List of Moby-Dick characters

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Moby-Dick (1851) is a whaling novel by Herman Melville. While some characters only appear in the shore-chapters at the beginning of the book, and others are captains and crewmembers of ships that pass by, the majority of the characters are crewmembers of the Pequod. The following is a list of the characters.

Characters[edit]

The crew-members of the Pequod are carefully drawn stylizations of human types and habits; critics have often described the crew as a "self-enclosed universe". There are 30 (44!) crew members, and as there were thirty states in the union at the time, it has been suggested that, in its diversity, Melville meant the Pequod to be a metaphor for America.[citation needed]

Ishmael[edit]

Main article: Ishmael (Moby-Dick)

Ishmael, the only surviving crewmember of the Pequod, is the narrator of the book. As a character he is a few years younger than as a narrator. His importance relies on his role as narrator; as a character, he is only a minor participant in the action. The name has come to symbolize orphans, exiles, and social outcasts[1] — in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells the reader that he has turned to the sea out of a feeling of alienation from human society. In the last line of the book, Ishmael also refers to himself symbolically as an orphan, which maintains the Biblical connection and emphasises the representation of outcasts. In the Book of Genesis, Ishmael is the son of Abraham and his wife's maidservant, Hagar, whom his barren wife, Sarah, gives to her husband so he may have a son. When Sarah finally bears a son, Isaac, she decides Ishmael would not be a good influence on Isaac and therefore has Abraham exile Hagar and Ishmael into the desert (Genesis 21:10).

Ishmael has a rich literary background (he has previously been a schoolteacher), which he brings to bear on his shipmates and events that occur while at sea. His assurance that "only I alone escaped to tell you" (tell thee) is the messenger's admonishment in Job 1: 15–17, 19.

Ashore[edit]

Father Mapple[edit]

Main article: Father Mapple

A former whaler who is a preacher in the New Bedford Whaleman's Chapel.

Elijah[edit]

The character Elijah (named for the Biblical prophet Elijah, who is also referred to in the King James Bible as Elias), on learning that Ishmael and Queequeg have signed onto Ahab's ship, asks, "Anything down there about your souls?" When Ishmael reacts with surprise, Elijah continues:

Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any — good luck to 'em; and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."

Moby-DickCh. 19 [2]

Later in the conversation, Elijah adds:

Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be, will be; and then again, perhaps it wont be, after all. Any how, it's all fixed and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go with him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em! Morning to ye, shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye; I'm sorry I stopped ye.

Moby-DickCh. 19 [2]

Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg[edit]

The principal owners of the Pequod, two well-to-do Quaker retired whaling captains. Both have names taken from the Bible: Peleg, and Bildad. Peleg served as first mate under Ahab on the Pequod before obtaining his own command, and is responsible for all her whalebone embellishments.

Ahab[edit]

Moby Dick

Ahab is the tyrannical captain of the Pequod who is driven by a monomaniacal desire to kill Moby Dick, the whale that had maimed him off the coast of Japan[3] during a previous whaling voyage. Although he is a Quaker, he seeks revenge in defiance of his religion's well-known pacifism. Ahab's Biblical namesake is the evil idol-worshipping ruler in the Book of Kings, and this association prompts Ishmael to ask, after first hearing Ahab's name:

When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?

Moby-DickChapter 16. "The Ship"[4]

When Ishmael remarks upon the ill associations of such a name, he is rebuked by one of Ahab's colleagues, who points out that "He did not name himself."

Little information is provided about Ahab's life prior to meeting Moby Dick, although it is known that he was orphaned at a young age. When discussing the purpose of his quest with Starbuck, it is revealed that he first began whaling at eighteen and has continued in the trade for forty years making him 58 years of age[5] and having spent less than three on land. He also mentions his "girl-wife", whom he married late in life, and their young son, but does not give their names.

Ahab ultimately dooms the crew of the Pequod (save for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby Dick. During the final chase, Ahab hurls his last harpoon while yelling his now-famous revenge line:

...to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.

Moby-DickChapter 135. "The Chase.—Third Day"[6]

The harpoon becomes lodged in Moby Dick's flesh and Ahab, caught around the neck by a loop in his own harpoon's rope and unable to free himself, is dragged down into the cold oblivion of the sea by the injured whale. The mechanics of Ahab's death are richly symbolic. He is killed by his own harpoon, a victim of his own twisted obsession and desire for revenge. The whale eventually destroys the whaleboats and crew, and sinks the Pequod.

Ahab's motivation for hunting Moby Dick is explored in the following passage:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;—Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

Moby-DickChapter 41. "Moby Dick"[7]

Captain Boomer[edit]

Captain of the Samuel Enderby of London, Ahab encounters him at sea. Boomer has not only seen Moby Dick recently, but lost his arm to him in a previous attack. Like Ahab, he has replaced the missing limb with a prosthesis made of sperm whale bone. Ahab immediately assumes he has found a kindred spirit in his thirst for vengeance, but Boomer is yet another representation of the duality to be found throughout the novel; in this instance, a sane and rational counterpart to Ahab. While Boomer also anthropomorphizes Moby Dick, describing the "boiling rage" the whale seemed to be in when Boomer attempted to capture him, he has easily come to terms with losing his arm, and harbors no ill-will against Moby Dick, advising Ahab "he's best left alone". The Enderby's doctor provides solid reasoning for this attitude, informing the gathering:

Do you know, gentlemen, that the digestive organs of the whale are so inscrutably constructed by Divine Providence, that it is quite impossible for him to completely digest even a man's arm? And he knows it too. So that what you take for the White Whale's malice is only his awkwardness. For he never means to swallow a single limb; he only thinks to terrify by feints.

