The Grand Tour


Although there are many quests in the novel Moby Dick, none is more powerful and interesting than that of Captain Ahab. He was possessed. Ishmael memorably described the Captain this way: “Captain Ahab…He’s a grand, ungodly, god-like man.” How is that possible? It is as unlikely as saying the God-head is a trinity of Gods who are really only one God. The chase for the whale is clearly described as a chase for God, except when it is a chase for the devil. It can be both. It can be a grand tour. In this case, it was a tour almost around the world in search of particular white whale over whom Captain Ahab wanted to exact revenge, no matter what the cost.  So he travels for over 3 years to find one particular white whale. What could be crazier than that?

Ishmael was well aware of the futility of going around the world to find one white whale amid all those whales. It made no sense. That did not matter to Ahab. Sense had nothing to do with his quest. Obsession had everything to do with it. Ishmael, the narrator, frequently referred to Ahab’s quest as monomaniac. It was truly mad.

As a result, the novel is really about many different kinds of obsessive quests. As we all know when we think of it, many quests are mad, because everything else is set aside in favor of the one big quest.  So what Melville has to say about Ahab’s quest might apply to yours. Or mine.

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