic white whale who once dismembered him and thereafter became his representation of everything EVIL in the world. Ahab brings along 30 sailors of many different origins who unknowingly enlist to pursue his solitary CAUSE. In the end, however, the whale defeats Ahab and takes the entire crew (save the narrator of course) and ship to the depths of the ocean. The key to reading this novel in relation to my comparison is Ahab's character and how his SINGLE MINDED PURSUIT OF JUSTICE RESULTS IN FAILURE AND LOSS OF LIVES.

Ahab barks to his mate, "Damn the devil, Flask; do you suppose I'm afraid of the devil? Who's afraid of him, except the old governor who daresn't catch him and put him in double-darbies, as he deserves. . . (Moby Dick, 373). Ahab's intrepid approach is somewhat courageous, but still incredibly deranged. Even after he is confronted about very personal matters, Ahab REFUSES TO STEER OFF HIS ONE WAY COURSE. HIS DETERMINATION IS ultimately AHAB's DOWNFALL.

Just as Captain Ahab relentlessly hunts Moby Dick, so also Mary Baker Eddy pursued the evils of human kind. Both characters, although the first fictional and the second actual, took it upon themselves to rid the world of evil and indulged their personal solutions in doing so. Ahab set sail on the Pequod and searched the oceans, Eddy sought evil through thought and provoked her followers through writing. Ahab brought 30 with him, Eddy has brought millions. It is my goal in investigating the ethics of the Church of Christ Scientist, to prove that like Ahab, Eddy was on an EGOMANICAL PURSUIT OF A PROMETHEAN CAUSE..

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) grew up in New England with Puritan values, but spent most of her childhood and early adult life ill. In 1866, she "was healed of a serious injury as she read the account of one of Jesus' healings in the New Testament." (http://www.tfccs.com) Then in 1875, she published her masterpiece, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Following this work, she established the Church of Christ Scientist in 1879, along with six major tenets (visit the link to read the Tenets as published by the Mother Church). Science and Health became successful in many countries and the membership of the Church began to grow rapidly.

Eddy claims to have experienced real healing, which led her to write her "divinely inspired" Science and Health, in which she claims many more things: "The physical healing of Christian Science results... from the operation of divine Principle, before which sin and disease lose their reality in human consciousness and disappear as naturally and necessarily as darkness gives place to light and sin to reformation" (Science and Health, xi). Truth is questionable here, because you must take a grand leap of faith to accept that sin and disease a merely a creation of human consciousness. The self-written preface of Science and Health states "The question, What is Truth, is answered by demonstration, -- by healing both disease and sin; and this demonstration shows that Christian healing confers the most health and makes the best men" (Science and Health, viii) Eddy establishes her own definitions of truth and the good life, the healing of disease and sin, which becomes the foundation of her religion. Interestingly, Eddy outwardly denies wanting leadership to be a part of the practice: "Your dual and impersonal pastor, the Bible, and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, is with you; and the Life these give, the Truth they illustrate, the Love they demonstrate, is the great Shepherd that feedeth my flock, and leadeth them 'beside the still waters.'" However, notice how she places her book tantamount to the Bible. Also, she calls the people "my flock." This claim of possession is completely antithetical to the previous idea of equality under "the great Shepherd" of Life, Truth, and Love. These points illustrate Eddy's desire to become a revered prophetess.

A second way to compare Ahab and Eddy and another way to distinguish reality and imagination is to look at what they pursued. Moby Dick, Ahab's prey, is a tangible entity. The whale does physically exist, although Ahab attacked it as the personification of evil. "Ahab had one only and all engrossing object of hunting the whale... He was intent on an audacious, IMMITIGABLE, and supernatural REVENGE" (Moby Dick, 221). His exclusive desire was to destroy the whale and in so doing CONQUER EVERYTING EVIL in human kind. Similarly, Eddy's TARGET WAS THE SIN OF THE WORLD, including suffering and disease. However, she professed that those ideas were imaginative, and that if one could conquer the thought of evil, it would no longer exist. Her reasoning was that because God is everything which is good and perfect, evil could not exist unless as a product of man's fearful mind. By suppressing the belief in sin, anyone who has faith can eventually be free of it, "but the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts" (Tenet 3) Eddy creates a state of mind, whereas Ahab personifies evil in a physical being. There is no great whale of Christian Science -- everything evil is imagined. Is Moby Dick any more true than what Eddy is saying because of the difference in tangibility? Yes, of course. There is no way to read the mind, but Ahab's crew, his broken ship, and his leg will attest to the physical reality of Moby Dick. These differences between reality and imagination will serve as tools to answer the central question, just as the foundation on which the ethics of Christian Science were created will also.

+++ Jan's analysis

Ahab clearly is a powerful charismatic leader who, like Hitler, arrogates to themselves a mission and a right to pursue retribution against their enemies while imposing totalitarian methods of rule and expanding his power abroad

We can see in Ahab (and Hitler): a kinda hubris-nemesis complex; i.e. primarily a paranoid vengeful character with strong narcissistic traits too:

-- a destructive-constructive messianism; passionate, fanatical
-- high, moralizing ideals that justify violence; air of contempt towards others
-- a demand for absolute power, loyalty, and attention; image of self as demigod (of course a compensation for their collapse of self-esteem by their disappointing interactions with reality)
-- a fierce sense of struggle that may turn self-sacrificial; their agression runs hard in reality

Ahab believes himself to be--and presents himself as being--a virtual messiah or savior who is on a crusade and has a fate, destiny, or mission that is historic, both timeless and time-changing in its implications. All is politicized in the name of the mission and the high principles it engages. They present themselves as holy saint-leaders; with plans to purge the world from evil/sins (Hitler saw the Jews of course as the evil forces to be hunted down; strong parallel with Moby Dick!)

Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby Dick compares too with the archetype of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost. Aboard ship, Ahab imposes an "irresistible dictatorship" to go after a superpowerful beast, Moby Dick, that had injured him physically, and in Ahab's view, intellectually and spiritually too. This "grand, ungodly, godlike man" fulminates like a vengeful match for any power in heaven, in hell, or on earth. His consuming PRIDE AND RAGE FOR REVENGE against the White Whale blaze in the great speech before his crew where he proclaims, "I will wreak that hate upon him. . . . I'd strike the sun if it insulted me." And while others think him mad, Ahab knows he is but "demoniac"--and that "for this hunt my malady becomes my most desired health." The Whale of course proves to be his nemesis.

In another display of the complex, Milton's Satan becomes "the Adversary of God and Man." Once the highest of angels, his "pride and worse ambition" lead him to go to war against his Creator for the control of Heaven. Thus he falls from grace and is cast into Hell, feeling it is "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." There, from a "sense of injured merit," and "with thoughts inflamed of highest designs," he recalls a rumor that God may have created something new called Man. So he escapes from Hell, and sets out to locate Man and take his revenge.

Dark themes of pride, vanity, ambition, power, insolence, disdain, defiance, rage, and retribution pervade Moby Dick and Paradise Lost. Ahab and Satan have moments of regret and doubt about what they are doing--but these are fleeting moments of self-reflection, before they plunge ahead on their SWORN BITTER MISSIONS.

So clearly Ahab, Hitler and Satan are paranoid personality archetypes. But what about God/Jahweh, isn't there a paranoid mind at work when the holy scriptures tell us that those who follow other belief systems will burn in hell forever for disobeying the Almighty? Aren't many overtly-serious religious commuities like cults 'pseudo-communities' build by independent paranoid minds, creating their own holy kingdom; their own grandiose realm? Food for thought….


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