Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick and Albert Camus’s idea of Absurdism share the same philosophical core. This core consists of the absurdity of the individual’s role in the quest for meaning. While Moby Dick and Camus are separated by a century’s worth of literary and cultural changes, the very same ideas present in Camus’s work are also found in Moby Dick. The readings of The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger,—two of Camus’s major works—are in their own facet, related to the themes of determinism and individual meaning present in Moby Dick. With regard to determinism in Moby Dick, Camus’s essay The Myth of Sisyphus offers up its own case for the motives behind Ahab’s vengeance and concludes that Ahab must therefore be an Absurd hero. While in Camus’s novel The Stranger, the idea of individual meaning is examined by comparing the protagonist, Meursault’s existential ambiguity to Ishmael’s own lack of characterization. These examples illustrate that Albert Camus’s writings not only lend credence to but also share the same philosophical backbone as Moby Dick; in order to understand Moby Dick, one must first understand Absurdism.
Johannes Silentio explained the concept of Absurdism best in his forward to Fear and Trembling “The Absurd [Absurdism] refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent meaning in life and the human inability to find any” (Silentio 17) The main distinction between this belief system and all of its predecessors is that Absurdism is first to say that an inherent meaning to the universe has yet to be detected. It makes no claim as to whether or not meaning exists. And this is the central point being an Absurd hero, an acceptance of ignorance but still traversing on through life.
In Moby Dick, this acceptance of ignorance is exhibited when Ahab insists that he and his crew kill the white whale despite its immortal nature. Similarly, this idea of doing that which is impossible is paralleled in the aforementioned Johannes Silentio quote, but also specifically in Camus’s essay The Myth of Sisyphus. In the essay Camus recalls the legend of the Greek titan Sisyphus who was condemned to forever push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down once he reached the top. Camus meant to extrapolate this metaphor to humanity as a whole. Moreover, Camus implies that all human affairs are a Sisyphean task in themselves. Consequently, no matter what arbitrary goal people place before themselves another just as arbitrary goal waits for them after that. Camus argues that the absurd hero is aware of this. Life to him is a constant struggle without any hope of relief. Camus posits the single requirement for his Absurd hero; he must live while being aware of his absurd life. Sisyphus knows he will always struggle for fruitless ends. This realization is the same that an absurd man lives with.
No one can more eloquently sympathize with Sisyphus’s plight than Ahab. It was Ahab that saw through the façade of mere...