by Herman Melville
Character Role Analysis
Moby-Dick fits much more easily into the role of antagonist: after all, he did chop off Ahab’s leg, he destroys countless boats and kills and maims other sailors, and he’s the enemy for which the Pequod is searching.
It’s the White Whale’s vicious malice—or maybe his incomprehensible power—that makes him such an eerie and dangerous adversary. And yet, he doesn’t really pose a danger to anyone who’s not actively looking for him.
A much more difficult antagonist in Moby-Dick is Captain Ahab himself. We don’t just mean that, if Moby-Dick is the protagonist, Ahab is his antagonist. We mean that Captain Ahab seems to be the antagonist to pretty much everyone else in the novel.
It’s Ahab’s obsession with revenge that puts every single person on the Pequod in mortal danger. It’s Ahab’s refusal to consider profit or humanity or common sense before his obsession that brings all the other characters to their tragic fate. Ahab is really the problem here, like Oedipus in another famous tragedy—both are, in a lot of ways, their own worst enemies.