Ahab is the Captain of the Pequod, a grave older man reaching his sixties who has spent nearly forty years as a sailor, only three of which he has spent on dry land (Melville alludes to Ahab as having a wife and son, but their existence seems of little significance to Ahab). The novel is essentially the story of Ahab and his quest to defeat the legendary Sperm Whale Moby Dick, for this whale took Ahab's leg, causing him to use an ivory leg to walk and stand. Ahab is a dour, imposing man who frightens his crew through his unwavering obsession with defeating Moby Dick and his grand hubris. In many respects Melville portrays Ahab as barely human, barely governed by human mores and conventions and nearly entirely subject to his own obsession with Moby Dick. Melville describes him in mostly alien terms: Ahab is a spectral figure haunting Stubb's dreams and existing in a place away from the living. He is in some ways a machine, unaffected by human appetites and without recognizable emotion. And most importantly, he claims himself a God over the Pequod, but instead he may be a Satanic figure through his somewhat blasphemous quest against the white whale.
Ishmael is the narrator of the novel, a simple sailor on the Pequod who undertakes the journey because of his affection for the ocean and his need to go sea whenever he feels "hazy about the eyes." As the narrator Ishmael establishes him as somewhat of a cipher and an everyman, and in fact his role in the plot of the novel is inconsequential; his primary task is to observe the conflicts around him. Nevertheless, Melville does give his narrator several significant character traits, the most important of which is his idealization of the Sperm Whale and his belief in its majesty. Also, it is Ishmael who has the only significant personal relationship in the novel; he becomes a close friend with the pagan harpooner Queequeg and comes to cherish and adore Queequeg to a somewhat improbable level open to great interpretation; Melville even describes their relationship in terms of a marriage. Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod's voyage, living to tell the tale of Moby Dick only because he is by chance on a whaling boat when Moby Dick sinks the Pequod and is rescued by a nearby ship.
Starbuck is the chief mate of the Pequod, a Nantucket native and a Quaker with a thin build and a pragmatic manner. In appearance, Starbuck is quite thin and seems condensed into his most essential characteristics, and his streamlined appearance well suits his attitudes and behavior. Melville portrays Starbuck as both a strong believer in human fallibility and an idealist who believes that these failings may be contained. Among the characters in Moby Dick, it is only Starbuck who openly opposes Captain Ahab, believing his quest against the great whale to be an impulsive and suicidal folly. However, despite his open misgivings about Ahab and the open hostility between these two characters that culminates when Ahab points his musket at Starbuck, the conflicted Starbuck remains loyal to his captain even when he has the possibility of vanquishing Ahab. If Ahab serves as the protagonist of the novel and Ahab the narrator, Ishmael is the character whom Melville intends as the proxy for the reader: the only character given a gamut of emotions ranging from pity and fear to contempt, Starbuck is Melville's surrogate for an emotional response from his audience.
Queequeg is a harpooner from New Zealand, the son of a king who renounces the throne in order to travel the world on whaling ships and learn about Christian society. Ishmael meets Queequeg when the two must share a bed at the Spouter Inn in New Bedford before journeying to Nantucket to undertake the journey on the Pequod. Melville portrays Queequeg as a blend of civilized behavior and savagery. Certainly in his appearance and upbringing he is uncivilized by the standards of the main characters of the novel, yet Melville (through his narrator Ishmael) finds Queequeg to be incredibly noble, courteous and brave. Melville uses Queequeg as a character in perpetual transition: from savagery to civilization, and in the final chapters after he suffers from an illness from which he wills himself recovered, in an uneasy stasis between life and death. The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael is the most intimate of the novel, as the two become close companions.
The second mate on the Pequod, Stubb is a Cape Cod native with a happy-go-lucky, carefree nature that tends to mask his true opinions and beliefs. Stubb remains comical even in the face of the imperious Ahab, and he even dares to make a joke at the captain's expense. Although never serious, Stubb is nevertheless a more than competent whaleman: his easygoing manner allows Stubb to prompt his crew to work without seeming imposing or dictatorial, and it is Stubb who kills the first whale on the Pequod's voyage. Nevertheless, Melville does not portray Stubb as an idealized character; although competent and carefree, Stubb is also the character who suggests that the Pequod robs the Rosebud of its whales to secure their ambergris.
