Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The King and the Captain

I believe that Melville chose the name Ahab for the Captain to show that he is a cursed man. Like his namesake, he is doomed to die because of his overconfidence and obsession. Captain Ahab is portrayed as an overly obsessed captain attempting to get revenge against the whale that took his leg. He believes that this whale is the embodiment of evil and that it is his destiny to kill it. We can see the majority of the Captain’s character traits are taken from the Biblical King Ahab; this is to alert readers to the fact that their stories will end in a similar manor. Melville models Captain Ahab after the biblical king to foreshadow his characters fate to his readers.  But to understand Captain Ahab’s character we must first understand King Ahab’s character through analysis of his story as it is told in the Bible.
King Ahab of the Bible was a relentless, egotistical, tyrant. He and his wife Jezebel were greedy, they took what they wanted and they would do anything it took to get it. One day Ahab began to lust after a certain vineyard. The king offered Naboth, the owner of the vineyard, the choice between a better vineyard somewhere else or the monetary worth of his vineyard. When Naboth refused Ahab was infuriated, he became so obsessed with owning the vineyard that he and his wife framed Naboth and sentenced him to death by stoning. Thus the king, through his monomania, received what he wanted, but as we continue to read the story we see that it comes at a grave cost.[1] 
The similarities in character between King Ahab and Captain Ahab are impossible to disregard. Even Ishmael draws attention to the obvious comparison when he hears his name “When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?” (88 Melville) I believe that Melville deliberately attempts to highlight these similarities in order to show that both people will share the same fate.  Like King Ahab, Captain Ahab shows an unmistakable hubris. This overconfidence defines them both, and is coupled by a sense of entitlement. Captain Ahab thinks he deserves and is destine to kill Moby Dick in the same way that King Ahab believes he is entitled to anything possessed by anyone in his kingdom. Both believe that they can do as they please and that no one and nothing can stop them. This obsession ultimately leads to King Ahab’s downfall, in the end his death is directly related to his greediness and overconfidence. That is why Melville decides to name the Captain after King Ahab, to show that he will die for the same reasons.
To fully understand the parallels between King Ahab of the Bible and Captain Ahab of the Pequod I think it is necessary to discuss the prophecies told about them. Uncoincidentally both profits are named Elijah but they each get their messages across in different ways. When Elijah of the Bible is alerted to what King Ahab does to Naboth he prophesizes to the king “And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.” (1 Kings 21:19[2]).  Just as the prophet foretold, later Ahab went to a battle at Ramoth, and was killed by an misfired arrow, and  while his chariot was being clean, dogs came and licked up his blood. The prophet Elijah foretold that because of Ahabs greedy, unimodal obsession that he would die and this indeed came to pass. In a similar way the Elijah of Moby Dick foretells Captain Ahab’s fate but in a much more ambiguous manor.
As Ishmael and Queequeg are preparing to board the ship they come across an old, ragged, seemingly crazy man named Elijah. Elijah begins to ramble on about the ship it’s captain and the lore around them both when he finally makes and eerie statement that functions as his prophesy in the novel. “Any how, it's all fixed and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go with him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em!” (102 Melville) This statement confuses Ishmael and Queequeg, but as we continue to read the novel and understand more about Captain Ahab’s character Elijah’s prophecy’s meaning becomes all to clear. Here Elijah is foretelling the death of Ahab the same way the prophet Elijah of the Bible did, he is just being much less explicit. When he says some sailors or others must go with him, he doesn’t mean go with him on this voyage but go with him to his watery grave. Captain Ahab will die for the same reasons that King Ahab did, because of his unwavering greed, compulsion and monomania. This is why I believe that Ahab will die and take the ship and it crew along with him, because of his blind obsession and overconfidence. Melville uses the name of his character to show that he is predestine to fail because of his own obsession
As we can see Melville wants us to draw comparisons between the Ahab of his novel and the Ahab of the bible. So, similar to the Biblical Ahab, we see Captain Ahab coveting something that he isn’t entitled to and that will not necessarily benefit him in the long run. His obsession will cause him to be ignorant to his irrationalities and he will attempt to achieve his goal by any means. In the end we will see Captain Ahab’s obsession be the cause of his demise just like King Ahab did. This is what Melville wants us to see, that Captain Ahab is fated to bring his own doom upon himself.

