Study Guide

Moby Dick

by Herman Melville

Moby Dick Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New Bedford

*New Bedford. Massachusetts fishing community and seaport about sixty-five miles southeast of Boston, where the novel begins when its narrator, Ishmael, arrives to sign onto a whaling ship. He first stays at the Spouter Inn, where the only accommodation available is a room with one bed that he must share with the forbidding-looking harpooner Queequeg, a “heathen” from an uncharted South Seas island. During a storm, Ishmael seeks shelter in the Whaleman’s Chapel, where he is deeply moved by the sermon of the retired harpooner Father Mapple on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.


*Nantucket. Massachusetts island, about thirty miles south of Cape Cod, that was the center of the New England whaling industry in the early nineteenth century. There, Ishmael and Queequeg join the crew of the Pequod and begin their voyage.


Pequod. Whaling ship commanded by Captain Ahab on which Ishmael and Queequeg sign. It is one of three well-equipped whaling vessels they find anchored at Nantucket, preparing to undertake three-year expeditions. When the Pequod begins its long voyage on Christmas Day, its mysterious captain remains in his cabin, a small, private world into which he retreats.

The repeated play of light and dark while the ship is at sea reflects the light and dark of the personalities aboard the whaler. Looming high above the ship’s decks, the tops of masts are important lookout stations from which Ishmael and other crew members watch for whales.


*Oceans. The first leg of the Pequod’s voyage takes the ship southeast from Nantucket, across the Atlantic Ocean to the west coast of Africa, which it follows across the equator to the Cape of Good Hope. The ship reaches the Cape of Good Hope, near the southern tip of Africa, before heading east into the Indian Ocean. In that ocean, the ship reaps a rich harvest of sperm whales but continues east into the Pacific Ocean, where it makes its way to the Japanese Sea. The ship eventually confronts Moby Dick in the Pacific, near the equator.

*Japanese Sea (Sea of Japan)

*Japanese Sea (Sea of Japan). Branch of the Pacific Ocean enclosed by Japan, Korea, and Siberia which, during the early nineteenth century, had large numbers of sperm whales. There, the obsessed Captain Ahab hopes to find the great white whale he calls Moby Dick, to which he once lost one of his legs. The captain’s monomaniacal quest to find Moby Dick alarms the ship’s mates, but other members of the crew take his quest as a challenge and encourage him.


Rachel. Whaling ship that the Pequod encounters after it, the Rachel, has recently encountered Moby Dick, to which it has lost an entire boat crew, which includes the captain’s own son. Still obsessed with his personal quest to kill Moby Dick, Ahab declines the other captain’s appeal to help search for the lost boat—a decision that members of his own ship’s crew view as a bad omen.

Ahab’s boat

Ahab’s boat. Whaleboat on which Ahab pursues Moby Dick after the great white whale is finally sighted. His boat is one of three that chase the whale in a struggle that lasts for three days. On the third day, Ahab’s own harpoon inflicts a severe injury on the whale, and Ahab orders the other two boats back to the Pequod, so his own boat alone can make the kill. This boat becomes the crucible in which Captain Ahab plays out the final stages of his quest. Mad with pain, Moby Dick rams the Pequod with its huge head, shattering the ship’s bow. When Ahab launches another harpoon at the whale, its line wraps around his own neck, pulling him to his death. As the Pequod sinks, Moby Dick surfaces and dives, with Ahab’s lifeless body held tightly to its side by the harpoon lines.

Moby Dick Historical Context

America in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
America was in a tumultuous period, establishing its national and international...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

Moby Dick Quizzes

Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Explain the biblical allusion to Ishmael.

