Thursday, September 26, 2013

Devil in the Man: A 'Hell-Bent' Captain

Well here's a find if ever I saw one. Some of you know that I am currently in classes studying, respectively, Moby Dick and Paradise Lost, and I've been working at expanding my research base a little bit. Well, in searching for scholarly sources to go with some of the ideas that I presented in my last post, "God in the Whale," I came across a work that draws a really fascinating connection between Milton's Satan and Melville's Ahab. In Leslie Sheldon points draws on the research of other scholars to provide a stunning comparison of the two characters:
[I]n Guttmann's view [ . . . ] "Milton's fable is used to supplement Melville's own." (2) The drawing of Miltonic connections in the criticism is, furthermore, often associated with the contention that Melville interpreted the epic in a primarily "Romantic" and "Satanic School" way, attributing to Milton (as did Blake), (3) an unconscious "sympathy for the Devil," a view apparently given some support by the recently discovered marginalia in Melville's personal copy of Milton's poetry. (4) Fifty years ago, Henry A. Murray claimed that "Melville's Satan is the spitting image of Milton's hero ... the stricken, passionate, indignant, and often eloquent rebel angel of Paradise Lost, whose role is played by Ahab" (5) And as recently as 1998, Paul Giles similarly noted that Ahab's "desire for revenge on the white whale is as anguished as Satan's quest in Milton's poem for vengeance against God."
I had thought about Ahab as a sort of devil character, striking out in defiance toward God, but for some reason, the thought had never occurred to me to compare Milton's Satan and the 'hell-bent' captain. I guess in a lot of ways, this validates my earlier thoughts that Moby Dick is meant to represent deity. Sheldon goes on to examine a bunch of other direct references to Milton, from the lightning-bolt scar (Milton: "scars of Thunder" 1:601) on his face to his "quenchless feud" (123), and all in all, it ends up being a pretty irrefutable case. I'm excited to look into this more, though I think that with Sheldon having provided so much research into this idea, I may look for a different topic in terms of long-term research.

For those of you that have read Moby Dick and Paradise Lost, what other similarities do you see in the characters, actions, or settings presented? What was Melville's rationale in playing off of the Miltonic epic?

Article Source: Sheldon, Leslie E. "Messianic power and satanic decay: Milton in Moby-Dick." Leviathan (2002): 29+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.