[1][2] The Holy Bible: King James Version. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 2001.

Ahab and the Insane

                “The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise” King Henry.  Parmacetti is the pearly white, waxy, translucent solid, obtained from the oil in the head of the sperm whale: used chiefly in cosmetics and candles, and as an emollient.  Looking at this small quote it appears to offer some small psychological explanation for Ahab’s desire to seek and destroy the whale, besides the obvious desire for revenge, but perhaps a way to mend an internalized wound of the mind.  But this idea that Ahab is working through his problems in a seemingly rational way appears in direct contradiction to Ahab himself but the nature of man that Melville may be exploring in the text.  Early in the novel of Moby-Dick the narrator, Ishmael, makes his first friend on the journey towards the whale, Queequeg.  In Queequeg we see the marriage of the civilized and the uncivilized; he is a harpooning cannibal after all.  The entire passage in the inn where Queequeg is getting dressed presents a very strange marriage of these two groups, “he commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat…still minus his trowsers…he hunted up his boots…but his next movement was to crush himself-boots in hand, and hat on-under the bed” (Melville 31).  From the very beginning we area given the two extremes of society the modern based on rules of law and decency  and how one should behave to the most deplorable act a human being can commit by civilized standards, the consumption of another human being.
                Given the strange circumstances that these two characters come together and the polar extremes that are internalized within Queequeg Melville appears to be laying the ground works to explore this very dichotomy.  If the savage can become civilized so to can the civilized become savage, the potential exists within all of us both fictional and real.  We know that Captain Ahab is not in the “best of minds” and that this is a story of revenge upon the whale that had maimed him before so we have our unhinged civilized man and one can only assume the extremes to which he will go to achieve his goals.  This interplay of civilized savage plays out further with the name of the very ship they are to set sale upon, the Pequod.  As Ishmael is looking through the three ships that are available for a 3 year journey he comments on the Pequod, “you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, no extinct as the ancient Medes” (Melville 77).  A ship named for a tribe of extinct Indians, the savages of America tied to the civilized construction of a boat, with foreshadowing of coming events of the fate of the ship and its crew.  Later within the same chapter Ishmael talks with Captain Peleg about Captain Ahab and Peleg relates the information that despite his cursed name Ahab is a “good man-not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man” and that Ahab couldn’t be of evil stock because “by that sweet girl that old man has a child” (Melville 89).  Setting up Ahab as this “good family man” will serve to track his true fall into the savagery of his own motivations.  From this point forward all of Ahab’s actions will be related back to this point and every action he takes will be clouded under the concept of whether what he does is truly good or truly evil.  Melville appears to be setting up the circumstances with which the reader will be able to look back to the beginning of the novel and see the beginnings of the fall of Ahab.  This man is completely insane having become obsessed with his one desire for vengeance against the whale that took his leg.

