Moby Dick

The Tragic Dimension of Moby Dick: "The Specksynder"

Chapter 33 of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, titled “The Specksynder,” is another of those non-narrative interstitial chapters that serves to give fits to many first-time readers, but that, like the others, contains within it a symbolic and metaphorical dimension without which a comprehensive understanding of the tragic depth of the character of Capt. Ahab is impossible (Spanos 1995, p. 192). Furthermore, without fully understanding the extent of Ishmael’s perspective of Ahab, it is impossible to grasp the full significance of the political dynamic at work in the construction of the novel’s narrative. In this chapter, Ishmael takes a break from the narrative drive to offer a digression on the governing hierarchy aboard a whaler, but beneath the surface of this deceptively extraneous meditation exists an insightful rumination on the dangerous waters of political power grasped by Ahab through which the crew of Pequod must navigate.

The non-narrative chapters exist to provide a framework that enlarges the more profound implications of the narrative drive in order to transform the story proper from mere drama into the realm of tragedy. “The Specksynder” in particular is intended to generate a sense of proportion to Ahab that...

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