American Adam Myth and Ahab: Sartre’s Masculine Principles in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”

International Journal of Media Culture and Literature 8 (2):119-141 (2024)
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Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is open to many readings, but one that has yet to be explored is the existential reading of Ahab’s pursuit from a gender perspective. By weaving together biblical, mythical, and mystical elements, the novel promises that Captain Ahab’s vengeance on the whale actually transcends the expected qualities of a maritime quest. A self-made man, Ahab endures his ever-present obsession and relentlessly clings to his deadliest struggle, which echoes Sartre’s proclamation, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” Yet, intricately entwined with the spirit of nineteenth-century America, Ahab's character also assumes a canonical representation of American ideals. Thus, his hunting pursuit is overlaid onto America’s expansionist and imperialist mindset in the nineteenth century, which complements the hegemonically masculine manner camouflaged under this political ethos. Bearing this in mind, Melville subtly indicates that Ahab’s urge to assert his superiority over the whale is related to the biblical context of appointing females as something to take revenge on. In this narrative, Ahab's embodiment of the American hero undergoes a metamorphosis into an American Adam figure by asserting dominance over the whale that symbolises female subjugation. Interrogating Ahab's portrayal as an American Adam-type within the broader societal and political contexts of supremacist ideals, this article delves into Ahab's pursuit through the lens of Sartrean Existentialism. By doing so, this article interprets Ahab’s idealistic quest to hunt down the whale as a metaphor for hegemonic masculinity and subordinate femininity by exploring the subject/object, and the pursuer/pursued dynamics.

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