Excerpt Effect

“And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster’s (whale’s) mouth, are immediately lost and swallowed up, the sea-gudgeon retires into it in great security, and there sleeps” (Montaigne. – Apology for Raimond Sebond).
                This statement says a lot about Melville’s intentions for the characters of his novel. Ishmael originally decides to take up whaling as an endeavor because he is essentially lost and looking for a way to cast himself away. This excerpt can apply to him exceptionally well. He would basically find his “great security” in the consumption by a whale. It is like he is looking for a more honorable way to kill himself, and the whale would offer this great release for him by just ending it all. The great whale consumes anything that is in its path, and that thing will be destroyed. However, there are some situations, such as with the sea-gudgeon, where this consumption gives them something more than just death. Most of the men on Ahab’s ship follow him blindly due to their faith in him and the commitment they have made despite the fact he is clearly psychologically compromised and fully willing to risk the lives of his whole crew in order to kill Moby Dick. For some of them, they may also be looking for a release to death just like Ishmael. We do not necessarily know the sole purpose for joining the ship for a lot of these passengers so it is hard to say who is boarding as a death sentence.
                On the other hand, Ahab is at a focal point in the story as it is his quest for vengeance that leads him to pursue a known and deadly sperm whale. He is a complicated character that often can lead to debates about what is actually important to him. His family seems to be important to him at times, but it does not stop his homicidal journey at any point. The main focus for him is getting revenge on the whale that injured him, and it seems to fuel his entire purpose for surviving that attack. However, I believe that he may be a deeper character than he seems at many points in the novel and the excerpt above may well apply to Ahab as well as Ishmael. The loss of a limb for a man who relies on adventure and collecting whales for living would surely affect his ability to perform his job well. It would also take a significant psychological toll. How would his family accept his new limb made of whale bone? It may be difficult to think of Ahab as a more emotional character, but I believe that he should be looked at in this light to properly place him with the excerpt above. Due to these circumstances and the aftermath of his encounter with Moby Dick, he may well be looking for this “great security” also. He has hunted whale for many years, and it is entirely possible that he lost his will to do so anymore when he lost his limb. When Ishmael first learns about Captain Ahab from Peleg and Bildad, they say that “I don’t know exactly what’s the matter with him; but he keeps close inside the house; a sort of sick, and yet he don’t look so. In fact, he ain’t sick; but no, he isn’t well either … He’s a queer man, Captain Ahab – so some think – but a good one” (Melville 88). These two men know Captain Ahab from past experience so they would be able to preach for his character as “a good one.” It is clear by Ahab’s lack of appearance for the beginning of the voyage that he is in some pain, emotionally and physically. He isn’t necessarily sick, but he doesn’t want to show himself on the ship because of the fear it might entail to face his men.  The “great security” for him would be that he no longer has to face his trauma to his men or his family. It seems natural to read the character of Ahab as a man pushing for revenge against an, almost, supernatural creature despite the interests and wellbeing of his crew. However, the excerpt above leads me to read Ahab as an emotionally compromised character who is searching for his release from the pain he is suffering. This point of view changes the vengeful character of Ahab into something completely different, and it allows the reader to view Ahab as a character driven to the brink by emotion who has no expectations of an endgame besides his own demise.

The pull of the sea

In One-Dimensional Man,  Marcuse presents the idea of needs of a societal construct that become imbedded into the ideology and reality of individuals while not being things that independently people inherently need.  This, claims Marcuse, is a form of societal control by causing individuals psychological distress if they go against the conditioned norms in the society.  In Moby Dick by Herman Melville, though not quite the modern society that Marcuse is discussing, is still relevant in showing how economic needs dictate the ideology of the people of the northeastern fishing towns and how this is so far reaching that it leads them to feel compelled to inflict on themselves great hardships.
                To further clarify the aspect of societal control explained by Marcuse, he states that people have natural biological needs and then needs that society makes people feel that they cannot live without.  Through the Freudian process of introjection, the self analyzes the difference between the demands of the outside world and internal demands.  Marcuse claims in modern society there is a “minmesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, the society as a whole”(Marcuse 10).  In this way, in technological societies, perhaps even in societies driven by capitalism such as Nantucket in Moby Dick, the individual is unable to see the difference between a need that is created by society and a biological need such as for food or being a member of a family.  The extent to which these societal based needs become an internal ideal shows how the individual thinks of themselves as a member of society first and for the demands, of the case of Moby Dick, the capitalistic whaling industry.
                At the beginning of Moby Dick, Ishmael represents this minmesis by expressing the near compulsion to get involved with a whaling expedition.  He states “Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your fist voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration”(Melville 9).  This passionate exclamation represents how much he holds the job of being a sailor as an ideal, to which he says the first time brings a level of near nirvana.  Additionally this quotation reflects Marcuse’s perspective on societal needs in the way that Ishmael claims this need to go to sea is inherent in every healthy boy.  Further, not only is it healthy and expected to have a desire to become a sailor but Ishmael implies that it would be insane to think otherwise. This directly relates to the claim of Marcuse that “the intellectual and emotional refusal ‘to go along’ appears neurotic and impotent”(Marcuse 9).  This aspect of following the dictates of society represents a form of socio-psychological control in which members are society are conditioned to meet the needs of society rather than inherent needs as well as the fact that going against this would be crazy.  The need to belong to a group is a biological need in humans and going against societal needs creates alienation.
In the case of Moby Dick, to ‘go along’ is to take part in the fishing industry of the sea towns in New England.  The economy needs sailors to take part on dangerous expeditions for next to no money and Ishmael buys into this idea so much so that it becomes a part of his ideal self.  At the same time he discusses the pull to be a sailor, he recognizes the hardships.  He discusses how he is treated by saying “they order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow”(Melville 9).  This quotation shows that when a sailor, Ishmael is not free to make many of his own decisions and in the next paragraph along these lines justifies this by saying “Who ain’t a slave”(Melville 9).  When discussing joining the crew of the Pequod and his compensation for a three year commitment he states ”if we had a lucky voyage, might pretty nearly pay for the clothing I would wear  out on it”(Melville 77).  To commit three years of time to a lifestyle on a ship surrounded men, a number of which he doesn’t particularly care for aside from Queequeg to make next to no money is a desire which does seem to be insane. Clearly there is not biological need for this type of existence and hardship, if anything it goes against the desire for self preservation.  In this way, the beliefs of Ishmael that he should join a whaling expedition show how deeply engrained societal needs can dictate ideology in an individual.  In a way, ultimately the desire to belong to society and not be seen by others and by oneself to be separate creates a breakdown in reason.

