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The Tragic Heroism Of Captain Ahab

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Chapter Summary

Widely acknowledged as one of the best tragic novels, Moby Dick has vexed interpreters for over 150 years. This chapter proposes a theory of tragedy that makes particularly good sense out of Herman Melville?s masterpiece. It begins by summarizing the problems which any adequate theory of tragedy must avoid. It must not subsume tragedy to any explicitly ethical purposes, relative as those are to time, culture, and individual. It must solve the paradox of tragic pleasure, namely, that the experience of tragedies is pleasurable in part because of that suffering, and in a way that goes beyond the mere catharsis of unpleasant emotions. Tragic pleasure is a unique and sublime feeling that demands fuller explication, and is neither a mere vicarious purgation, nor a kind of Schadenfreude. Ahab should be seen as the tragic hero of Moby Dick because he is an archetypal embodiment of human authenticity and resoluteness.

Keywords: Ahab; Moby Dick; tragic hero; tragic pleasure

10.1163/ej.9789004166257.i-334.76
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