The Duality of Man in Moby Dick
In Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, every character is a symbol of the
good and evil sides of humanity. However, none of the characters represent
pure evil or pure goodness. Even Melville’s description of Ahab, whom he
repeatedly refers to monomaniacal, which suggests he is driven insane by one
goal, is given a chance to be seen as a frail, sympathetic character.
Ishmael represents the character with the most good out of the crew, though
his survival is unclear because he never had a direct adversary to overcome.
He has his moments when evil thoughts pervade his mind. The unclearness of
morals in the universe is prevalent throughout Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
The outcome of choosing good or evil can not be seen as favorable or just.
Ahab, is the main human character of the novel. He is also the captain
of the vessel and is seen as the representative of evil. Then there is
Ishmael the young seaman making his first real voyage. He is pure in
comparison with Ahab because he lacks the need for revenge. Ultimately, it
is the dichotomy between the respective fortunes of Ishmael and Ahab that the
reader is left with. Herein lies a greater moral ambiguity than is
previously suggested. Although Ishmael is the sole survivor of the Pequod,
it is notable that in his own way, Ahab fulfills his desire for revenge by
ensuring the destruction of the White Whale alongside his own death.
Despite the seeming superiority of Ishmael’s destiny, Melville does not
explicitly indicate so. On the contrary, he subtly suggests that Ishmael’s
survival is lonely and empty upon being rescued: "It was the devious-cruising
Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found
another orphan." (521 Melville) That single instance of the of loneliness
applied to Ishmael speaks volumes when taken in light of the destruction of
the Pequod and her crew. Melville’s inclusion of Ishmael’s survival
suggests that Ishmael’s survival is an afterthought to the fate of Ahab and
the rest of his crew. Ishmael’s quiet words at the beginning of the chapter,
"Why then here does any one step forth?... Because one did survive the
wreck," (521 Melville) indicate a deep humility on Ishmael’s part. He sees
his victory in life as an empty one.
The question is then raised of why Ishmael is the sole survivor. It is
clear that Ishmael significantly differs with Ahab concerning their
respective perspectives of the White Whale. Ishmael clearly indicates how
disagreeable he finds the mission and mental state of those around him: "…the
rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a
corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material
counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul." (391 Melville) Here, Ishmael
breaks his usual detached observancy and boldly distinguishes himself from