How we cite our quotes:
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge. (41.1)
It’s interesting that Ishmael specifically tells us that he’s totally down with Ahab’s crazy revenge quest. It’s also interesting that he only tells us this after the chapter in which the crew swears an oath; did he forget to mention he was there while he was telling the story, or what? Ishmael’s role as narrator and his situation as a character in the novel seem to be coming into conflict, especially because the reader probably doesn’t support Ahab as much as Ishmael claims to do. Thus, revenge divides Ishmael from the reader. From this point forward, the narrator will seem less and less like Ishmael and more and more like Melville.
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals – morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. (41.23)
Despite the horrific, blasphemous nature of Ahab’s desire for revenge, Fate seems to have stepped in to make it possible. The composition of the crew, the temperaments of the mates – it’s all coming together for one purpose. Note the word "monomaniac" here. Melville uses this term frequently to describe Ahab’s attitude. Ahab’s not simply crazy, he’s crazy with an intense focus on a single thing, and he seems to be able to transfer that focus to the crew.
As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma, – literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger: while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever. (94.4)
For Ishmael, it’s possible to let the revenge quest fade away as he’s caught up in the almost sacred act of squeezing globules of solidified sperm oil. We’re not sure we could have an epiphany up to our elbows in whale grease, but hey, each to his own. Ahab, unfortunately, can’t seem to access this experience of release and purification; no comfort is possible for him. It makes us wonder what he’d do if he actually did achieve his revenge. Would he be able to relax then, or what?