Moby-DickCh. 100

Boomer jokingly tells a long yarn about the loss of his arm; this attitude, coupled with a lack of urgency in telling where he sighted Moby Dick, infuriates Ahab, leading Boomer to query, "Is your captain crazy?" Ahab immediately quits the Enderby and is so hasty in his return to the Pequod that he cracks and splinters his whalebone leg, then further damages it in admonishing the helmsman. While appearing to be whole, the leg is badly damaged and cannot be trusted; it now serves as metaphor for its wearer.

Moby Dick[edit]

He is a giant, largely (but not completely) white, bull sperm whale and arguably the main antagonist of the novel. Melville describes him as having prominent white areas around his wrinkled forehead and dorsal fin, the rest of his body being of stripes and patches between white and gray.[8] The animal's exact dimensions are never given but Melville claims in the novel that sperm whales can reach a length of ninety feet[9] (larger than any officially recorded[10]) and that Moby Dick is possibly the largest sperm whale that ever lived. Other notable physical traits are an unusual spout, a deformed jaw, three punctures in his right fluke and several harpoons imbedded in his side from unsuccessful hunts.[11] Having a near legendary reputation among whalers, several fatal encounters have been attributed to him over a number of years, his attacks interpreted by some as being deliberate acts not of "an unintelligent agent."[12] He bit off Ahab's leg, leaving Ahab to swear revenge. The cetacean also attacked the Rachel and killed the captain's son. At the end of the story he kills the entire crew of the Pequod, with the exception of Ishmael. The story does not tell whether he survives his own wounds after that. Although he is an integral part of the novel, Moby Dick appears in just three of the 135 chapters and the reader does not have access to his thoughts and motivations. Moby Dick is considered to be a symbol of a number of things, among them God, nature, fate, the ocean, and the very universe itself.

The symbolism of the White Whale is deliberately enigmatic, and its inscrutability is a deliberate challenge to the reader. Ishmael describes the whale’s forehead as having wrinkles and scars on it that look like hieroglyphics, and recounts:

If then, Sir William Jones, who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest peasant’s face in its profounder and more subtle meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of the Sperm Whale’s brow? I put that brow before you. Read it if you can.

Moby-DickCh. 79

All the reader can know is that the White Whale symbolizes many things to various characters in the novel. It is their personal interpretations of Moby-Dick, in addition to their individual ruminations on the gold doubloon Ahab has nailed to the mast to motivate his crew, that serve as a further clue to their own inner makeup.

Mates[edit]

The three mates of the Pequod are all from New England. Starbuck, the young chief mate of the Pequod, is a thoughtful and intellectual Quaker from Nantucket. He is married with a son. Such is his desire to return to them, that when nearly reaching the last leg of their quest for Moby Dick, he considers arresting or even killing Ahab with a loaded musket, and turning the ship back, straight for home. Starbuck is alone among the crew in objecting to Ahab's quest, declaring it madness to want revenge on an animal, which lacks reason; such a desire is blasphemous to his Quaker religion. Starbuck advocates continuing the more mundane pursuit of whales for their oil. But he lacks the support of the crew in his opposition to Ahab, and is unable to persuade them to turn back. Despite his misgivings, he feels himself bound by his obligations to obey the captain. Starbuck was an important Quaker family name on Nantucket Island, and there were several actual whalemen of this period named Starbuck, as evidenced by the name of Starbuck Island in the South Pacific whaling grounds. The multinational coffee chain Starbucks was named after Starbuck, not due to any affinity for coffee, but because the name "Pequod" was first rejected by one of the co-founders.

Stubb, the second mate of the Pequod, is from Cape Cod, and always seems to have a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face. "Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests." (Moby-Dick, Ch. 27) Although he is not an educated man, Stubb is remarkably articulate, and during whale hunts keeps up an imaginative patter reminiscent of that of some characters in Shakespeare. Scholarly portrayals range from that of an optimistic simpleton to a paragon of lived philosophic wisdom.[13]

Flask is the third mate of the Pequod. He is from Martha's Vineyard.

Harpooneers[edit]

Queequeg
Main article: Queequeg

The harpooneers of the Pequod are all non-Christians from various parts of the world. Each serves on a mate's boat.

Queequeg hails from the fictional island of Rokovoko in the South Seas, inhabited by a cannibal tribe, and is the son of the chief of his tribe. Since leaving the island, he has become extremely skilled with the harpoon. He befriends Ishmael early in the novel, when they meet before leaving for Nantucket. He is described as existing in a state between civilized and savage. Queequeg is the harpooneer on Starbuck's boat, where Ishmael is also an oarsman. Queequeg is best friends with Ishmael in the story. He is prominent early in the novel, but later fades in significance, as does Ishmael.

