The Whale part 3


(Sunset. Ahab at the rail.)

AHAB. Water, water everywhere. No land. No land out here. No land, no towns, no government, no law, no God. Just water.

The sun comes up out of the water and then dives back in. At noon, it sits on my head. My crown. My shining crown, driving spikes into my brain.

I used to like the sun. Not any more. The sun mocks me now. The sun offends me. It lights up the world, this paradise, shows me everything I can no longer enjoy, shoves my face in it, grinds my face against the world.

I thought it would be harder. The men. But they went off like a string of firecrackers. Of course, to light a fire you have to waste a match. That would be me.

But I have the thought, I have the will, and my will be done.

Starbuck thinks I’m crazy. The poor sap – he has no idea. I am madness maddened. I am nutty, I am loco, pazzo, krank, meshuganeh. I am stupidcrazy out-of-my-skull.

But I am also a prophet. And I prophesize this: who tears me, I tear. So I am both the prophet and the fulfiller, which is more than the Gods ever were.

Cricket-players! Blind boxers! If I was a schoolboy, I’d scream at the sky “Pick on someone your own size!” But I don’t say that. You knock me down, I get back up, and now you run and hide.

This is who I am. This is what I will do. It’s fixed now. I couldn’t change it if I tried.


(Men drink and clap their hands. Pip dances with his tambourine. Ad lib.)

1. Dance Pip! Dance!

2. Faster!

3. Look at him go!

4. Bang your tambourine, Pip!

5. Ring it, Pip! Dance dance dance!

(The men continue, in dumbshow. Lights up on Ishmael, who addresses the audience.)

ISHMAEL. Yes, I was there. I was standing right there with all the others. I shouted. I drank. I vowed to kill the white whale. I knew it was stupid, I knew it was crazy, I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway. Ahab’s revenge became my revenge.

And Moby-Dick became a monster. Turns out everyone on board had a Moby-Dick story, first-hand, second-hand, third-hand. He was famous. There was no end of stories about Moby-Dick. And, in the manner of fish stories, some were true and some, I’d say, were not.

One story was that Moby-Dick could be everywhere at once. That he could dive down off the coast of Greenland and be seen off the coast of Australia a day later. And maybe that’s true, maybe there are secret passages under the sea we know nothing about.

One story said that Moby-Dick is immortal, that he’s always been here, old as time, and cannot be killed.

He’s huge, they said. The biggest ever, they said. Stuck with a dozen harpoons, still in him, they said.

They said he attacks whaling boats. He knows what they are, they are his enemy, and attacks them. People have been killed, they said. And not by a brute, not by a beast, not by a fish, they said, but by an intelligence.

He stove in Ahab’s boat, and Ahab, brave man, dove after him, knife in hand, ready to die if he had to.

But he didn’t have to. Moby-Dick took his leg and let him go. Let him go to live a life that would always be damaged, always crippled, always be a little smaller. Moby-Dick turned Ahab from a man to something less than a man.

Why white? So the whale is white, so what? Why is that important? I could tell you – I’ve certainly thought about it – but it’s not important. For the men on the ship it was just something to add to the dread. Something’s white, it seems mystical, seems beyond your grasp, seems unimaginable, ineffable.

So everyone was absolutely drunk on this idea. We were going to kill the white whale. It was dangerous, uneconomical, and made no sense, but we were going to do it. We were going to make the white whale spout black blood. And then that whale, that unknowable
white whale, he would be ours. We would have him. It was worth nothing. But to us it was worth everything.

(The men can be heard again. Ad lib.)

1. You call that dancing? I’ll dance on your grave!

2. Give over that pipe, Tash!

3. Pip Pip Pip! Dance and dance and dance again!

4. More grog! Where’s the grog?

5. (to 6) C’mon! Join in!

6. Don’t want to.

5. Why not?

6. I want to go home.

(General mood kill. 5 tries to pick it up.)

5. Home? Fuck home! Sail on, ship! Into the black night!

(It doesn’t work. The mood is dead. Quiet.)