Whale, the Trade of Kings

“Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous head, and with wide expanded jaw snaps at everything around him; he rushes at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with vast swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed. * * * It is a matter of great astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so interesting, and, in a commercial point of view, of so important an animal (as the Sperm Whale) should have been so entirely neglected, or should have excited so little curiosity among the numerous, and many of them competent observers, that of late years must have possessed the most abundant and the most convenient opportunities of witnessing their habitudes”      Thomas Beal’s History of the Sperm Whale, 1839. (Melville, xlviii).

Reading through all of these extracts, one cannot help but to imagine Melville reading this sometime before beginning the work on his novel. Beal’s quotation perfectly summarizes both the portrayal of whaling within Moby-Dick and the general perception of the status of the whale within the 19th century. The absolute violence with which the quote describes the Sperm Whale completely embodies the honor with which accompanies the hunt – the dangers involved and the hardships endured – and the latter portion of the quote addresses the economic, cultural, scientific, and spiritual fascination the public of that time had (or should have had, according to Melville and Beal) with regards to the Leviathan. Melville’s Moby-Dick is, among many, many other things, a direct response to this quotation. And in turn, the quotation seems to legitimize Melville’s sprawling work. Besides fulfilling that very need for there to exist someone with rabid curiosity and respect for the Sperm Whale as a symbol of man’s technological power and resourcefulness, which Melville has both created and become himself, Moby-Dick creates in whaling what so many other pieces of art have tried with less vigor and success to do in other seemingly blue-collar professions: to create true honor in labor-class individuals and value in the mundane, i.e. one of the very first realizations of the ‘working-class hero.’

Melville of course had other reasons for writing Moby-Dick. He himself had been on a whaling voyage previous to penning the novel which makes personal experience a large portion of his motivation. Furthermore, taking into consideration the thematics of Bartleby and his repeated sardonic references to Wall Street in Moby-Dick (“People in Nantucket invest their money in whaling vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks bringing in good interest” (Melville, 81-2).), it is clear that through his portrayal of whalers, Melville is criticizing the conflagration of man’s relationships with technology and nature. Thomas Beal highlights how these two concepts, consumerism and naturalism, come to a point within the sperm whale (“so interesting, and, in a commercial point of view,…so important”). What Melville emphasizes, however, is how through the conquering of nature by technology, or rather by man’s transformation of natural entities into technological entities (spermaceti -> candles, lanterns, etc.) the violence which Beal describes in the first portion of his passage is unavoidable.

Ishamel is an excellent narrator to explore this idea through (although Melville often seems to forget exactly who is supposed to be narrating). Although he is very familiar with the sea, so much so as to not be a ‘greenhorn’ at describing the details of shipping, Ishamel is wholly ignorant of the intricacies of whaling and therefore offers an unbiased viewpoint of the profession and his experience within it (again, but only during his actual narrative, which seems ephemeral at times). There are constant martial allusions and connotations throughout the novel which serve to illustrate the very violence of technology’s clash with nature. In the very first chapter, his voyage appears in some sort of list drawn up by the Fates reading “Whaling voyage by one Ishmael/BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN (sic)” (Melville, 7), suggesting sequential events. But Ishmael refers directly to his voyage in the same fashion: “In that grand order of battle in which Captain Ahab would probably marshal his forces to descend on the whales…” (Melville, 130). 

