I just finished Moby Dick by Melville. This is a book report.
The great sea monster haunts many dreams and many imaginative stories. Moby Dick is one of largest, darkest, great sea monsters. The cursed white whale brings his size, strength, and aggression against anyone that tries him. He lies in the remotest parts of the deep, mysterious ocean. Everything about the beast inspires fear.
The deep ocean was the source of Captain Ahab’s mission in life. Ahab was a whaler that had his leg bit off by the evil Moby Dick. This attack, and the loss of his leg, introduced chaos to Ahab’s life. He wasn’t complete with the whale out there swimming around. Then, he sought revenge. He needed to kill Moby Dick.
The imagery is powerful. Ahab needs to go to the deepest depths of the mysterious ocean to fight the mighty sea monster to restore his own order. In the Bible and other mythologies this sea monster imagery is used metaphorically. Here, literally.
One example of the whale in popular stories is its use in Pinocchio. Pinocchio becomes detached from his father and in doing so loses the order that was in his life. He must combat the scariest creature (whale!) in the scariest, most unknown deep part of the ocean. Only there is Pinocchio’s father Geppetto found so that order can be restored. Spoiler alert.
For Pinocchio, reward was restoring the wisdom and order maintained by Geppetto. Geppetto kept Pinocchio sheltered from the darkness of the world during Pinocchio’s younger years. Pinocchio wanted that shelter back – that sense of order, more than anything. He faced his fears and conquered and returned Geppetto.
For Ahab, the world is without order until the white whale is dead. It is his mission to go out, fight the winds and oceans and defeat his rival.
The greatest rewards in life are found by facing the greatest fears and uncertainties and defeating them. For Ahab, reward would have been found by ending the monster that was the source of malevolence that interrupted his career and took his leg. He felt his calling to restore order in an ocean that contains his source of chaos so that he could sail uninhibited.
To restore order to Ahab’s world, many other elements had to be in order. The Pequod, the ship, had to be in order. The individual boats that departed the Pequod to deliver the harpoons had be in order. He had to be in order. Only then could the whale be destroyed, or even an attempt made at the great whale.
The other passengers on the Pequod, the ship in pursuit of Moby Dick with Ahab at the helm, can be seen as the different voices in all of us. They are our collective conscious. There’s Starbuck, who is the voice of reason. He is calm and virtuous and speaks in facts. There is Stubbs, who is funny and skilled but reckless. The Farsi represents the evil that is within all of us. Ahab is the passion that is a part of all of us. Not a sensual passion, but one driven by meaning. He isn’t complete until he accomplishes his mission. Or, of course, dies trying.
In a more literal sense, the others on the ship make us question our mission as it relates to our social responsibility and our commitment to do good to others. Do we have a right to pursue a danger that can hurt or kill others?
Ahab asks this question to his crew. The crew consents – they will join Ahab on his death-mission. But, as we’ve seen from the #metoo movement, consent can be a funny subject. When the Pequod is finally in hot pursuit of Moby Dick, the crew changes sides and some crew members express a wish to stop the pursuit. At Ahab’s insistence, they don’t. Now, dissenting seamen could have abandoned the ship and the crew and taken one of the smaller boats, but all chose to stay.
We find meaning in serving our family and other people. Not only is there a camaraderie that was built over years traveling the seas together, but the passengers onboard the Pequod shared a commitment to the mission and to serving one another. Ahab, however reckless, united the ship against this whale that must be killed. The others on the boat had their role their job on the ship (blacksmith, harpooner, mate). All supported the mission and were a necessary piece of the Pequod puzzle. Their honor laid in their commitment to the mission.
Ahab was blinded by his passion. We see him make mistake after mistake after avoiding sensical advice from his mates. In the end, this not only kills him, but kills all his mates as well. Spoiler alert.
I have faced my deepest fears and insecurities and come out on top. For ten years from middle school through college I suffered as a virgin that wanted to have sex and didn’t. I felt weak and insignificant because I wasn’t recognized by the other sex and rewarded with intimacy and sex. I needed to have sex. My lack of it affected my confidence which affected my relationships, my draw to other vices, and my mood. I was angry. Women became my mission.
Getting good with women was the first time I killed a white whale in my life. I had to fight off every insecurity by facing the deepest fears in my psyche and in living form. I had to build the social skills to maneuver nightlife, dating, and seduction. I obsessed, and then I conquered. I had to achieve with women, and I couldn’t move on until I did.
Yes, in life we can change course. When the crew presented evidence that Ahab should change course, the new options should have been weighted. We can always change course. But that must be a fully conscious decision. The new mission, the new passion, must be greater than original.
When faced with a great problem, the best approach is the most direct route. Stand up to the most fearful aspect of the source of pain and defeat it. You don’t kill other sperm whales and take time on a windy path to your goal. This is inefficient at best, and procrastinating damnation at worst.
There was never a plan B with Ahab. Although multiple whales were killed on the way to Moby Dick, they never interrupted his mission. Other sperm whales were killed and drained of their profitable oil which, in the end, was spilled over the ocean. These supplementary whales ultimately did not aid the capture of Moby Dick and, when the ship was destroyed and the crew killed, proved unprofitable financially.
When I sought out to attract women, I faced this decision. I could have built up less direct skills in order to attract women. If I built up my career and focused on making money, maybe one day a woman would love me for the resources I could provide. I could have spent more time in the gym and tried to become more beautiful. I could have learned an instrument or become a club promoter. I chose instead to build a personality that encompassed the wit, creativity, strength, and confidence characteristic of the master of each of those activities. I became sexy – no matter what I was doing.
Ahab had to kill the white whale – the source of his pain and frustration. In the end, he failed, but he failed attacking his pain and frustration head-on, and there is great honor in that.
Question is, should he have done it? Should Ahab have continued with his drive towards this grim reaper, where he faced probable death, or would he have been more miserable at home where he was safe?
While it was a destructive ambition, I argue, that for Ahab, it was a necessary ambition. If Ahab didn’t leave home and confront the whale he never would have been content with the whale swimming around in the ocean.
To die working towards your mission is to die with honor. To die any other way is to die with regret. To die with regret is shameful. Regret means we know there is something we should be doing, and we choose not to. It means we know there’s a whale that’s a source of chaos and unknown and fear, and we know that within the chaos is great reward, and we choose not to venture and capture the reward.
I killed Moby Dick when I became an attractive man capable of receiving intimacy from women.
These days, I’m fighting a new Moby Dick. I want to build a profitable business so that I can quit my day job. That is my new white whale that I must conquer.
This time, I’m better equipped. I killed a white whale once. I’ll do it again. Hunting whales itself is a skill. So is hunting the white whales – the biggest, meanest, most challenging source of fear. It is these monsters that instill so much fear that are the source of all great things.
What is your white whale?