The third mate on the ship, Flask plays a much less prominent role than either Starbuck or Stubb. He is a native of Martha's Vineyard with a pugnacious attitude concerning whales. Melville portrays Stubb as a man whose appetites cannot be sated, and in fact in attempting to sate these appetites Flask becomes even more hungry.
He is a young black man and a member of the Pequod crew who replaces one of Stubb's oarsman but becomes incredibly frightened while lowering after a whale and jumps from the boat. Although Stubb saves him the first time, he warns him that he will not do so if he tries it again, and when he does Pip only survives when another boat saves him. After realizing that the others would allow his death, Pip becomes nearly insane. However, Ahab takes pity on him for his madness and allows him use of his cabin.
He is one of the "dusky phantoms" that compose Ahab's special whaling crew. The Asiatic and Oriental Fedallah, also called the Parsee, remains a "muffled mystery" to the other characters and represents a sinister figure for the crew of the Pequod; there are even rumors that he is the devil in disguise and wishes to kidnap Ahab. Fedallah has a prophetic dream of hearses twice during the course of the novel, yet both he and Ahab conceive that this means a certain end to Moby Dick. Fedallah dies during the second day of the chase against Moby Dick, when he becomes entangled in the whale line.
He is the innkeeper at the Spouter Inn where Ishmael stays on his way to Nantucket.
He is the famous preacher and a former harpooner who has left sailing for the ministry. Renowned for his sincerity and sanctity, Father Mapple enjoys a considerable reputation. Before leaving for the voyage on the Pequod, Ishmael attends a service in which Father Mapple gives a sermon that considers the tale of Jonah and the Whale.
She is the owner of the Try Pots Inn and the cousin of Peter Coffin. Ishmael and Queequeg stay at the Try Pots while in Nantucket before departing on the Pequod.
A retired sailor and former captain of the Pequod, he is a "fighting Quaker" who owns the ship along with Bildad. Peleg is the character who first indicates the dark conflict within Ahab by comparing him to the legendary vile king of the same name.
The owner of the Pequod along with Peleg, Bildad is also a "fighting Quaker" who scolds the crew of the Pequod for profanity and regrets having to leave the Pequod on its long voyage.
He is a stranger that Ishmael and Queequeg pass while staying in Nantucket who asks if they have met Old Thunder (Captain Ahab), and later asks the two if they have sold their souls to the devil by agreeing to undertake a voyage on the Pequod.
A sailor on the Pequod and a dangerous man just returned from a voyage that lasted four years, he returns to the sea almost immediately because of his affinity for life on the ocean.
He is an Indian from Martha's Vineyard who becomes the harpooner for Stubb.
He is a gigantic African man who becomes the harpooner for Flask.
The steward of the Pequod, he serves dinner to the crew of the ship but remains nervous whenever dealing with Queequeg and Tashtego.
He is the blacksmith on the Pequod who fashions the harpoon for Ahab.
The captain of the Jeroboam, a Nantucket ship, his ship fell prey to a mutiny by a shaker and now suffers from a contagious epidemic.
He is a Shaker on the Jeroboam who had been a great prophet before leaving for Nantucket. While on the Jeroboam, he announces himself as the archangel Gabriel and sparks a mutiny.
He is a member of the Jeroboam's crew that was killed by Moby Dick.
Derick De Deer
The captain of the German ship Jungfrau, he begs the Pequod for oil and then engages in a competition with the Pequod for a Sperm Whale.
The surgeon on the Samuel Enderby, a British ship, he warns Ahab that Moby Dick would be best left alone and wonders whether Ahab is in fact insane.
The captain of the Rachel, he begs Ahab for assistance finding a lost boat that contains his son and gives Ahab a substantial sighting of Moby Dick. It is his ship that finds Ishmael after the sinking of the Pequod.
Moby Dick Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Moby Dick is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think that Melville varies his tone through the novel but I would be inclined to call the overall tone thoughtful and reflective. The characters. Consider Ishmael's reflective tone in the following excerpt: