Ahab puts his entire crew in danger and doesn't let anyone or anything get in his way. One day, he announces his quest to his crew and nails a doubloon to the mast for all to see. His determination is ruthless, cruel. At that point, I would have grabbed my iPhone, made a dash for a lifeboat and called 911! No such luck for the crew of the Pequod, who were just about as mad as Ahab but recognized that something was definitely not quite right with their captain.
This symbolic move of nailing the doubloon on the mast reminded me of the nailing of Christ to the cross. It represented the rising action of the novel and makes one wonder what his deep dark plan was and if the crew would mutiny.
Ahab seems to believe he's a god who's immune to anything and anyone. Melville portrays him as a tragic hero who will most likely meet a tragic ending. His quest is obsessive. Destroy Moby Dick, the great sperm whale, no matter what.
The climax of the novel in chapter 132 is evident when Ahab realizes that he has no will to stop his obsessive quest to kill Moby Dick. Starbuck is present as Ahab questions himself about it and knows there will be no turning back. His madness is very obvious and tantalizes the reader to continue with him on his dark voyage.
The falling action, which the reader might not quite expect, is when Moby Dick destroys the ship (GO MOBY!) that causes the death of Captain Ahab and all aboard except one crew member, Ismael, who floats out to sea on a coffin, and then is rescued by another whaling ship. It reminds me of the scene in the Titanic when Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet were clinging to debris from a ship and he was slowly sinking in the deadly Arctic waters. A watery grave isn't my cup of tea.
From all the madness and turmoil of man versus nature, the fact that Ishamael was rescued by another whaling ship was a message that his madness and unfortunate fate represents an eternity of hell. Tragic ending, the prediction that came true!
I've created a free packet of student worksheets for this epic saga. If you've read it, it's worth a second read! Click on the image for the free download.