Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ahab + Pip 4EVA

Link to original "Who Knew Pip was so Enlightening?"

Captain Ahab is one of the prominent characters in Melville’s Moby Dick, and is often considered the main character. Pip, on the other hand, is often mentioned in blurbs but never analyzed truly in-depth. Their literary statuses are reflected in their statuses on the Pequod: Ahab the most powerful, Pip the lowest of the low. The relationship that grows between the two reflects Ahab’s true reasons for hunting Moby Dick, which in turn explains how such a strange relationship was able to thrive to the point of steadfast loyalty from both parties.

During chapter 36, The Quarter Deck, Ahab delves into his belief that everything is a façade, “All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks” (Melville 178). Even Moby Dick is a mask. The part of his philosophy which disturbs Ahab is his conviction that this mask is animated and controlled by some cosmic force, “some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of [the mask’s] features” (Melville 178). Ahab sees him as the supreme mask; the mask to whatever controls the universe. Moby Dick is portrayed as a strong animal associated with strength and power, “I see in him outrageous strength” (Melville 178). Because of Moby Dick’s insurmountable strength and the fact that he is the only whale (one could even venture to write, the only living thing) that has successfully triumphed over and humiliated Ahab, Ahab associates Moby Dick with the mask of all masks. To Ahab, Moby Dick is the one thing that is more powerful than he, and, as such, Moby Dick’s inherent strength and cunning comes to represent the power of the controller. Not only does Ahab want to “strike through” (Melville 178) Moby Dick’s mask to exert his dominance, but he also wants to gain understanding about the universe. He admits to Starbuck that “Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond” (Melville 178) which shows that Ahab is obviously interested in what exists behind the mask, whether it is God, “the force,” or Vishnu. Ahab even admits that “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate” and that he is going to kill Moby Dick to “wreck that hate upon him” and reach the unknown controller (Melville 178). By reaching the controller and it’s motives, Ahab wants to gain understanding that, it turns out, one of the lowliest of the crew, the ship-keeper, Pip, possesses. By being able to kill Moby Dick he will have control over the controller, and be able to make the unknown, known. Thus, the hunt for Moby Dick has a dual purpose for Ahab; he will gain insight into the workings of the universe and, by gaining such insight, will collect even more power.

Pip’s lack of sanity comes about in chapter 93, The Castaway. Through the sickness of one of Stubb’s men, Pip finds himself an oarsmen on one of the boats. Pip ends up getting frightened by a whale who taps the underneath of the boat and jumping out. This happens twice, and the second time Stubb’s boat is pulled away by a whale and Pip is left in the middle of the ocean. He is stranded in the ocean for an hour before the Pequod rescues him. During that hour, the sea “drowned the infinite of [Pip’s] soul” and “from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot” (Melville 453). Pip spends the rest of the novel speaking in nonsensical, lengthy speeches, most of which is hard to decipher. For example, Pip insists in his speech during Queequeg’s almost-death that the real essence of himself is lost “in those far Antilles” (Melville 522). In a way, Pip says here that his soul left him when he jumped out of the boat. Ahab begins to take interest in Pip for two reasons that parallel his desire to hunt Moby Dick. He first talks to Pip after Pip claims to have seen the real Pip, or rather his soul, floating in the water. This strange exclamation alerts Ahab to the fact that Pip is no longer a puppet of the controller; he is no longer governed by the unknown that Ahab wishes to reach. This allows Ahab to quell his desire to “strike through” what he believes covers “All visible objects” (Melville 178) and understand Pip for, what Ahab believes to be, wholly Pip without the controlling force. Ahab’s quest for understanding the controllers resurfaces when he addresses the heavens about abandoning Pip, “Ye did beget this luckless child, and have abandoned him” (Melville 567). The need to understand the reasoning behind the controller causes Ahab to feel subordinate in the light of the controller, which is able to stay mysterious and unknown to Ahab. Pip’s hour in the sea then becomes “the validation of Ahab’s hysteria against an unknown” (Cline 147). It is also revealed that “[Pip] saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom” (Melville 454) while in the ocean. “Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps” (Melville 453) to Pip during that hour and he seemed to gain understanding about “the inner-workings of the world” (Cline 143). One of Ahab’s main goals in “striking through through” Moby Dick is to comprehend the actions of the controller, a goal that Pip has obviously already accomplished. The admonishment of the controller culminates Ahab and Pip’s relationship and consequently, Ahab and the controller’s relationship. Ahab sees Pip as something to pity, for the controller abandoning him without cause, and as something to envy for not having the controlling force animating him, thus allowing him to see truth and wisdom. With this dynamic view, Pip suddenly becomes quite significant to Ahab.

