"But what's this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale? art not game for Moby Dick?"
"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market."
"Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest a little lower layer. If money's to be the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by girdling it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!"
"He smites his chest," whispered Stubb, "what's that for? methinks it rings most vast, but hollow."
"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
"Hark ye yet again,--the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines."
I watched the 1956 film adaptation of Moby-Dick in high school, and, at the time, I was principally impressed with Gregory Peck's performance as an uncannily formidable Captain Ahab. Reading the original novel now, after having previously read two lesser Melville works, also in high school, this thing is a real slog. The monomaniacal Ahab remains a compelling character, but truly his appearances collectively comprise only a small fraction of the novel. Much of the book is just episodes about life and the people aboard the ship, but even that quickly gives way to lengthy encyclopedic non-narrative chapters about whales and whaling. Most chapters exist more to provide flavor than substance.
In a classroom setting, it's great to be able to dialogue with classmates and the instructor to interpret the text critically. But now that I am and have been many years alone and outside the academic circle, it seems silly to think that a mere novel could ever meaningfully affect how I live or understand the world, and reading critically seems almost a pointless endeavor. Thus, whatever does not grip me immediately feels consequently like a wretched waste of my time. That includes most of Moby-Dick, and, despite its prominence in the Western literary canon, I would never recommend it to anyone who is not presently a student studying English literature, or maybe whaling.
The above quoted dialogue does contain what was my favorite line from the movie, and now one of my favorite lines in all literature: "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me."
Now, what would really happen if he were to strike the sun? Well, he could no more do that than that the sun would be able to insult him in the first place. But, supposing such a thing could be arranged, it doesn't take a genius to figure that, when man and hot plasma collide, the sun is probably gonna win. But it is precisely such talk that makes Ahab so uniquely compelling a character. Because what he is suggesting is so clearly insane, and yet he speaks it, not only with such conviction that you believe he truly means it, but as though he wouldn't even have any choice in the matter; whether by destiny or his own nature, he cannot be less than he is.