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 other ships, the majority of the characters are crewmembers of the Pequod. The following is a list of the characters.

Moby Dick[edit]

Main article: Moby Dick (Moby-Dick)

The title character is a giant, largely (but not completely) white bull sperm whale and arguably the main antagonist of the novel.

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]

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 during a previous whaling voyage. Ahab ultimately dooms the crew of the Pequod (save for Ishmael) to death by his obsession with Moby Dick.

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.

Crew of the Pequod[edit]

The crew 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.

Although in fact 44 members of the crew are mentioned, in the final chapters Melville writes three times that there are 30 crewmembers.[3] Since there were thirty states in the union at the time, it has been suggested that, in its diversity, the Pequod to be a metaphor for American ship of state.[4]

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, 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.[5]

Flask is the third mate of the Pequod. A short, stout man hailing from Martha's Vineyard, he approaches the practice of whaling as if trying to avenge some deep offense the whales have done him. Flask is nicknamed "King-Post" by the crew, as his physical stature reminds them of this short, strong timber that is often used to brace ships and structures.

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.

Pip[edit]

Pip (nicknamed "Pippin," but "Pip" for short) is an 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."[6]

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.[6] Ahab later sympathizes with Pip and takes the young boy under his wing.

Others[edit]

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.

Others met at sea[edit]

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.

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. ^ Ch 123, 126, 134
  4. ^ Delbanco, Andrew (2005). Melville : His World and Work. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375403140. 
  5. ^ Dagovitz, Alan. "Moby Dick's Hidden Philosopher: A Second Look at Stubb" in Philosophy and Literature Oct 2008
  6. ^ a b All quotes are taken from Chapter 93, "The Castaway".