Call Him Ahab

His name is Ahab, of course. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Moby-Dick knows that the captain’s name is Ahab. His mother named him. “Let’s call him Ahab,” she said.

And so, the kid was doomed from the start. Read the Bible (the Classics Slacker may not get to it any time soon). The story is right there in Kings. “And so it came to pass that Ahab dideth such evil wickednesses that did piss off the Lord no endeth.”

Naturally Ishmael, the know-it-all, knows the Bible from “in the beginning” to “the end is near.” So when Ishmael finds out—back when he and Peleg were negotiating the terms of his contract—that Captain Ahab’s name is Ahab, he says: “Wait. What?”

Hey, he didn’t name himself, Peleg argues. “’Twas a foolish ignorant whim of his crazy widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old,” he reports.

Poor Ahab was not only orphaned by a crazy widow, he was orphaned by a crazy widow who stuck him with a stupid name. Ishmael starts to feel sorry for his future boss and more comfortable about taking the job. In fact, he’s just about to sign on the dotted line when Peleg stops him. He wants to say one more thing “before ye bind yourself to it past backing out.”

Captain Ahab is, well, “kind of moody.” Really more like “desperate moody.” Okay, if you must know, he’s “savage sometimes.” But you’d be a little pouty, too, if you only had one leg.

“What do you mean, sir?” asks Ishmael. “Was the other one lost by a whale?”

“Lost by a whale!” cries Peleg. That whale didn’t just nibble on Ahab’s leg as if it were a cucumber sandwich. “It was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat!”

But it’s not all bad. His boat has been made handicapped accessible: “Upon each side of the Pequod’s quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizzen shrouds, there was an auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank.” So all Ahab has to do is insert end of fake leg into round hole—et voilà!—he can steady himself on the deck and look “straight out beyond the ship’s ever-pitching prow.”

Still, watching him standing there…it’s not pretty picture. “Not a word he spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.”

Ishmael is concerned, to say the least. You might even call him Skittishmael.