From Hell's heart I stab at thee

January 18, 2007 at 6:05 PM

Herman MevilleMany of the books I've read in the past have been thrust into focus recently: my previous post describes a little bit of text indexing I'm doing with Project Gutenberg's E-Books. This work has put a lot of great classic literature across my screen.

One such book juxtaposed itself in my mind with Gary's recent post on bitterness; specifically, Moby Dick. Melville paints a particularly trenchant picture of the effects hatred can have on a person. In fact, his passages about this subject are some of the most oft-quoted ones in any of his works. Ahab's hatred stems from the hurt inflicted upon his body by the whale:

And then it was, that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field. [...] Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. [...] All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

As is the case with hatred, Ahab's demonization of the whale is his own undoing. His consuming obsession with Moby Dick sinks his ship, crazes his mind, and ends his life:

"[...] Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"

What irony, that for Ahab to "give up the spear" in this sense means nothing of what he should have done; namely, to abnegate his hatred. By letting the spear fly he gives himself over, causing fatal injury to no one but himself. How characteristic of hate--may we give it up in the correct sense, rather than give in to it.