Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fedallah: Human’s Dominant Drive For Revenge

When confronted with a character like Fedallah, a reader has no choice but to agree with other characters, because Melville provides him with so little information. He is forced into believing the crew’s opinions that Fedallah is the devil, and not without reason. Fedallah (or Parsee) represents the evil in each person, the human desire for revenge, that driving force that urges one on to achieve what he so desperately wishes for. Society hides this force, tucks it away in their jackets so no one can see it until they catch a glimpse of their goal. It is here that this power slips out and is seen for the first time, as is Fedallah in The First Lowering.
Ishmael and Queequeg, while on their way to the Pequod to board, all set to go whaling, they get themselves into a curious situation: “‘There are some sailors running ahead there, if I see right,’said [Ishmael] to Queequeg…” (122) and later, Ishmael’s questioning tone transfers itself to the reader: “‘Those sailors we saw, Queequeg, where can they have gone to?’” (123). Like the other crewmates, an observer catches traces of that hideous idea that Parsee represents, the compelling urge to take vengeance. In others, one can hear the “cough” (245) of the underlying desire, but desire never reveals itself until it is close to its goal, as Fedallah does, when the first whale is sighted.
“But at this critical instant, a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.” (272) Fedallah appears at the first sign of a whale, hoping, like Ahab, that it is the infamous Moby-Dick. “Phantom” was the perfect word for Melville to use in this passage. According to Merriam-Webster Online, the definition for the word is, “something existing in appearance only,” and since Parsee shows no emotion, even when he knows his life will end for Ahab, -- “‘Though it will come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot.’” (630)-- one can confirm that spirit who was “fresh formed out of air,” (272) sufficiently describes him.
Our phantom, Fedallah, is seen always with Ahab, and Ahab always with him, another way that the reader can deduce that Fedallah is the goading on that Ahab needs to avenge the death of his leg, and possibly his soul: “‘…whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow…” (686) Ahab’s heartbreaking tone in this passage allows the reader to assume that Ahab would not the person he so deeply cares about, unless the ever-present, miniature Fedallah on his shoulder constantly reminds of the leg he lost, and how intensely he wants revenge. One could almost argue that Fedallah was present in the marriage bed as well.
If not in Ahab’s marriage bed, at least on the bedside table, for Fedallah is omnipresent, on the ship as well. Where Ahab is, Fedallah is sure to be: “‘Is your Captain crazy?’ whispering Fedallah. But Fedallah, putting a finger on his lip, slid over the bulwarks to take the boat’s steering oar, and Ahab…” (562) and “Started from his slumbers, Ahab, face to face saw the Parsee; and hooped round by the gloom of the night they seemed the last men in a flooded world.” (629) are prime examples of their connection.
Consistent with Fedallah’s prophecy, he dies before Ahab, reminding the reader of their connection once again. This represents the death of human desire and of the human himself, because the two must die together, as one being. Since Fedallah is dead, and both parts of his prediction have been fulfilled, Ahab is driven by the knowledge that he is about to die. His thinking, which is reinforced by the epistrophe in this quotation-- “‘Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.’”-- follows a train of thought such as, “If I’m going to die, why not die fighting? At least if I fight, I have a chance at winning.”
Some form of Parsee exists in every person, be it the cartoon devil on his shoulder or her naughty best friend. Both encourage them to drive themselves to achieve their ambitions, even if it means taking someone else down with you. In the world, there are two types of people who exist: criminals and the rest of society. Struggles in life consist of arguing with the Fedallahs, the passion that drives one to extremes, and taking the advice of the Starbucks, the conscience that struggles against getting sucked under by the vortex of the sinking ship. One can reason that the criminals are the ones who side with their Fedallahs, with no regard to their Starbucks, and the rest of society are the ones who side with their Starbucks, with no regard to their Fedallahs.

Based on Moby Dick