The violence which takes place within whaling is nearly self-evident. Indeed, when defending the profession of whaling against accusations of being no more than butchers, Melville reminds us that soldiers and warriors work on battlegrounds far more bloody than that of a whaler and gain much more honor and respect. Whaling is the war of technology against nature, to the largest extent that it could be in the mid-1850s. For what is the whale than the absolute incarnate of nature’s massive power? It can be seen simply through skimming through Melvilles “extracts” that whales were first seen by humans as a thing of great fantasy, curiosity, and fear, and later they became an economic symbol of human’s progress over nature (although the fear perhaps never quite fully went away).
In essence, Melville is creating tension from the very beginning by forcing two irreconcilable forces to compete with one another, that of the great technology of man and the great nature of the whale. Through this, much of the potential for economic prosperity falls leeward in the actual pursuit of the whale, much as the economic gain of an individual soldier’s country is often forgotten whilst in the field. For there is most likely no better reciprocity than that between technology and war. Increased technology leads to better war, which in turn stimulates the economy and accelerates the rate at which technology advances (not to mention the additive effect of arms races between warring countries). Treating the profession of whaling as that of a warrior, as Melville surely does (within Queequeg especially), and seeing the act of it being carried out (technology: manning the mast-head, harpooneering, etc.), the crew in the novel seems to be gearing up for the very way in which Beal describes the Sperm Whale’s altercation with its boat: complete and inevitable violence, from which only one force will succeed. Thus, the clear draw of the profession of whaling as a great source of adventure and the clear draw to its most famous depiction, also a great source.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick or, The Whale. (1851) New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

