In the end we learn what hatred brings us. The whale approached Ahab’s boat. One of the crew, Parsee, who had harpooned the whale the day before had held on so tight that the whale dragged him all night until he was stuck to the whale, lashed there by the harpoons rope wound round and round him. That is where hate brings you. Or at least the half of his body that remained was stuck to the whale after two days.
Now Ahab’s irrational hatred of the whale—hatred of his god—becomes alive. Ahab “darted his fierce iron, and his far fiercer curse into the hated whale.”
Finally, the whale reacts to its relentless foe, becoming a “down coming monster” as a result of the thirst for revenge levied against it. That’s what revenge creates—a monster. Ishmael describes Moby Dick wheeling round to Ahab’s boat:
“in that evolution, catching site of the nearing black hull of the ship, seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it—it may be—a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam.”
Ishmael came close to admitting what Ahab always claimed, that the whale has “intelligent malignity,” but he just says it “may be” that it is “bethinking.” What is certain, though, is that Ahab is a rational creature made irrational by hate, lust for revenge, and mad about his holy cause. Ahab says, “I grow blind.” Ahab asks, “Is this the end of all my bursting prayers? All my life-long fidelities?” The answer is clear-yes! That is the end of mad quests.
The whale rams into the ship, with all the men on it, and the men gazed at the whale with “enchanted eyes,” as it moved
“his head side to side strangely vibrating his predestinating head, sent a broad overspreading semicircular foam before him as he rushed. Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect and spite of all that mortal man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship’s starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled.”
Through his own hateful seeking vengeance, Ahab transformed the whale into exactly what Ahab was. That is the child of hate. Hate begat hate. Ahab realizes his ship is now just a “God-bullied hull.” Ahab realizes, “Oh now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief.” He is a tragic hero of sorts. Yet even with that knowledge, Ahab does not relent.
Instead of relenting, Ahab thinks,
“Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; from hell’s heart I stab at thee, for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool, and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, thou tied to thee, thou damned whale.”
Of course, it is not the whale that is damned. Even as Ahab hates to the last, we note the reverential use of “Thee” and “thou” the phrases appropriate to conversation between human and god.
With that the Pequod and the whaling boats and all the men in them all sunk into the sea even as the “faithful harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts.” They all go down with their ship. There followed an astounding image, of Tashtego, Stubb’s personal faithful harpooneer, a Native American from Gay Head, the westernmost point of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, sinking with a whaling boat, but still with his “red arm and a hammer” hovered” above the surface of the water in the act of nailing Ahab’s flag faster and faster to the subsiding spar. Then a sky-hawk tauntingly came down “from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag and incommoding Tashtego there” but it got between the hammer and the wood, and still,
“simultaneously feeling that ethereal thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-grasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.
Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed; and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”
Despite all the hatred of Ahab for nature—i.e. the white whale—nature won in the end. The obsessed man lost. The mad quest was over.
My wife Christiane used to wear a pin (until it was lost or stolen) that said, “Religion is no longer religion if it leads to hate.” Maybe this is what Moby Dick is all about.