Christian culture 基督教文化学刊

Repentance and Ultimacy in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Author: Sharon KIM, Professor of English, Judson University, USA



Moby-Dick centers on Captain Ahab’s quest for revenge against a fabled white whale. As an archetypal battle between man and beast, the novel chronicles a limit experience, an encounter with the powers of nature that intersect typologically with intimations of an ultimate being. As the crew of the Pequod travel far into the fluidic wilderness of the ocean, they witness Ahab’s rage against the whale as ultimately a rage against the God behind the whale. The narrative of this hunt, however, is framed by the concept of repentance, introduced by the sermon of Father Mapple in Chapter 9. A former whaler, Mapple testifies to his own encounter with ultimacy through the biblical story of Jonah, comparing himself to the prophet who was temporarily swallowed by a whale. Mapple’s recognition of being overtaken by the divine leads to his repentance — a conversion that transforms his identity in interaction with the divine. While his former self is lost to the ultimate, a new being emerges, the Father Mapple who is rescued by God and represents God’s word to others. Mapple’s example serves as the possibility rejected by Ahab, who refuses to relinquish his resentful self or repent into new existence. Intent on clashing with ultimacy instead of yielding to it ensures a distorted understanding of the divine, leading to the destruction of both Ahab and his witness to the divine. Repentance mediates between human finitude and ultimacy in a way that deflects trauma and enables mutually transformative contact.



Melville, Moby-Dick, Repentance, Mapple, Ultimacy, Resentment


Full Text (International Version):

[USA] Sharon KIMSCN JSCC.pdf


Full Text (Simplified Chinese Version): 

[USA] Sharon KIMSCN JSCC.pdf