2. What does Ishmael do whenever he finds himself growing “grim about the mouth”?

3. What does Ishmael mean by a “substitute for pistol and ball”?

4. What proof does Ishmael offer that others feel the same as he does about the sea?

5. What is some of the “magic” which water performs for men?

6. How did the Greeks and the Persians perceive the sea?

7. How did Narcissus die?

8. Other than not having the money, why does Ishmael never go to sea as a passenger?

9. How does Ishmael explain his willingness to be ordered around?

10. What...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Chapters 2-4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Ishmael not stay at the Sword-Fish Inn?

2. Who owns the Spouter Inn?

3. What is in the painting in the entry of the inn?

4. What is the name of the old man who tends the bar?

5. Where is Ishmael’s bedmate early in the evening?

6. Where does Ishmael try to sleep at first?

7. What is odd about Queequeg’s appearance?

8. What did Queequeg do with his ebony idol?

9. What did Queequeg take into bed with him?

10. How did Queequeg shave?

1. The Sword-Fish Inn was too jolly and too expensive.

2. Peter Coffin owns the inn....

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Chapters 5-9 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Ishmael not begrudge the joke played on him by Peter Coffin?

2. What is the purpose of the marble tablets in the chapel?

3. Who sat near Ishmael in the chapel?

4. What was Father Mapple’s previous occupation?

5. Describe the pulpit.

6. How did Father Mapple get to it?

7. What biblical character is the subject of the sermon?

8. What was his sin?

9. What happened to him when he was cast into the sea?

10. In what way does Ishmael fulfill his Gospel duty?

1. Ishmael knows the value of good humor, that beneath it is something deeper....

(The entire section is 165 words.)

Chapters 10-15 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Queequeg share with Ishmael?

2. What pledge does Queequeg make to Ishmael?

3. What gift does Queequeg give Ishmael?

4. How does Ishmael show his friendship to Queequeg?

5. Where is Queequeg from?

6. For what purpose did Queequeg leave his native land?

7. What had Queequeg mistakenly carried on his shoulders?

8. Where do Queequeg and Ishmael go to sign onto a whaler?

9. Who insults Queequeg on the ferry ride?

10. Whom does Queequeg save from drowning?

1. Queequeg shares his pipe with Ishmael.

2. Queequeg would sacrifice...

(The entire section is 151 words.)

Chapters 16-18 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the name of Queequeg’s idol?

2. What had the little god told Queequeg?

3. After what is the Pequod named?

4. What are her winches and tiller made out of?

5. Who are the owners of the Pequod?

6. What had the old squaw Tistig said of Ahab?

7. What does Ishmael find when he smashes in the door?

8. What objection does Ishmael have to Queegueg’s religion?

9. Why do Bildad and Peleg decide to sign on Queequeg?

10. What is a lay?

1. Queequeg’s idol is named Yojo.

2. Yojo told Queequeg to let Ishmael choose...

(The entire section is 186 words.)

Chapters 19-25 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Describe Elijah and explain the significance of his name.

2. What nickname does he have for Ahab?

3. What vague references does he make to events in Ahab’s past?

4. What effect did Elijah have on Ishmael?

5. Why is Aunt Charity aptly named?

6. Is Ishmael able to find the shadowy figures he saw board the boat?

7. In Queequeg’s land, with what do the wealthier people “furnish” their houses?

8. What is the Pequod’s day of departure?

9. What are the sailors singing about while Bildad sings his “dismal stave of psalmody?”

10. Who piloted the ship out of the harbor?...

(The entire section is 206 words.)

Chapters 26-31 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Although Starbuck is as brave as any man, what does he fear?

2. In Melville’s tribute to man at the end of Chapter XXVI, what is the source of the common man’s “august dignity?”

3. Who are the three mates’ harpooners, respectively?

4. How is Tashtego both like and unlike his ancestors?

5. To what animal is Daggoo compared and why is that simile appropriate?

6. What is an “isolato”?

7. “Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face.” Explain the meaning of this description.

8. In what way is Ahab like a bare, old oak that sends out a few green sprouts?

9. Describe the...

(The entire section is 276 words.)

Chapters 32-35 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is cetology?

