Update for Madness Affecting One Train of Thought:
Here we’re introduced to Ahab’s monomania, his single-minded fixation on the White Whale. Basically, what’s driven Ahab crazy is that he’s not very good at symbolism. As a clever Shmoop reader, you know that things don’t just symbolize whatever you decide to make them mean; the limits of their symbolic potential are determined by context. But Ahab takes the White Whale out of context and projects onto it, and not just everything that makes him angry, but everything that’s enraged any human being ever, since time began. Nothing can really hold all that symbolic weight. Not even an inscrutable white whale.
Sometimes it helps to read old versions of Wikipedia articles. If the community consense is to delete beautiful passages, it does not mean they are not beautiful. A deletion from August 5, 2001 said:
Ahab has the qualities of a tragic hero — a great heart and a fatal flaw — and his deeply philosophical ruminations are expressed in language that is not only deliberately lofty and Shakespearian, but also so heavily iambic as often to read like Shakespeare’s own pentameters.
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.
The new version says:
Ahab’s motivation for hunting Moby Dick is explored in the following passage:
Then the same passage. Meh. See the difference?