This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
Third Web Paper
The incestuous nature of story telling which is featured in Ahab's wife is reminiscent of the Anne Sexton's poem, Briar Rose. Una is in a constant search for sustenance. Her mind as can not exist without the hope of learning and engulfing knowledge. As a child, it was the occupation of her father to appease her insatiable appetite. This was done with stories and the boundless possibilities she was allowed to find within the recesses of her mind. As time progresses and Una grew, her father started to question the conclusions and presumptions that these internal scavenger hunts were building within her.
Una could never understand why Ulysses, her father, did not take out his aggression on her mother, who was also a nonbeliever. "She remained unconverted. Why did his wrath not fall upon her? "(Naslund 21). But as his daughter Ulysses was looking for something which he could never truly hope to find in his wife. Just as the king in the Briar Rose Ulysses would have "force every male in the court/to scour his tongue with Bab-o/ lest they poison the air she dwelt in/ thus she dwelt in his odor./" ( Sexton he wanted to have her mind in his hands for his molding. He was looking for reflective surface from which he could evaluate his story, or at lest the story which he has come to tell himself. This story consisted of many parts all of which would then be combined to create his identity and the life he had built for himself. By not being able to 'convert' Una, there by making her believe his story as true, Ulysses has to admit to failure. Not only does she prove his story incorrect, but she also reflects the entire make-up and construction of it as being flawed. This flaw becomes magnified by Una's intellect. By having the power to continually question what her father hold as infallible she destroys the constructed image of the man he though he was.
Children are to be impressionable and easily persuaded. As a father Ulysses want to share a special bond with his daughter as she mirrors his believes through her everyday life and thinking. As someone who is indifferent to his teachings and ideology he feels that he has failed as a father. Even if Una had disagreed with his teachings, it would be preferable to enticing no emotion.
This inability to serve as a reflective surface for her father causes Una to experience a feeling of loss. Though not stated expressively in the tale Wife of Ahab it is apparent that due to Una's premature separation from her father's stories and in essence his life, she searches for emotional substitutes. She is like a child who has been weaned to quickly. Though she did not agree with her father's story of their existence she did not deny it. This separation form a story to compare hers to makes Una a constant scavenger. She can never have enough; she attempts to steal meaning from everyone to create a checklist for her actions and reactions.
When she meets Ahab, there is a moment of instant recognition between them. He as well as Una have come to have an intimate knowledge of lighting, blinding and sometimes paralyzing, a force of nature to be reckoned with. "And the captain- Ahab with the zaggy mark down the side of his face. I though of how, when I was still a girl at the Lighthouse, the lighting had come close to me" (Naslund 250). This is the first mention of the shared knowledge which these two share.
Upon their meeting Una can only state that she has come to a crossroads in her life. There was no way she could go back to who she had been before. First there was Kit, who was a constant reminder of what she had done. She tries to have a 'normal' life with no success. "No, Kit. I am a woman your wife" (Naslund 258), she tells him after their wedding night together. He responds, "It takes a beak to strip flesh from bone. As you did" (Naslund 258). Una has consumed human flesh to satisfy her physical hunger, but there is a hunger which is much more consuming which she never learns to fully control, the hunger of her mind.
Ahab, just as Una has this same hunger and recognizes it in the other. Through this action they act as cannibals, wanting to partake in an endless feast of the other's ideas and thoughts. They want to consume each other, mental and physically. It is this capacity for wanting and yearning which scares Una for the rest of her life. Ahab is an incestuous cannibal, who not only wants to partake in the fest of her mind, but has come to identify his possible children in her actions and deeds. She reminds him so much of himself at times that he can not but call her the daughter of his mind. "I've though that ye were Ahab's daughter" ( Naslund 277).
In Ahab Una finds a well matured version of herself. She finds the story which she had been searching for. She works as a reflective surface of Ahab's story and becomes his daughter in many ways. She thinks like him, loves to listen to his stories and can then use those stories to either define herself or the world around her. Because of this Ahab's Wife is a compliment of Moby Dick. Not only was the crew destined to die in the eyes of fate, but also in the world of romance. As father and daughter, Ahab's and Una's incestuous relationship can end in nothing but death. "When the Romantics portray an erotic relationship (and it is not a common theme), the ideal they look towards is a total sympathetic fusion. Such sympathy can not come spontaneously, through an intuitive recognition of spiritual harmony, but must be developed through experience and shared associations" (Richardson 774). From the moment of intuitive recognition the romance between Ahab and Una was doomed.
Naslund, Sena. Ahab's Wife or the Star Gazer. New York: Morrow 1999.
Richardson, Alan. Studies in English Literature. The Dangers of Sympathy: Sibling Incest
in English Romantic Poetry.1500-1900, Vol. 25, No.4. Rice University:1985;
Sexton, Anne. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |