Captain Ahab in Moby Dick: Character Analysis & Quotes Video

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  • 0:01 'Moby-Dick' & Herman Melville
  • 0:51 Captain Ahab Character…
  • 2:11 Quotes
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

This lesson explores Captain Ahab, one of the major characters in Herman Melville's novel, ''Moby-Dick.'' After a brief description of his physical appearance and traits, we will analyze a few quotes about Captain Ahab and then wrap up with a short quiz.

Moby-Dick and Herman Melville

Moby-Dick, published in 1851, is not the only book written by Herman Melville, an American writer of novels, stories, and poems. Even though it's undeniably famous, it wasn't even author's most popular book while he was alive. That honor belongs to his first novel, Typee, which is based on the time Herman Melville spent on the Polynesian islands. While Moby-Dick flopped during Melville's life, it has gone on to be his most well-known novel and one of the most famous novels of American literature in general.

Several reasons account for Moby-Dick's popularity today. First, the themes of Moby-Dick are timeless: revenge, madness, loss, death, and friendship, just to name a few. Secondly, the writing of the novel itself is inventive and creative, mixing different writing techniques to create a stronger and more complex novel.

Captain Ahab Character Analysis

Moby-Dick is narrated by a character called Ishmael. The first line, in fact, is very famous: ''Call me Ishmael.'' While Ishmael narrates the novel, however, Moby-Dick's main character is Captain Ahab, a whaling captain obsessed with a quest for revenge against the white whale (Moby-Dick) who destroyed one of his legs.

The most important aspect of Captain Ahab's appearance is his leg, which was severed at the knee in a whaling accident. His prosthetic leg is made out of whale bone. Captain Ahab is obsessed with his missing limb. It drives his quest for vengeance. Aside from his leg, Captain Ahab's appearance is terrifying and intense. He has gray hair, a scorched face, and a giant scar running down his face and torso.

Captain Ahab is insane. Ishmael describes him as crazy and evil personified. At one point in the novel, he meets another whaling captain who also lost a limb to the whale Moby-Dick. This captain, however, differs from Captain Ahab in that he has made peace with his missing limb and realizes that Moby-Dick is too powerful to capture. Captain Ahab is too fixated on Moby-Dick to realize that the whale is just an animal and is operating out of self-preservation. For Captain Ahab, it is intensely personal and he is willing to die in pursuit of his quest.


This first quote comes from Ishmael talking about Ahab:

All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

According to Ishmael, Ahab seems to be carrying all the rage and hate of the entire human race. He blames Moby-Dick for his pain. The intensity of the feelings he has transferred onto the whale is truly shown through the fact that it is Captain Ahab who gave the whale his name. By naming him, he justifies his quest for vengeance because he is no longer ruthlessly hunting an animal but looking for an individual who has knowingly and purposefully targeted Captain Ahab.

Another significant quote in the novel is Captain Ahab's only line of Latin:

''Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!'' deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly devoured the baptismal blood.

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