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The Spell of Power: Ahab and Moby-Dick


Glenn & Virginia Arbery


Presented at the CiRCE National Conference 2023.

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Capt. Ahab exerts an uncanny power over the crew of the Pequod. In a ritualistic ceremony early in the novel, he lays out the purpose of the voyage — not ordinary commercial whaling, but the pursuit to the death of the notorious White Whale, who is known and feared by whalers across the world. Everyone under the sway of Ahab’s obsession swears an oath to this version of the modern project. Ahab emerges from Melville’s novel as a figure of indomitable will, powerful intellect, and a canny sense of the stagecraft of power. Opposing Ahab is the mighty figure of Moby Dick, whose own fearsome destructive power is accompanied in repose by a “gentle joyousness” and persistent imagery of the divine. In this session, Drs. Glenn and Virginia Arbery will explore Melville’s masterpiece as a study of ideological manipulation and the limits of the conquest of nature.