Ahhhhhhhhh, a hundred chapters! Hard to believe I’ve made it this far. It’s very funny to me how the first 75 ot so posts were written in about a year, while the latter 25 have taken… significantly longer, shall we say. The events of the last, oh, three years have not exactly been conducive to my creative endeavors, or those of many others, I imagine.
Speaking of, I must apologize for the gap between posts, once again. I’ve taken a crack at this chapter several times, I got a bit too… in my own head about it. Lost the thread about what I was even doing with this blog for a while, went through cycles of overwhelming confidence and a complete lack, you know how it is.
The Pequod gams with another whaling vessel, the Samuel Enderby of London. When asked about Moby Dick, Captain Boomer brandishes his ivory arm, terminating in a mallet, and Ahab immediately makes to come aboard and have a more in-depth discussion.
After boarding the British ship via the enormous hook used to suspend whales for butchering, Boomer regales Ahab with the story of his own fateful encounter with the White Whale. They had been hunting a pod of whales when Moby Dick suddenly emerged from the depths and bit the line connected to Boomer’s boat. The line became fouled in his teeth, and Boomer grabbed another harpoon from a nearby boat to get a more firm hold on the leviathan, when the great beast lifted its tail straight out of the water and smote the boat in twain, reducing it to splinters.
Boomer grabbed onto his own harpoon, stuck in Moby Dick’s side, but was soon caught in the arm by the second harpoon on the line, which cut him all the way from shoulder to wrist. He was flung free before that legendary whale sounded, departing as quickly as he appeared.
Doctor Bunger takes over the narration at this point, with some back and forth needling with Boomer, explaining how he took care of his captain as he recovered. They encountered Moby Dick twice more since then, but did not even lower their boats. One was enough for Captain Boomer, he has no desire to lose any more limbs.
Ahab demands to know what direction Moby Dick was last seen heading, as he quickly moves to depart. Doctor Bunger notes with alarm that Ahab is boiling hot, and his pulse is pounding, as he continues to demand the last known whereabouts of his hated nemesis. Finally, he is given an answer, and quickly departs. As he goes, Boomer asks Fedallah if Ahab is crazy, but the ever-loyal shadow simply puts his finger to his lips and follows after.
Oho! What’s this? Someone maimed by a whale who isn’t driven to madness? What an interesting turn of events. Like a lot of things in this book, there are many different lenses through which we could view this encounter. My initial take was something on the difference in character between the English and the Americans, but that felt a bit too shallow and reductive, frankly.
Through a Mirror, Lightly
No, the thing that strikes me here is Ahab’s reaction. This is the first thing we’ve seen really shake his unnerring confidence, in the whole book so far. He came onto the ship with his one secret goal, and he has worked towards it with all of his powers since then. The injury visited on him by the whale, by the whims of fate, by God, whatever it is, is so great that the only possible option is having his revenge, in whatever way he can.
But here we see a man of equal stature, who suffered the exact same injury, the one person who can perfectly sympathize with Ahab… or criticize his actions. They both approach the situation with full confidence that the other is like-minded. “Oh, here’s a man who is after my own heart, the same injury, same position, surely he will be reasonable and helpful!”
With his ivory arm frankly thrust forth in welcome, the other captain advanced, and Ahab, putting out his ivory leg, and crossing the ivory arm (like two sword-fish blades) cried out in his walrus way, “Aye, aye, hearty! let us shake bones together!—an arm and a leg!—an arm that never can shrink, d’ye see; and a leg that never can run. Where did’st thou see the White Whale?—how long ago?”
Ahab immediately assumes that Boomer is also chasing the whale for revenge. Finally, someone who understands him! Meanwhile, Boomer sees someone else who suffers the same everyday problems, and seeks to commisserate in a more… normal way.
Thus, both men are horrified when they discover the truth about each other. Boomer is shocked at Ahab’s quest for a rematch, and Ahab is horrified to discover that his path may not actually be the only one.
It turns out, you can lose a limb in an accident and be normal about it!
