What does Ahab want? What is standing in his way? And what strategy does he pursue in order to overcome this block?
Ahab wants to make peace with himself, and so, just like any human being, he wants to seek God. After forty years of sailing, Ahab too was weary. But he has something that is standing in his way to the peaceful unity with God; it is his anger of life’s injustice that has snatched his happiness (in the shape Moby Dick who has snatched his one leg). There should be two alternatives to overcome the block: either compromising with life, or pursuing the unfinished business. Unfortunately, despite of chance of repentance given to him, Ahab persists to follow his passion to revenge.
Which point of view does the writer choose to use? What does he gain and lose through it?
It’s a combination of third person-limited—by using Ishmael to narrate the whole story; and the omniscient POV—because through Ishmael Melville questioned often about morality.
Beginnings and endings
Melville used the mystery approaching for starting the novel, by hinting about the mysterious enigmatic Captain Ahab—a person whom people talk both with fear and admiration. The ending is a resolution—as the Pequod and its passengers were swallowed by the ‘sea’ (and the sea is indeed a metaphor, as I hinted below).
Images and metaphors
I think Melville used a lot of whaling-related metaphors here to convey his philosophy, but I’d only analyze one of them that touched me most (and the most intriguing too) – from chapter 132: The Symphony.
‘The snow-white wings of small unspeckled birds’ which represents the gentle thoughts of feminine air is a metaphor of Good; while ‘mighty Leviathans, sword-fish and sharks’ which represents the strong, troubled, the murderous thinking of the masculine sea is the metaphor of Evil.
“…Though thus contrasting within, the contrast was only in shades and shadows without; those two seemed one.” It represents us, human, inside whom there are always the Good and the Evil; and the two powers merge in one soul.
And this following passage is, I think, particularly about Ahab’s condition of soul.
“Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea.” It might represent how the Good in Ahab’s soul is working to win him from the Evil. And that’s why Ahab suddenly becomes melancholy; it is when love is touching his soul, that he remembers his wife and child, and how he had selfishly treated them. But unfortunately, Ahab had let his revenge passion stays in him. He is too stubborn to unleash the anger; that the Evil might overpower him, and so he can’t but submitted—as we can find it here:
“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? (…) Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?”