Magazine article Melville Society Extracts
"Culpability and Transgression in the Monomania of Ahab"
Accounts of Ahab's hunt for the white whale in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, from both Ishmael, and research literature, typically separate transgression from monomania; after all, purposive action is not the hallmark of monomania, nor many other psychological illnesses. Modern psychological sicknesses no longer include monomania, largely because psychologists prefer to describe symptomology in treatable terms. While psychologists increase culpability, Melville and researchers such as Ann Louise Keating create a strong case for the historical disorder. In fact, Ishmael probes deep into Ahab's mind to tease out the details of the monomaniacal fixed journey. In opposition to a fixed journey, transgression commonly involves responsible, purposive action. The issue of culpability is therefore of immense value to an analysis of Captain Ahab's monomania, because an increase in Ahab's culpability also highlights his transgressive behaviors, and alters Ahab's motivation for the voyage. The narration identifies four psychic elements that make up Ahab's monomania: Ahab's biblical name, his insomnia, his perception, and his fateful fixation. …