The Power of the Victim
I don’t recall if I’ve written about this before on this blog, it’s been going on so many years. And it’s not an academic exercise anyway, so i feel no compulsion to check. I will simply apologize in advance if this is a bit of a retread, but it’s relevant here so: whatever.
In my own experiences with psychology professionals (read: therapists), I have encountered the idea of the Drama Triangle. Three positions that enter conflict with one another, which can take many different forms, which lead inevitably to long-standing and intense interpersonal conflict. Drama, in other words.
The Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor can arise in many different configurations, three people are not required. Contrary to what you may thing, the Victim is the most powerful of the three roles. They abrogate all responsibility, seeking rescue, claiming they cannot lift a finger to help themselves. Casting themselves as pure victims of circumstance, they seek rescue, and suffer at the hands of perscutors.
Now, I think it’s important to note here that this is a distinct idea from the “victim mentality” rhetoric that is sometimes deployed in politics. A Victim in this context is not merely someone who has suffered and complains about it, that’s completely wrong. It is not about litigating actual damage done to people or their suffering, it’s about the mentality of people who are caught up in interpersonal conflict, that’s all.
Anyway! This is all to get around to my point: Ahab is trapped deep, deep in a Victim role. Every single time he interacts with others, it is from a position of both vulnerability and invincible strength. He is perfectly confident that others will bend over backwards to follow his will, because he is a captain and is demonstrating such strength and fortitude in the face of his injury.
His own victimhood is license to take whatever actions he deems necessary. Being the plaything of fate means that his actions take on a grand, cosmic importance, which means that all other considerations must be swept aside to assuage his every whim.
Unstoppable Force Meets Easygoing Object
Ahab’s entire attitude in this endeavor is one of preemptive force. He anticipates every objection, every possible obstacle someone might throw in his way. He steels himself for battle every time he steps on the deck, knowing that it could spring up from anywhere.
So, what is it that finally rattles him? Someone who is utterly symapthetic to him, someone who doesn’t even want an argument, someone who just wants to help. Boomer is perhaps the only person on the entire Pacific ocean who Ahab actually cannot argue with. Thus, he is actually the greatest obstacle to his cause yet.
The simple, undefeatable logic of “I would simply avoid the whale that ripped off one of my limbs”, coming from someone who actually suffered just as badly as he did, is something he cannot deal with. Thus, Ahab flees the scene in disgrace, and Fedallah, his dark conscience, slyly te lls Boomer to be quiet as he does so.
It perfectly punctures the mythological version of his life that Ahab is all wrapped up in, so tightly that it affects the narrative of this very book! If someone else can suffer the same thing and simply go on with his life like normal, what right does he actually have to his invincible victimhood? If his injury is not unique and special, does that mean he might actually be in the wrong?
This type of commonsense doubt is absolute poison to his project. He must flee, lest he succumb to its siren song.
Ah, man, feels good to finally get that done.
I can’t make any promises, but I am feeling invigorated to do some more writing lately. There are still several other subjects I want to write on, especially the absolutely incredible game Pentiment. I have a bad habit of coming up with complicated arguments and then entirely neglecting to write them down, even in part.
Lately, I’ve been spending less time on twitter, and more time on cohost, as the former continues its death spiral post-Musk acquisition. It’s a nice, chill social media site, with a small community. Feels a bit like a combination of tumblr and old fashioned forums. So if you’re interested in stray thoughts about movies or what I’m eating for lunch, go check it out.
Until next time, shipmates!
1 thought on “Chapter 100: Leg and Arm”
The captain of the Samuel Enderby is certainly a model of sanity compared to Ahab, but the references to Rum todies suggest that liberal consumption of alcohol has been part of the cure. Theres always one last twist of the knife with Melville
Though to say that Captain Boomer is as he is because he’s English and that Ahab’s monomania is American would be an over-simplification. But Ahab’s tendency to interpret a random act of nature as a message addressed particularly to him is a quality that Melville’s contemporaries shared.
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