Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” will always tower in American literature as an accurate and thrilling saga of the sea. Aboard a whaling ship, a closed society.
It enters the realm of masterwork when the reader, drawn by Melville’s exquisite use of language, begins to peel back deep and dense layers of moral ambiguity presented by Ahab’s single-minded pursuit of the monstrous whale that ripped and scarred his body and spirit. He cunningly turns his crew from the commercial aspect of the voyage to his mission of personal obsession.
Has Ahab rightly recruited them to his task of ridding the world of an embodiment of pure evil? Or has he sinned in usurping the interests and authority of the ship’s owners by replacing them with revenge against an entity that, as his own first mate declares, is simply one of God’s creatures acting on brute instinct?
Which the saint? Which the sinner? The great gliding leviathan of nature or the firmly set man of will?
Melville wisely leaves these and other questions open; inviting us into a broad and uncertain universe: we can come about and return to port, or set full sail toward a vast and unknowable horizon.