Ahab’s decision to have Pip stay on the Pequod during the battle with Moby Dick is revealed in chapter 129, The Cabin. Their relationship and Pip’s significance is solidified again at the beginning of this chapter, “Pip catches [Ahab] by the hand to follow” (Melville 580). Ahab tells Pip to stay under the deck until they meet Moby Dick, “thou shalt sit here in my own screwed chair” (Melville 580). One way this behavior is often read is that this is Ahab’s rejection of Pip. They had a relationship, but it pales in comparison to the relationship between Moby Dick and Ahab, “For this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health” (Melville 580). It is apparent that Ahab, although he knows Moby Dick is making him crazy, wishes for that state of mind because it will allow him to attain his goal. Their conversation can be read to show that Ahab’s ultimate concern was killing Moby Dick; Captain Ahab as a true monomaniac until the end. However, one moment before Pip leaves begs the idea that Ahab leaves Pip on the boat to preserve the first thing he has found that he can relate to without him just being another animated mask. The last words Ahab says to Pip, “God for ever bless thee; and if it come to that, –God for ever save thee” (Melville 581) evoke Ahab’s deep rooted desire to protect Pip from, what Ahab believes to be, the inevitable destruction when the Pequod finally meets Moby Dick. It is interesting to note that Ahab does not truly have to pick Moby Dick over Pip. It is true that Ahab must kill Moby Dick to give his life purpose and himself power, but Pip does not want to stop Ahab from hunting Moby Dick. Pip’s only concern is being with Ahab. When Pip pleads with Ahab to use Pip as “your one lost leg” and says “’I must go with ye” (Melville 580) he is not asking Ahab to stay on the ship with him instead of killing Moby Dick, he is simply asking to stay in his presence wherever that might be. Pip’s desire to just be with Ahab is what allows Ahab to realize he does not have to “sever the line that connects them” (Cline 166). The difference, though somewhat subtle, makes a difference in how Ahab perceives Pip. To Ahab, Pip is probably the only member of the crew with unwavering loyalty, and as such, Ahab’s desire to “strike through” Moby Dick to get to the controller (without which allows for Pip’s allegiance to Ahab) grows.

Ahab’s belief in the omnipotent controller behind each person and whale contributes to his monomania. He is obsessed with reaching that controller by means of “striking through” the mask that covers everything by killing Moby Dick and with understanding the ways of the universe, thus gaining power through knowledge. These ideas are all reinforced by the relationship between Ahab and Pip. Ahab’s recognition of Pip’s lack of controlling force in conjunction with Pip’s spiritual encounter under the water made a foundation for their relationship. Ahab’s preservation of Pip and Pip’s allegiance to Ahab are the final pieces that allow for the recognition of the importance of the relationship between Ahab and Pip.

Cline, B.. Tongueless: Representation of the mentally disabled and the novel. Ph.D. dissertation, Western Michigan University, United States -- Michigan. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3424850).

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.


  1. I love the title.

    This reads, in many ways, like a fantastic first draft. I don't mean that as an insult or a problem - I mean that I feel like you have figured out what you're doing, and that it has great potential for further development and expansion.

    Your research is merely ok; I know that you were struggling with it, and in retrospect I wish that you had realized you were having trouble earlier, and that I'd taken the time to do some searches with you. Searching the body of work on Moby-Dick is intimidating and never easy; there's lots out there, but finding what's relevant can be a huge challenge. That being said, this research worked, but adequately rather than brilliantly. People have said lots of interesting things about Pip - some of it would have been useful to you.

    Let's get to what really matters, though. Although I don't consider your reading of Ahab and Pip by any means finished, your detailed focus on Pip as being abandoned and *therefore* free of the controller is a truly fantastic insight, and your analysis of their relationship *from* that point is great (including your use of Cline to discuss their parting, which is really very good).

    I'd never really thought of Pip as being involved or implicated in the hunt before - but that's what you're getting at, in part. You've also pinned down Pip's combined strength/weakness in a unique and convincing way.

    So why do I say it reads somewhat like a draft, even though I'm thoroughly onboard? It's not just because your research could be better, or because it's a little short. It's that you don't do anything, then, to turn this new understanding of Ahab and Pip back onto the novel as a whole.

    For instance, if we understand Pip as liberated/abandoned, and Ahab as haunted by that liberation-abandonment (my rewording of your idea), how does that change our understanding of the fact that Pip reminds Q. of the work that remains to be done - and of Ahab's obsession with with the "visionary system" which is written on his body?

    I'm suggesting, in other words, that your exceptionally interesting reading of Pip & Ahab has wide (and spiritual - to use Kermode) implications in the novel, which you could be exploring.

    Short version: insightful, even exceptional, and incomplete in a promising way.

  2. I think you could have done more research regarding this topic. I was looking at writing about this topic before I decided on something else. I had come across an article called Ahab and Pip: Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes. I did not get the chance to read through it but maybe that could help you out.

    I really like how you connected Ahab's affinity toward Pip because of seeing him as free of the controller. It's really nice to see it from a different view other than just the sanity aspect.

    I feel as though you could ultimately split your writing into Ahab's view of the relationship and then Pip's view. Maybe that could help you to further develop your ideas in regards to a deeper understanding of the relationship as well as its growth.