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.