Moby Dick
Moby Dick can be viewed as a tragedy. Webster’s Dictionary defines tragedy as
a "dramatic composition, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically
that of a great person destined through flaw of character or conflict with some
overpowering force, fate or circumstance to downfall or destruction." This
describes Moby Dick very well, as we discover as the story unfolds. Ahab, one of
the key characters in the novel, can be viewed as the protagonist, one who
causes the actions that occur and who brings the story to its tragic conclusion.

He is seen as the tragic hero. He is a man distinguished by courage and ability,
who is admired for his qualities and achievements. The reader can sympathize,
feeling pity and compassion for Ahab. We can understand to some extent the
feelings that this man must have experienced and we can relate to them. The
villain or antagonist to Ahab is Moby Dick, the White Whale whom Ahab pursues,
leading to the death of himself and his crew. This leaves Ishmael as the only
survivor to tell the story. Ahab is a deeply disturbed man. He could be viewed
as a crazy lunatic. Though crazy as he is, he clearly knows what he wants to do
and has a clear plan to do it and carries it out to the end. Ahab can be seen as
both the tragic hero and a crazy lunatic. The story unfolds in New Bedford,
where the narrator Ishmael comes seeking a job on a whaling vessel. In New

Bedford he shares a bed at an Inn with a cannibal from New Zealand. The cannibal
is a skilled harpooner named Queequeq. Ishmael and Queequeq become immediate
friends. The two end up choosing the vessel named The Piquod. One of the two
owners, Peleg who they interview with before they are given positions with the
ship, describes Ahab as a "...grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab;
doesn’t speak much but when he does speak, then you may well listen." (76)

We are told by Peleg that he is "..moody, desperate moody and savage
sometimes." "...Better to be a moody good captain than a laughing bad
one." (77) The name Ahab is symbolic and taken from the Bible. Ahab was an
evil man having had someone killed so he could be king. He was named after his
widowed mother, who died when he was only twelve months old. Peleg seems to want

Ishmael to overlook the wickedness of Ahab. Ishmael comes away more struck by
sympathy and sorrow for him and the loss of his leg, overlooking the dark side
of Ahab. Ishmael tells of his impression of Ahab, after they have been out at
sea for several days. Ahab was in his cabin out of view of the crew up until
then. Ishmael’s description gives the reader a picture of the devastation that
the whale did to the captain’s body. Regardless of Ahab’s disabilities, the
captain maintains a strong sense of dignity. The reader soon finds that Ahab’s
temperament is very mean spirited as evidenced in his run in with Stubb, who had
suggested that he find some way to muffle the planks when he walked as he
disturbed the crew. He no longer finds simple pleasure anymore because of the
torment of his obsession. This is illustrated when he throws his favorite pipe
into the sea. The pipe is a symbol of peace and tranquility. Not something in
the disposition of this man. Melville uses symbols like these throughout the
book. During the voyage, Ahab gathers his crew, giving them grog and performing
a pagan ceremony to join him in hunting down and killing Moby Dick. This is an
example of his manipulation of the crew in to supporting him. He entices them
with the prospect of winning a gold doubloon, which he stakes on the mast to the
first person that spots the white whale. To appeal to his harpooners he engages
them in a pagan blood ceremony. These acts work in getting them on his side. The
only one who is horrified by this is Starbuck, his first mate. He sees the mad
man, incapable of keeping to the mission at hand, which is harvesting whales for
profit. Starbuck acts as a thorn in Ahab’s side throughout the story, keeping

Ahab somewhat honest during the voyage We can see Ahab as a tormented man; he
suffers in physical and mental pain, and is obsessed by only one thing,
vengeance against the whale. This does not