2. What whales are in the first category of large whales?

3. What did the term “specksynder” mean originally and what has it come to mean?

4. In what ways does Ahab observe the traditions of his rank?

5. What is the atmosphere of the captain and his mates’

6. Why does Flask frequently go hungry?

7. What is the atmosphere of the harpooners’ dinner?

8. How many masts are kept manned?

9. Upon what do the watches on the mastheads stand?

10. Why does Ishmael keep such a “sorry guard” when he stands the masthead watch?


(The entire section is 202 words.)

Chapters 36-40 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Ahab nail to the mast?

2. Who will win the Spanish coin?

3. What distinguishing characteristics does Moby Dick have?

4. Who objects to Ahab’s purpose?

5. What is Ahab’s emotional state as he talks of the whale’s taking off his leg?

6. What sound comes from the hold?

7. On what does Ahab place his hand as the crew swears an oath?

8. What is the oath the crew swears?

9. What is Stubb’s reaction to all that has happened?

10. What are some of the nationalities represented by the

1. Ahab nails a Spanish doubloon to...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Chapters 41-42 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What were some of the wild rumors about Moby Dick?

2. Why were Moby Dick’s “retreats” feared more than anything?

3. With what did Ahab attack Moby Dick?

4. How is Moby Dick’s deformed jaw shaped?

5. Figuratively, what did Ahab pile upon the whale’s white hump?

6. When was Ahab seized with his monomania?

7. Where had Ishmael first seen an albatross?

8. What impression did it make on him at the time?

9. What white creature is famous in American western legend?

10. What was it about the whale that instilled horror in Ishmael?

1. Rumors...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Chapters 43-47 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who, other than Archy, suspects stowaways are on board?

2. What problem has the departure date of the Pequod posed for Ahab?

3. What often forced Ahab from his hammock at night?

4. Who are Don Miguel and New Zealand Jack?

5. What proof does Ishmael offer that the public is unaware of the dangers of whaling?

6. What happened to the Essex?

7. How does Ishmael know the story of the Essex?

8. Why must Ahab hunt other whales even though killing Moby Dick is his real purpose?

9. Who weaves the mat?

10. Where have the five phantoms been seen before?


(The entire section is 206 words.)

Chapters 48-51 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Of what is Fedallah’s turban made?

2. Why was Ahab’s boat able to outrun the others?

3. What did Flask do in order to gain a better vantage from which to spot the whales who had sounded below the

4. Whose boat was separated from the Pequod for the entire night?

5. Of the mates, which one has the reputation of being most prudent?

6. What does Ishmael do after having his near death experience?

7. Why would Bildad and Peleg never have granted Ahab a whale boat of his own?

8. Why were Fedallah and his crew able to “find a place among the crew”?

9. What did Fedallah spot...

(The entire section is 241 words.)

Chapters 52-54 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does the Albatross have a spectral appearance?

2. What was the “ominous incident” that occurred when the Pequod met the Albatross?

3. Why was Ahab bothered by the fish swimming away from his ship to follow the Albatross?

4. What is a gam?

5. When a captain is being rowed to another boat for a gamming, why is his position precarious?

6. What is the frame in which the Town-Ho’s story is told?

7. When did the incident involving Radney and Steelkilt occur?

8. What was the source of Radney’s hatred of Steelkilt?

9. What role did Moby Dick play...

(The entire section is 250 words.)

Chapters 55-60 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. From what have most scientific drawings been done?

2. Where can the most ancient portrait of a whale be found?

3. Who have created the best pictures of whales?

4. What scene is depicted on the beggar’s board?

5. What does Ishmael imagine when he gazes at the stars?

6. What is brit?

7. What sound do right whales make when they feed?

8. What is the superstition regarding the white squid?

9. What has caused man to lose his awe of the sea?

10. Why is the whale line a danger to the whalers?

1. Most have been drawn from dead whales.


(The entire section is 211 words.)

