Marian Barger

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon, Nancy Davis, Roy Miller

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Education Specialist Degree


In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick Captain Peleg declares, “Ahab has his humanities.” Although many facets of Ahab’s character have been explored, his humanities have not been discussed at length. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “humanities” as “human attributes; traits or touches of human nature or feeling; points that concern man, or appeal to the human sensibilities.” This definition is vague; the specific qualities which should be included must be enumerated, since the humanities of one culture may not be the same as those of another. Ahab has been associated with two cultures – The Western, Christian tradition and the Near Eastern, Zoroastrian tradition. Ahab has been a Quaker associated with Calvinists, groups which hold different views of human actions. Further, Ahab has been in an authoritative position for many years. Out of these five strands of his background, the old man’s humanities must be drawn.

First, a workable definition of “humanities” can be developed through an exploration of positive attributes in Zoroastrianism and Christianity in general; qualities of particular merit in Quakerism and Calvinism can also be described. Of special interest is Father Mapple’s sermon listing a series of “woes” and “delights.” In addition, certain qualities necessary in a good leader must be examined.

Second, to get some perspective on Ahab’s character on the final voyage, one must attempt to piece together the old man’s life prior to the final voyage to see what, if any, “humanities” were present. This discussion will offer some thoughts on the relations of Ahab’s name to his stance toward God, men and nature.

Third, Ahab’s humanities during the final voyage may be seen in his relationships with three significant characters: Starbuck, Pip and Fedallah. In each discussion four points are noteworthy: (1) the similarities and differences in the individual’s and Ahab’s backgrounds, (2) the motivation for Ahab’s actions toward the individual, (3) the actions of Ahab, and (4) the results of the relationship upon Ahab and the other individual.

Fourth, Ahab’s humanistic feelings are often expressed when he is alone. Nature acts upon the old man, and he responds. Thus the sea and sky offer him a chance to express some of his humane ideas.

This study, then, attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. Did Ahab at any time possess attributes which might be termed “humanities?”
  2. Did Ahab’s humanities partly derive from specific strands of his background?
  3. Did Ahab retain all, some, or none of his humanities until his death?


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority