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 has become disillusioned after living among so-called Christians and, having reverted to paganism, he worships a little black idol, Yojo, that he keeps with him. Although he appears at ease among his Christian shipmates, he keeps himself at the same time apart from them, his only close friend being Ishmael. In pursuit of whales, he is skilled and fearless. When he nearly dies of a fever, he has the ship’s carpenter build him a canoe-shaped coffin, which he tries out for size and comfort; then, recovering, he saves it for future use. It is this coffin on which Ishmael floats after the sinking of the Pequod and the drowning of Queequeg.
Captain Ahab, the proud, defiant, megalomaniacal captain of the Pequod. He is a grim, bitter, brooding, vengeful madman who has only one goal in life: the killing of the white whale that had deprived him of a leg in an earlier encounter. His most prominent physical peculiarity is a livid scar that begins under the hair of his head and, according to one crewman, extends the entire length of his body. The scar symbolizes the spiritual flaw in the man himself. His missing leg has been replaced by one of whalebone. When he stands erect looking out to sea, his face shows the unconquerable willfulness of his spirit—and, to Ishmael, a crucifixion also, a...
(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!