In the book Moby Dick, Ishmael, the narrator, seems convinced that “my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the programme of Providence, that was drawn up a long time ago.” Ishmael said, “when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor.” That is true. Compared to Ahab he is a simple man on a simple voyage. Yet Ishmael has a choice. Like Ahab, Ishmael must go with fate or must challenge the fate. And that makes all the difference. And Ishmael is leading us on this quest. We see it through his eyes.
Ishmael may be tormented, but not like Ahab, but as he says,
“I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail the forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it—would they let me…the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill.
That great white phantom if of course a reference to the great white sperm whale that Captain Ahab is obsessed with catching. In time he pulls the crew into his mad obsession. And it is clearly a mad obsession. Are they pursuing God or are they pursuing the devil? The quest leads to horror and wonder. How could it lead to both? Truly an epic religious quest is at hand.