In Moby Dick, Herman Melville makes use of two climactic scenes of the book to underline a profound and intellectual commentary on human nature. The chapters entitled The Musket and The Symphony are two such climactic scenes in which Starbuck and Ahab reveal a critical attribute of mans temperament. Melville uses these two characters to emphasize that man is unchanging, and in this way their moral fiber unconsciously weaves their fate.
In The Musket, the Pequod and its crew have passed the disastrous typhoon to find smooth sailing as well as a last chance for Starbuck to make one of the most consequential decisions of Moby Dick. Although the rest of the crew celebrate what they believe is the inaccuracy of the seas omens, Starbuck still stands in indecision. He enters Ahabs cabin to tell the captain of the changed weather. In front of him is a rack of muskets, one of which was pointed at Starbuck earlier, as his mind struggles with the ultimate question of whether he will save the ship and the crews lives by killing his mad Captain, or allow Ahabs insanity to bring them to a watery death.
Looking at his decision in an abstract sense, Starbucks current position resembles that of the lee shore and the insular Tahiti in that he wishes to return to the hearth and home of land. Starbuck is aware that he is trapped in the middle of the chaotic sea and far away from the order of land when he says, The land is hundreds of leagues awayI stand here alone here upon an open sea, with two oceans and a whole continent between me and the law. Starbuck is undoubtedly one of the noblest characters of the crew, and the only one with the will or ability to stop Ahab.
However, earlier in the novel Ishmael says of Starbuck, that his courage could withstand winds or whales or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world,” but not the crazed mind of “an enraged and mighty man.” This is a permanent quality of Starbucks character and evidently one of the strong threads that composes his fate. “Shall I? Shall I?” he asks himself, but his tragic flaw of weakness and morality eventually forces him to place the death-tube in its rack and abandon his chance to save the crew. The Musket ultimately portrays the inability of man to change and make cognizant decisions. In this way, it is common in human nature for one to base their own decisions solely on instinct and disposition, instead of logic.
In The Symphony, Starbuck and Ahab set a scene, which again illustrates the severity of human nature. The chapter begins with beautiful imagery of both harmony and contrasts. The firmaments of air and sear were hardly separable in that all pervading azure; the pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with a womans look, and the robust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samsons chest in his sleep. The chapter continues with a symbolic description of Ahabs physiognomy. Just as human nature is complex and ageless, Ahabs face is tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles, haggardly firm and unyielding. And for a moment the feminine, glad, happy air overtakes Ahabs soul and presents him in a new eye.
What follows is a brilliant speech by Ahab, which completely exposes the compassionate and regretful part of his soul. He realizes the way that he has forsaken the peaceful land and lived a life of solitude, by establishing a hollow soul and wasting forty years of his life at sea. He tells Starbuck to stay on the boat when they hunt down Moby Dick, showing a empathetic side of Ahab. Starbuck pleads with him to turn around and return to land, but nevertheless, Ahab returns to his natural and crazy state of mind, crossing the deck to lean on the same railing as Fedallah, who symbolizes the permanent evil that characterizes Ahabs soul and nature.
Ahabs temporary shift from evil to good defines human nature as mutually obstinate and impervious to reason. In the end, it is human character of oneself and those surrounding him, which defines fate. As Starbuck exclaims at the end of the chapter, What is it, what nameless inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing and crowding, and jamming myself all the timeBy heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. Melville questions the effect of human nature on doom and destiny.
These two climatic chapters of Moby Dick illustrate Melvilles views on the depth human nature. When looked at closely, the novel illustrates the immense tapestry of fate that is weaved by the various characters aboard the Pequod. Both Starbuck and Ahab reflect human nature with their rigid dispositions, who together make two of the most important and auspicious decisions of the book. What Melville ultimately professes in Moby Dick is the fact that humans tend to subconsciously make identical judgments based on their temperaments, which in turn shapes the block of clay that is the fate of mankind as a whole.