English 12 JMZ

Moby Dick
By Herman Melville

The Characters and Plot
There are numerous characters in Moby Dick, but only a few of them
have any impact on the story. A common sailor named Ishmael is the
narrator. The book, however, focuses on Captain Ahab, the one-legged
commander of the whaling ship Pequod. Ahab has sworn to kill the
gigantic whale Moby Dick, who took away his leg. Starbuck is the
first mate of the Pequod. Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo are the
three harpooners.
The story begins with Ishmael becoming restless. He decides to go
out to sea on a whaling ship. In the port of New Bedford, he meets
and shares a room with a harpooner named Queequeg. The two of them
become close friends, and agree to ship out together.
The day after they reach Nantucket, Ishmael begins searching for a
whaling ship preparing to leave harbor. Out of three ships ready to
leave, he chooses the Pequod. The owners of the ship, Captains Peleg
and Bildad are excited to hear of Queequeg from Ishmael and gladly
let him join the crew. They are told the captain of the ship is
named Ahab. Peleg and Bildad say that he is a good man, but because
of some strange illness, he is confined to his cabin.
On Christmas day, and with Ahab still in his cabin, the Pequod sets
sail in the Atlantic. As the weather begins to warm up (several
months after leaving port), Ahab is finally seen on deck. The
strangest thing about Ahab is his leg. Instead of flesh and bone, he
has a white ivory peg leg.
As the weeks wear on, Ahab starts to become friendlier. One day, he
calls the crew before him. He tells them that the sole mission of
the Pequod is to kill Moby Dick. Moby Dick is a gigantic sperm whale
with a crooked jaw and a deformed forehead. He has never been
defeated, and has attacked and sunk entire ships. Ahab admits he
hates Moby Dick for taking his leg away, and wants revenge. The crew
agree to this challenge, and swear to hunt him down. The only who is
not excited about hunting down Moby Dick is first-mate Starbuck.
For many months, the Pequod sails South, through the Atlantic,
around the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa), and into
the Indian Ocean. Along the way, they kill and drain the spermaceti
oil from every sperm whale they encounter. Each time they meet
another ship, Ahab begins the conversation with “Hast seen the White
Whale?”.
Finally, after entering the Japanese sea, the Pequod encounters a
whaling ship named the Enderby. The Enderby’s captain had just
recently lost his arm to Moby Dick. Ahab becomes so excited at the
news that he breaks his ivory leg. The ship’s carpenter builds him a
new one.
Once reaching the waters around the equator, the Pequod meets
another whaling ship, the Rachel. They had seen Moby Dick, and had
become separated from one of the whaling boats during the battle.
Ahab refuses to help them look for the missing men.
At last, Moby Dick is spotted by Ahab. In the first day of
fighting, the whale is harpooned many times, but escapes after
smashing Ahab’s boat. On the second day, the whale is harpooned
again, but still escapes. On the third day, Ahab’s harpoon pierces
the whale, but the rope catches him by the neck and Moby Dick drags
him to the bottom of the sea. An angry Moby Dick rams and sinks the
Pequod. Only Ishmael survives, and he is rescued by the Rachel.
My Response
Moby Dick was not the novel I expected. I was under the impression
that it would be about seafaring and the whale Moby Dick. Instead,
Moby Dick is a story about Captain Ahab’s obsession. There is very
little in the story about the revenge itself, just about Ahab’s
monomania. Out of 465 pages, only forty-two of them deal with the
actual battle between Ahab and Moby Dick.
The novel places very little emphasis on actual seafaring. Ishmael
never even steps on a boat until page seventy-four. Even when the
ship finally leaves port, the mention of anything involving sailing
or the life of sailors is kept to an absolute minimum.
There is, however, plenty of emphasis is on whaling, the anatomy of
whales, and their behavior. The book goes into great detail
describing the whalers of Nantucket, and gives in-depth explanations
of the different types of whales, quoting several outside sources in
the process. The narrator mentions the awesome size of the sperm
whale, and how few books even try to