Tashtego is described as a Gay Head (Wampanoag) Native American harpooneer. The personification of the hunter, he turns from hunting land animals to hunting whales. Tashtego is the harpooneer on Stubb's boat.

Daggoo is a tall (6' 5") African harpooneer from a coastal village with a noble bearing and grace. He is the harpooneer on Flask's boat.

Fedallah is the harpooneer on Ahab's boat. He is of Persian Zoroastrian ("Parsi") descent. He is described as having lived in China. At the time when the Pequod sets sail, Fedallah is hidden on board, and he later emerges with Ahab's boat's crew. Fedallah is referred to in the text as Ahab's "Dark Shadow". Ishmael calls him a "fire worshipper" and the crew speculates that he is a devil in man's disguise. He is the source of a variety of prophecies regarding Ahab and his hunt for Moby Dick.

Other notable characters[edit]

Pip (nicknamed "Pippin," but "Pip" for short) is a African-American youth said to be from Tolland County, Connecticut, although he is referred to as "Alabama Boy". He is "the most insignificant of the Pequod's crew". Because he is physically slight, he is made a ship-keeper, (a sailor who stays aboard the ship while its whaleboats go out). Ishmael contrasts him with the "dull and torpid in his intellects" — and paler and much older — steward Dough-Boy, describing Pip as "over tender-hearted" but "at bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe". Ishmael goes so far as to chastise the reader: "Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony, panelled in king's cabinets."[14]

The after-oarsman on Stubb's boat is injured, however, so Pip is temporarily reassigned to Stubb's whaleboat crew. The first time out, Pip jumps from the boat, causing Stubb and Tashtego to lose their already-harpooned whale. Tashtego and the rest of the crew are furious; Stubb chides him "officially" and "unofficially," even raising the specter of slavery: "a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama." The next time a whale is sighted, Pip again jumps overboard and is left stranded in the "awful lonesomeness" of the sea while Stubb's and the others' boats are dragged along by their harpooned whales. By the time he is rescued, he has become (at least to the other sailors) "an idiot," "mad." Ishmael, however, thought Pip had a mystical experience: "So man's insanity is heaven's sense." Pip and his experience are crucial because they serve as foreshadowing, in Ishmael's words, "providing the sometimes madly merry and predestinated craft with a living and ever accompanying prophecy of whatever shattered sequel might prove her own." Pip's madness is full of poetry and eloquence; he is reminiscent of Tom in King Lear.[14] Ahab later sympathizes with Pip and takes the young boy under his wing.

Dough Boy is the pale, nervous steward of the ship. The Cook (Fleece), Blacksmith (Perth), and Carpenter of the ship are each highlighted in at least one chapter near the end of the book. Fleece, a very old, half-deaf African-American with bad knees, is presented in the chapter "Stubb's Supper" at some length in a dialogue where Stubb good-humoredly takes him to task over how to prepare a variety of dishes from the whale's carcass. Ahab calls on the Carpenter to fashion a new whalebone leg after the one he wears is damaged; later he has Perth forge a special harpoon that he carries into the final confrontation with Moby Dick. Perth is one of the few characters whose previous life is given in much detail: his life ashore has been ruined by alcoholism.

The crew as a whole is international, having constituents from both the United States and rest of the world. Chapter 40, "Midnight, Forecastle," highlights, in its stage-play manner (in Shakespearean style), the striking variety in the sailors' origins. A partial list of the speakers includes sailors from the Isle of Man, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, the Azores, Sicily and Malta, China, Chile, Denmark, Portugal, India, England, Spain, and Ireland.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pirner, Susanne (2005). Call Me Ishmael – A Critical Analysis of the Narrator in Moby Dick. GRIN Verlag. p. 5. 
  2. ^ a b "Chapter xix – THE PROPHET". Princeton.edu. Retrieved 2011-03-26. 
  3. ^ Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick Melville p. 159
  4. ^ "Chapter 16. The Ship". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  5. ^ Melville p. 620
  6. ^ "Chapter 135. The Chase.—Third Day". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Chapter 41. Moby Dick". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  8. ^ Melville, Herman. (1851) Moby~Dick or, the Whale, 150th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Books, 2001), p. 198-9
  9. ^ Melville, Herman. (1851) Moby~Dick or, the Whale, 150th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Books, 2001), p. 493
  10. ^ Ellis, Richard. (2011). The Great Sperm Whale: A Natural History of the Oceans Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creature. USA: University Press of Kansas. p. 432.
  11. ^ Melville, Herman. (1851) Moby~Dick or, the Whale, 150th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Books, 2001), p. 176-7
  12. ^ Melville, Herman. (1851) Moby~Dick or, the Whale, 150th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Books, 2001), p. 199
  13. ^ Dagovitz, Alan. "Moby Dick's Hidden Philosopher: A Second Look at Stubb" in Philosophy and Literature Oct 2008
  14. ^ a b All quotes are taken from Chapter 93, "The Castaway".