Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Ishmael, a philosophical young schoolmaster and sometime sailor who seeks the sea when he becomes restless, gloomy, and soured on the world. With a newfound friend, Queequeg, a harpooner from the South Seas, he signs aboard the whaler Pequod as a seaman. Queequeg is the only person on the ship to whom he is emotionally and spiritually close, and this closeness is, after the initial establishment of their friendship, implied rather than detailed. Otherwise, Ishmael does a seaman’s work, observes and listens to his shipmates, and keeps his own counsel. Having been reared a Presbyterian (as was Melville), he reflects in much of his thinking the Calvinism out of which Presbyterianism grew; but his thought is also influenced by his knowledge of literature and philosophy. He is a student of cetology. Regarding Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick, the legendary white whale, and the parts played by himself and others involved, Ishmael dwells on such subjects as free will, predestination, necessity, and damnation. After the destruction of the Pequod by Moby Dick, Ishmael, the lone survivor, clings to Queenqueg’s floating coffin for almost a day and a night before being rescued by the crew of another whaling vessel, the Rachel.
Queequeg, Starbuck’s veteran harpooner, a tattooed cannibal from Kokovoko, an uncharted South Seas island. Formerly zealous of learning about Christianity, he...
(The entire section is 1145 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Moby Dick Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Introduced by Captain Peleg as “a grand, ungodly, godlike man,” the reader learns two things about Ahab, captain of the Pequod in Moby-Dick: Ahab was orphaned when he was twelve months old, and one of his legs was lost as a result of his most recent whaling voyage. The wound is so fresh that the stump is still bleeding. However, it is some time before Ishmael is able to verify this. Ahab does not make a proper appearance in the book until Chapter 28. The reader finds him standing upon his quarter-deck, looking “like a man cut away from the stake,” with his white bone leg (carved from a sperm whale’s jaw) jammed into a specially drilled hole on deck. The reader is told that Ahab has gray hair and has a white scar or disfigurement down the side of his face. There are some aboard the ship who suspect the mark travels the entire length of Ahab’s body, from head to toe. But Melville is more anxious to communicate an atmosphere, in sentences such as, “There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance.” The long delay in Ahab’s involvement in the action of the novel helps to build him up as a grand figure, the major tragic character Melville wants his readers to see.
Although Ahab is awe-inspiring, Melville is at pains to establish the captain’s dignity. In Chapter 34, “The Cabin Table,”...
(The entire section is 2348 words.)