The monomania of Miller

Trevor’s podcast gave me one idea that truly—and somewhat shockingly—had not occurred to me before at all: the idea of Miller as Ahab. The signs are all there, and there is no question of Ahab’s same extreme monomania in Miller’s pursuit of the buffalo in the valley. But the parallels to Moby-Dick are rather extensive.

First, we can start with Andrews. He may not leave home with quite the level of ennui expressed by Ishmael in his opening chapters, but he certainly abandons what he sees as stagnation in favor of adventure and growth. The West is an excellent replacement for the sea, beautiful and terrible as they both are, subjecting man to the wonders and brutality of nature. The pacing of the novel is also similar. It takes a long time to reach the valley—nearly half the novel passes before they set up camp there. And this pacing is fast compared to the length of time Miller has spent obsessing about this particular herd, his “one that got away.”

And this time, he will not let it get away—not one scrap. The party initially intends to stay for just a few weeks, perhaps a month, and be back safe at Butcher’s Crossing before winter sets in. But even the best “stands” of his life are not enough for Miller. When the weather begins to turn, the buffalo sense it and try to make their way out of the valley, to their winter feeding grounds. Despite the dangers of staying longer, Miller cannot allow this, and enlists Andrews and Schneider to help him prevent it. The group spends a day turning back stampede after stampede when the unthinkable happens: it begins to snow.

This is everything short of complete disaster for Miller, Andrews, Schneider and Charley. The first snowflakes waste no time becoming a blizzard, blocking off their pass until spring is well under way. This is something of a break from direct Moby-Dick parallel, although it does provide the men with something whalers are familiar with: a long time with relatively little to do, stuck in a small group of people trying not to drive each other (and themselves) mad. (Sidenote: Charley as Pip. No further comment.)

The monomania-derived and Moby-Dickensian tragedy does not end there. The hunting party experiences its own version of the sinking of the Pequod, though all hands are not lost.

4 comments to The monomania of Miller

  • The Ahab parallel had occurred to me, but I hadn’t thought it out to any length or in any way as delightfully as you’ve done here (I had to laugh at your “sinking of the Pequod”). About the only thing missing to complete the scene is the appearance of one of the sacred white buffalo from Lakota mythology.

  • Nice! Instead, we have the whiteness of the snow. I thought about making that my post for tomorrow, but went with something else instead. But surely the whiteness of the snow is a horror.

  • Looking back on our podcast, we only just touched on this, though we had talked about it before. I bet we could do an even longer podcast focusing just on the parallels between the two novels. I also like how both parties are going after some great beast that at one time promised to be an inexhaustible resource. Of course, Melville didn’t know how quickly the whales would disappear, but Williams has the benefit of hindsight and intimates throughout that these people are destroying the very thing that at one time inspired their awe.

  • In fact, Nicole and anyone else, I have just posted links to your posts on my forum (http://mookseandgripes.myfreeforum.org), and if anyone wants to go into these parallels, I have posted a bit about it in the Butcher’s Crossing thread.

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