“All of us are Ahabs”:1 Captain Ahab, Captain Flint, and the Monomaniacal Sea Captain’s Violence of Influence


  • Maggie Sadler


This essay explores the intricate camaraderie of sailors — dependent on the community-building activity of yarning — aboard both whaling and pirate vessels, arguably the most violent iterations of seafaring in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A comparative analysis of two significant instances of on-deck violence exposes how both captains encourage the onset of violence within the microcosms of their ships. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and the 2014 Treasure Island-inspired maritime drama Black Sails, created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine for the Starz network, serve as case studies for this investigation. I suggest that in welcoming violence aboard with open arms, the antagonistic captains of each narrative —Captain Ahab and Captain Flint, respectively — corrupt the tenuous sense of harmony that these vessels depended upon to remain fruitful in their chosen endeavors. Broaching this crucial outer wall of the maritime custom exposes the underbelly of another significant tradition, yarning, and renders the tradition vulnerable to their further corrupting influence. I propose that each captain’s power of persuasion — their skill to cast a yarn that becomes sinister in its compulsion — reveals a significant intertextual relationship between Moby-Dick and Black Sails that demands critical attention. By suggesting that Ahab and Flint have both drunk from the same cup, these representations of monomaniacal visions in mariners offer scrutiny of the image of the heroic sea captain in maritime fiction as a whole.