The Importance of Extracts in Moby-Dick

“In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed; there—pointing to the sea—is a green pasture where our children’s grand-children will go for bread” (Obed Macy’s History of Nantucket).
 The preceding excerpt is derived from the Extracts section of Moby-Dick. I found several of the quotes found in this section to be intriguing, but this quote stuck out as one of the most important ones in my view.  This quote is attempting to demonstrate the vast reaching impact that whaling is destined to have on human society.  It implies that society will have much to gain both economically and socially from the business of whaling.  Society will become dependent on the oil that is produced through this occupation, making whaling a very profitable industry and the source of many people’s “bread.”   The meaning of this quote is implemented in several instances throughout the novel and incorporates one of the novel’s central themes, the importance that whaling possesses and the impact it has had on human history. This quote also serves as a lens to view differently some aspects of the novel, especially Melville’s intentions in writing Moby-Dick.
Before we discuss how the preceding quote can help us read a certain aspect of Moby-Dick differently, I find it necessary to comment on the possible intentions that Melville has in including the Extracts section.  This part of the book contains a large amount of quotes from multiple works ranging from The Bible and Shakespeare, all the way to science works and traditional songs.  All of these quotes seem to be centered around whales or the act of whaling itself.  These quotes paint whales as magnificent, powerful, and sublime creatures that are of great importance to human society.  The act of whaling is also shown in a glorious light that emphasizes the heroism and danger involved in this activity.  In addition to serving as way to show the great amount of importance that whales and whaling has had on human society, I believe Melville may have another intention hidden in the Extracts section.  In including such an enormous range of works in this section, I believe this may be an attempt by Melville to legitimize the literary value of Moby-Dick. This section shows that the novel involves so much more than just whales or whaling; it deals with an immense amount of other topics important to human society, such as those found in biblical text or famous plays.  I believe Melville is attempting to show that the novel has important value by inferring that it has the power to relate to a wide variety of important works, and that it has the ability to elaborate on the ideas presented in these works.
Moving on to the discussion on how the quote from Obed Macy’s History of Nantucket can help us view certain aspects of Moby-Dick differently, I would like to interrogate Chapter 24, which is titled The Advocate. In this chapter, Ishmael presents an argument for why the occupation of whaling is essential for society, and why whalers deserve much more respect than they receive from society. Ishmael states, “But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding adoration! For almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!” (Melville, 119). Ishmael goes on to say, “I freely assert, that the cosmopolite philosopher cannot, for his life, point out one single peaceful influence, which within the last sixty years has operated more potentially upon the whole broad world, taken in one aggregate, than the high and mighty business of whaling. One way and another, it has begotten events so remarkable in themselves, and so continuously momentous in their sequential issues, that whaling may well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves pregnant from her womb. It would be a hopeless, endless task to catalogue all these things” (Melville, 119). It is not hard to see how the quote I selected from Extracts relates to these quotes from The Advocate.  These quotes serve to back up the one from Extracts by explaining that the business of whaling has led to so many advancements for society, including explorative and economic progress.  These quotes also indicate that society depends on the occupation of whaling for fundamental luxuries such as lamps.  Just like the quote from Extracts predicts, Ishmael demonstrates that whaling has become a valuable industry to our society and is a profitable business for many.  It is clear to see how similar ideas are perpetuated in these quotes, but how can this lead us to view certain aspects of Moby-Dick differently?
As I stated earlier, Melville uses Extracts to both assert the importance of whaling, and perhaps the importance of Moby-Dick as a literary work.  The quote from Extracts allows us to see that Melville most likely has the same view of whaling that Ishmael expresses in The Advocate. Therefore, we may be able to view Ishmael as a personification of Melville’s beliefs about the importance of whales and whaling.  Any statement or thought that Ishmael has about whaling may be related to Melville’s own beliefs.  If this is indeed the case, we may need to view Ishmael as a biased character that serves to perpetuate Melville’s own opinions.  As one reads Moby-Dick, they must always consider this possibility; there is always a deeper context to Ishmael’s statements and actions that is related to Melville’s own views.  If this is true, Melville implements a great strategy for pushing his beliefs by making Ishmael the narrator of the novel; Ishmael has an enormous amount of influence over how we interpret the story.   As a consequence, anyone who wishes to view this novel as objective and unbiased is mistaken.  Melville is attempting to advocate for his own beliefs by throughout the novel, and one of the main ways he accomplishes this is by having the novel’s narrator promote views similar to his own.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick or, The Whale. 1851. New York : Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Elias - Yahweh is God

It is only fitting that the character Elijah is brought into Herman Melville’s Moby Dick during the chapter entitled “The Prophet”. Traditionally Elijah in Hebrew is Elias, which means “Yahweh is my God”(A&E Television Network, Elijah Biography). Biblically, Elijah is not only a well-known prophet but a typology for John the Baptist. Elijah the Tishbite is first mentioned within the Bible by announcing “The Great Drought” to King Ahab in 1 Kings. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except my word.”(1 Kings 17:1). Following this terrible prophesy, Elijah stays with a woman whom the Lord supplies with food and water by keeping her flour from being empty and her oil from running dry. During this time Elijah also miraculously raises the woman’s son from the dead by crying out to the Lord.

                After three years of the drought the Lord commands Elijah to present himself to Ahab. Though Obadiah, Ahab’s palace administrator, was a believer of Christ, Ahab’s wife Jezebel was not. She was killing the prophets of the Lord. “Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water”(1 Kings, 18:4b). Obadiah remains faithful to the Lord and hides his servants Jezebel’s cruelty. Now, Ahab, Jezebel, and their people were pagans. This is a major sin in the eyes of the Lord. Idolatry is not to be taken lightly. Elijah then challenged the pagans and their god Baal to see who’s was the true God.

“Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire – he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.””(1 Kings 18: 22-24).

Though the pagans beat and cut themselves, Ball does not deliver fire. Elijah then instructs the pagans to pour water on his bull. He then prays to Yahweh, “Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.”(Kings 18: 38).  At this point, all of the pagan prophets abandoned their idolatry and returned to the ways of God. In a rage, Jezebel then ordered to Elijah to be killed, causing him to run to Beersheba. During his time there an Angel appeared to him to provide him with food and strength. After leaving Beersheba God Himself appeared to Elijah who says, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”(1 Kings 19: 10). The Lord then instructs Elijah to return, where his successor is appointed. Elijah is one of the only two humans in the Bible who never died. A whirlwind was created then, God took Elijah up to heaven with him leading most people to believe that he will return again to continue serving God.

