Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick, two separate and radically different compositions that both explore the self-destructive potential of humanity. Moby Dick, set in the New England region of North America during the mid to late 1800s, tells the story of Captain Ahab's quest on the whaling ship, The Pequod, to slay the white whale that crippled him on his last voyage. Throughout their trek the crew are faced with many warnings to turn back, ultimately Ahab must make the decision between saving multiple lives, and exacting his revenge. Ishamel, a well educated traveler and crew member of the Pequod, narrates the story several years after these events have transpired. 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the story of humanity's actions following first extraterrestrial contact. Dr. Dave Bowman sets out on a journey to Jupiter to discover the source of a signal emanating from an obelisk buried beneath the surface of the moon. By the end of his trip, Bowman is the sole survivor of his ship's crew, and must destroy the computer that guided them, HAL, in order to survive.
Moby Dick is set in Massachusetts where “nearly a third part of the population are Quakers” (Chase 9). The heavy religious influence of the time period likely made characters more morally right than people today. Whaler's were often out on the sea for extended periods of time, and had to be resourceful. It was not unheard of for a whaling ship to scavenge parts and whole lifeboats from a beached ship (Chase 12). Ships often faced dangers from the environment in addition to the dangerous nature of their trade. While traveling a ship would occasionally have to “abandon the idea of keeping any correct longitude” (Chase 39).
2001: A Space Odyssey, was released in 1968 and Kubrick believed that by the year 2001 humans would have achieved the means to complete missions to Jupiter and have created a true artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, Kubrick was wrong. However, the implications of the potential technological advances in 2001: A Space Odyssey are just as relevant as the effects of Quaker morality and isolation in Moby Dick.
Dr. Dave Bowman and Captain Ahab share the traits of obsession. Throughout their separate ordeals, they are fully aware of the potential dangers ahead and the immediate danger at hand. However, they choose to ignore these problems to pursue a bigger goal. For Bowman, it is reaching Jupiter and discovering the mystery behind the obelisk's signal. For Ahab it is revenge. It becomes apparent that an obsession will ultimately cause more harm than good.
While in pursuit of Moby Dick, The Pequod encounters another ship, The Rachel. During their meeting the captains shout back and forth. Ahab immediately asks if they have seen the whale, and if it is alive. They reply yes on both counts but ask if Ahab has seen any smaller whaling boats around. In the Rachel's encounter with the white whale several smaller whaling boats were lost...