1. Weather’s picking up.

2. Storm.

3. Storm.

5. Don’t worry about a storm. Ahab kills storms! Sail the ship right into ’em, split ’em apart.

4. God! Feel that wind!

5. Don’t stop dancing, Pip! Damn you!

2. The sky is so black.

4. See that? Lightning!

5. Shit.

(They listen. Thunder.)

6. Stations.

(They scatter.)


(Starbuck and Ahab in Ahab’s cabin.)

STARBUCK. Sir, I must ask you –

AHAB. I have your answer already, Starbuck.


AHAB. “Sir, do you really think it’s practical to spend an entire three-year whaling voyage searching for one whale? In all the oceans of the world, really sir, do you think that’s prudent?” Am I close?


AHAB. And here is your answer.

(He produces a chart of the oceans.)

This is science, Mr. Starbuck. Look. I’ve charted on this map every place that sperm whales have been reported killed according to the place and date of their deaths. Look at these patterns. This is science. I can predict where whales can be found, when they can be found there, how many can be found there, even in which direction they will be swimming. This red line here is Moby-Dick. This is us right now. And right – here – is where we’re going to kill him.

STARBUCK. There? But sir, we won’t get there for eighteen months.

AHAB. I don’t care if it takes eighteen years, Mr. Starbuck. We will find Moby-Dick. We will find him, we will catch him, we will kill him. Do you understand?

STARBUCK. But sir, to the exclusion of –

AHAB. Oh, Starbuck, Starbuck. We will still hunt whales, don’t get me wrong. I have the men now, but I’m not so stupid as to think I could hang on to them ’til the South Pacific. Crazy but not stupid, eh Starbuck?

STARBUCK. Yes sir. I’ll remember that.


(The deck.)


(Alarum. Men prepare to lower the boats. A bustle of shouts and activity.)

AHAB. Lower the boats! Kill the whales!

(He bangs on a hatch. A group of sinister-looking Chinese men clamber out.)

Fedallah! Let’s go! Lower away!

(They exit, clambering to their boat. Stubb and Flask, at the head of their own crews, watch incredulously.)

FLASK. Who the hell is that?

STUBB. I think you just answered your own question.

FLASK. Where did they come from?

STUBB. The Manillas, from the look of them.

FLASK. They’re stowaways?

STUBB. Wouldn’t go that far.

FLASK. Who are they?

STUBB. Ahab’s crew, I’d say.

FLASK. He brought his own crew?

STUBB. Looks like it.

FLASK. Stowed in the hold?

STUBB. Looks like it.

FLASK. He had five Chinamen in the hold for six months?

STUBB. Stretches the old credulity, doesn’t it?

FLASK. He can do that?

STUBB. He’s the captain. He can do anything he wants.

FLASK. He can do that?

STUBB. He’s done it.

FLASK. Bring his own men? He can do that?

STUBB. They’re not men, Flask. Let’s get lowered before the whales die of old age.

(Action sequence. They chase whales. The whales escape.)

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2 Responses to “The Whale part 3”
  1. Anonymous says:


    In these four brief scenes, you’ve gotten at the essence of charismatic leadership:

    Ahab thinks of himself as more than a man, appropriating familiar language for God and unfamiliar language for martyrdom (the match metaphor), and his followers build his mythology. He sees his command as destiny.

    At the same time, Ishmael calls him “less than a man,” which is true of all charismatic leaders. The followers know this, but it doesn’t bother them until suddenly it will (when they realize they’re on the losing side).

    Ahab argues with Starbuck, the voice of the opposition party (who disagrees over policy) by using a pseudo-scientific, quasi-logical “proof” that his plan will work. (C.f. every press conference the White House and Pentagon held during the buildup to Iraq.)

    And then Ahab brings out his own secret (and presumably loyal) army to accomplish his aims. (They’re foreign mercenaries — a big risk.)

    Very nicely done. Besides, it’s funny.


    • Todd says:

      Re: Leadership

      In these four brief scenes, you’ve gotten at the essence of charismatic leadership

      And fatherhood. Don’t forget fatherhood.