                The story of Elijah is mainly to impress upon Christians the importance of prayer, but also the challenge to challenge false prophets. The Lord always responds to Elijah’s prayers, and as Elijah is faithful to Yahweh; Yahweh too is faithful to Elijah and to his people, the Israelites. Elijah is more than just an example of faith but is representative of how we should face society. Though Elijah is surrounded by idolaters he stays strong in his faith. He is a hero. Though he runs in fear at the threat of death, he feels ashamed for his fear. He shows both strength and weakness as we all do at times. This shows us profoundly that we as a people can still carry God’s message though we at times may be weak. We can still bear witness. In this way, Elijah is the ideal human prophet. He is inconsistent and proud but a dedicated servant. Furthermore, the over arcing idea within this passage is obedience to the Lord. This is of such consequence that it is one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai.

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I The Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My Commandments"(Exodus 20:4-6).

This sin is so grave that God will not only punish you, up to the fourth generation. Though not punishable by death explicitly the punishment within the family is actually more a threat here. In antiquity your aspiration was to literally “’Be fruitful and multiply’”(Genesis 1:28). The goal of antiquity was to produce until death, living extremely long, and dying surrounded by your large family. This is a theme repeated over and over again in the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, this sin is so great Ahab should be extremely cautious in raising himself to God’s level.

                I believe that the main connection between the Biblical Elijah and Melville’s Elijah is the warning against false prophets, and mainly against the leadership of Ahab. Previously it seems that Ahab and his crew view him to be as great as God. “He’s a grand, ungodly, god-like man Captain Ahab…. Ahab’s above the common… he’s Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old, thou knowest was a crowned king!”(Melville, 88). Biblically this is a very blasphemous view point. What strikes me as odd though is that Queequeg is an actual pagan but a trustworthy gentle giant, and he is never presented in a negative light after his initial introduction. It seems that the intention here is that Ahab is aspiring to reach something equal to or greater than God but Queequeg is an innocent misled beast, perhaps even meant to be sympathized with.

                Overall the character Elijah is certainly concerned with the state of their souls and is concerned that they signed them off to this other “god” figure. “Anything down there about your souls?... Oh, perhaps you hav’nt got any… what’s signed, is signed; and what’s to be, will be…”(Melville, 102). Rather than warning the people away from idolizing or false worship, this Elijah is warning Queequeg and Ishmael from signing their souls off to a more human form of the same; a man who aspires to elevate himself to the level of a true God.

                However there is a distinct difference between Melville’s Elijah and that of the Bible. Where the Biblical Elijah provides signs from God to provide reason and proof to his prophesizing, Melville’s Elijah is far from that. Elijah seems to be a questionable figure, babbling and giving half-warnings as for what is to come. He does so much so that Ishmael writes him off as lunacy with no more than a shred of fear struck into him. I interpreted this to be more than just a veering off from the Biblical story. Elijah is so struck by fear toward the coming events that he is incapable of relaying just the trouble these men are bound for. When Biblical Elijah was fearful he ran. He did not make coherent arguments against paganism or prophesize along the way. This seems to be the most likely motive of creating Moby-Dick’s Elijah so unsound.

                It is obvious that the meaning of this conjunction of Elijah and Ahab in Moby-Dick with that of 1 Kings in the Bible is to give us a distinct warning against the character Ahab within Moby-Dick. The reason is a little more hidden. The reader must be aware that holding oneself to the height of God is an extreme violation of Biblical code, and will only lead to misfortune. Furthermore, the true paganism here is overlooked because of the way Queequeg operates under it. He is not a threat, though obviously still sinful. The differences between the two stories only lead me to believe that Ahab’s fall from grace is so great that it is enough to send the ‘prophet’ into a panic so great he is ineffective. Now though, Ismael and Queequeg are bound to him through signature, and therefore equally as guilty.
The Harper Collins Study Bible. Harper San Francisco, 2006. Print.
"Elijah Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.biography.com/people/elijah-9285965>.