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The Scarlett Letter and Moby Dick

Two distinguished authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, were the only two anti-transcendentalist novelists. They focussed their novels on limitations and the potential destructiveness of the human spirit rather than on its possibilities (The American Experience 301). Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Melville’s Moby Dick, are tales of sin, guilt, obsession and destruction. From out of both of these anti-transcendentalist novels, various similarities arise between the characters. Mainly, Chillingworth from The Scarlet Letter and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, stand out as the most related, prominent characters of the novels. Both Chillingworth and Captain Ahab are portrayed the same way in their respective novels and perform similar actions, which lead to their ultimate destruction.

In the areas of the meanings of their names, their corresponding authors’ descriptions, and their character type, Chillingworth and Captain Ahab are alike. The names of these two characters are appropriate to their characters. Roger Chillingworth’s name seems to be from the word chill, a synonym for fear and coldness of the heart. Chillingworth makes it a point to instill fear within Reverend Dimmsdale. He is notorious by Hester for having a cold heart. “What does Chillingworth want from Dimmsdale? Revenge…exposure and public humiliation” (Neilson 274).

Indeed, Captain Ahab’s name seems to come from biblical times. King Ahab of Israel was an evil man, who spent his time at war with neighboring countries. In Moby Dick, he is at war with the whale as well as other shipmates. He declares, “What do we do when we see a whale?…Lower Away, and after him!” (Melville 321). These two men, strategically modeled after their names, take on the role of the villain in their own worlds. The severity of both their characters is shown throughout each of the two novels. In The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth, force Hester to reveal the man that she sinned with. He uses his authoritarian nature to instill fear within her. “Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine…” (Hawthorne 73).

He promises to avenge the man who wronged him by sleeping with his wife. Throughout the rest of the novel, Chillingworth aims to destroy Arthur Dimmsdale, the man who slept with his wife. Similarly, in Moby Dick, Melville uses Captain Ahab as the evil character. When Ahab encounters another ship that says that they have seen Moby Dick, they immediately take off. He is also asked to help find the other Captain’s son who is lost at sea, but is determined to catch Moby Dick, so he turns the other captain down (Great Books, MD). This shows Captain Ahab’s cruelty to other human beings as well as his evil nature. Additionally, the descriptions of these two men are similar. In Moby Dick, Melville describes Captain Ahab as an evil harmful, destructive looking man. He has an made completely from ivory, and a cruel severe, domineering face (Great Books, MD).

Similarly, in The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth is portrayed given bitter face, which instills fear in all around him. “A withering horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and…all its wreathes intervolutions in open sight” (Hawthorne 58). Altogether, Chillingworth and Captain Ahab are created as similar characters. The villainous characterization of these characters are parallel to their names, and their features reflect that personality.

These two characters interact with other characters similarly, become obsessed with revenge and are eventually destroyed. In Moby Dick, Melville describes how other characters doubt him and his ways. Starbuck, a shipmate, states, “Vengeance on a dumb brute!…To be enraged at a dumb thing…seems blasphemous” (Hawthorne 324). Others including Ishmael were afraid, they could not comprehend that an obsession could be so powerful, it could take over a person’s life. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, Chillingworth’s wife speaks to him about how he used to be a sensitive man, and now, he has turned into a fiend. She is afraid for her lover Dimmsdale, as well as her and Pearl’s lives, because this man could do something irrational (Great Books, SL).

Coincidentally, both the two characters become obsessed with revenge. In the Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth sets his life goal to find and the man who committed adultery. Once he finds him, Chillingworth tries to make Dimmsdale’s life a living hell. Hawthorne writes, He now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart like a miner searching for gold; or, rather, like a sexton delving into a grave…” (Hawthorne 125). Likewise, Captain Ahab, become obsessed with killing Moby Dick. Ahab believes that the whale is evil and must be stopped. He declares, “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and…I will wreak that hate upon him” (Melville 324).

Consequently, the two obsessions of the two men eventually lead to their ultimate destruction. Chillingworth devotes his entire life to finding out and torturing the man who wronged him. When Dimmsdale, the adulterer, confesses and dies, Chillingworth has no purpose for life after this event. “This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit…of revenge… and when left with no further material, had no reason to stay on the earth to do the devil’s work” (Hawthorne 255). Similarly, Ahab get so involved in the pursuit of the whale, his safety is overlooked. He gets caught on a harpoon line and pulled under and above the water. This man’s reason for living was eventually the cause of his death (Great Books, MD).

Overall, the characters that interact with each of these two men have to same response towards each of their obsessions. These obsessions, the sole purpose for their living was in the end the source of final destruction.

Based on the way the characters were created, and their actions and interaction with other people, the characters Roger Chillingworth, and Captain Ahab are similar. The two men have names built surrounding their evil nature and their physical description. Moreover, the way other characters interact with them, is similar. Others do not understand why they are so obsessed.

This obsession for revenge, in both characters, lead to each of their final destruction. It is a great mystery how why the two novels are so closely related and have similar characters. Perhaps the two authors shared a special friendship in which they both emulated each other’s writing. How ever this may have happened, these two novels were quite possibly the greatst pieces of literature of their time.

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