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The Intolerableness of All Earthly Effort: of Futility and Ahab as the Absurd Hero in Melville's Moby Dick
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2008 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

In 1942, Algerian writer Albert Camus published a philosophical essay called The Myth of Sisyphus along with a fictional counterpart, The Stranger, wherein he presumed the human condition to be an absurd one. This, Camus claimed, was the result of the absence of a god, and consequently of any meaning beyond life itself. Without a god, without an entity greater than man, man has no higher purpose than himself and he himself is inevitably transient. As such, man, so long as he lives, is cursed with the inability to create or partake in anything lasting. The absurd is life without a tomorrow, a life of futility. As one of the main precursors of this view of life and of the human experience, Camus mentioned Herman Melville and Captain Ahab’s chase for the white whale - Moby Dick.

Now, as will be indicated in the following, the most common critical position holds that the white whale of Moby-Dick, Melville’s magnum opus, is to be interpreted as a symbol of God, and thus Ahab’s chase is tragic by virtue of its impossibility for success. As such, the tragedy is entailed by the futility vis-à-vis its impermanence. However, the ambiguity of Moby-Dick allows for the possibility of several alternative interpretations as to the role of the whale: for instance that of the devil, evil incarnate or merely a "dumb brute". As such, Ahab’s quest might as well be the pursuit of a creature which understands nothing of vengeance, thus rendering his objective equally, if not more fruitless, than the pursuit of a god.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2008. , 16 p.
Keyword [en]
Herman Melville Albert Camus Moby Dick futility absurdism human condition
National Category
General Literature Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-8324OAI: diva2:200083
Available from: 2008-11-07 Created: 2008-11-07Bibliographically approved

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