Captain Ahab is the main character of Moby Dick. Despite the monstrous white whale being seen as the villain, Ahab is actually one as well since he has allowed his thirst for vengeance to drive him insane - the story of Moby Dick has been quoted by some as a prime example of the futility of humans seeking vengeance on animals and Captain Ahab may well embody such a concept. Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the Pequod who is driven by a cal desire to kill Moby Dick, the whale that had maimed him off the coast of Japan during a previous whaling voyage. Although he is a Quaker, he seeks revenge in defiance of his religion's well-known pacifism. Ahab's Biblical namesake is the evil idol-worshipping ruler in the Books of Kings, and this association prompts Ishmael to ask, after first hearing Ahab's name.
When Ishmael remarks upon the ill associations of such a name, he is rebuked by one of Ahab's colleagues, who points out that "He did not name himself!"
Little information is provided about Ahab's life prior to meeting Moby Dick, although it is known that he wasorphaned at a young age. When discussing the purpose of his quest with Starbuck, it is revealed that he first began whaling at eighteen and has continued in the trade for forty years making him 58 years of age Melville and having spent less than three on land. He also mentions his "girl-wife," whom he married late in life, and their young son, but does not give their names.
Ahab ultimately dooms the crew of the Pequod (save for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby Dick. During the final chase, Ahab hurls his last harpoon while yelling his now-famous revenge line:
The harpoon becomes lodged in Moby Dick's flesh and Ahab, caught around the neck by a loop in his own harpoon's rope and unable to free himself, is dragged down into the cold oblivion of the sea by the injured whale. The mechanics of Ahab's death are richly symbolic. He is killed by his own harpoon, a victim of his own twisted obsession and desire for revenge. The whale eventually destroys the whaleboats and crew (but spares Ishmael), and sinks the Pequod.
Ahab's motivation for hunting Moby Dick is explored in the following passage:
The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.