Chapters 61-66 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Queequeg say the sighting of the squid means?

2. Where is the Pequod?

3. What color is the whale and why is that significant?

4. How far was Stubb’s whaleboat towed by the whale?

5. What is the “gold watch” Stubb seeks?

6. What is the primary cause of unsuccessful whaling voyages?

7. How does Ahab feel about this successful hunt?

8. Who is Fleece and what does Stubb demand of him?

9. What moral advice does Fleece give the sharks?

10. What wish does Fleece express that could be considered foreshadowing?

1. Queequeg...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Chapters 67-71 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How is blubber removed from the whale?

2. Why is the word “blanket” an appropriate term?

3. Who cuts the scarf line into the blubber?

4. Who attends the whale funeral?

5. What fraction of a whale is made up of its head?

6. To what does Ishmael compare the whale head? Why?

7. Why does Captain Mayhew not board the Pequod as is the custom?

8. How do the men aboard the Jeroboam feel about Gabriel?

9. Specifically, how was Macey killed?

10. Why would Gabriel think an attack on Moby Dick was blasphemy?

1. The blubber is...

(The entire section is 214 words.)

Chapters 72-78 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the function of the monkey rope?

2. To whom is it attached?

3. Why were the men surprised that Ahab wanted them to hunt a right whale?

4. What was his reason?

5. How does Ishmael interpret the expressions on the whales?

6. To what does Ishmael compare the sperm whale’s forehead?

7. What was Tashtego doing when he fell into the head?

8. How was he saved and by whom?

9. To what was his release from the head compared?

10. If Tashtego had died, why would it have been a very “precious perishing”?

1. The rope is a safety line for the...

(The entire section is 240 words.)

Chapters 79-81 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What gives the whale’s physiognomy added grandeur?

2. What does the whale’s hump cover?

3. What does Derrick want from the Pequod?

4. What does he know about the White Whale?

5. Why does the old whale swim with such difficulty?

6. Who harpooned the whale?

7. What did Starbuck try to stop Flask from doing?

8. What was found embedded in the old whale?

9. What unusual thing happened to the dead whale?

10. Why is the finback an uncapturable whale?

1. The whale has no nose.

2. The hump covers its largest vertebra.


(The entire section is 164 words.)

Chapters 82-86 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What lovely maiden did Perseus rescue from Leviathan?

2. How does Ishmael change the story of St. George and the Dragon?

3. What are the Vedas and who retrieved them?

4. What question did the old Sag-Harbor whaleman raise about Jonah’s surviving in the whale’s belly?

5. For what purpose is a pitchpole used?

6. What is the date of the writing of “The Fountain”?

7. How might a whale spout harm a man?

8. What is the length across a whale’s tail?

9. What is meant by “peaking”?

10. What are four other actions of the tail?

1. Perseus...

(The entire section is 214 words.)

Chapters 87-92 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where does the Pequod come upon the huge herd?

2. What is a “drugg”?

3. Where does the harpooned whale tow Ishmael’s boat?

4. What truth is there in “the more whales the less fish”?

5. What becomes of a schoolmaster in old age?

6. What is a Fast-Fish?

7. What happened to the whale captured by the Dover fishermen?

8. What is ironic about the name of the Rose-Bud?

9. How does the Guernsey-man trick his captain?

10. How does Stubb trick the Guernsey-man?

1. The Pequod encounters the herd near the Straits of...

(The entire section is 217 words.)

Chapters 93-99 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is a ship-keeper?

2. Why was Pip put into Stubb’s boat?

3. Why was Tashtego reluctant to cut the line to save Pip?

4. How was Pip rescued?

5. What was the cause of Ishmael’s disorientation?

6. What are the try-works?

7. How is the oil stored?

8. What was on top of each mountain engraved on the coin?

9. What country had minted the doubloon?

10. What would Flask buy if he won the doubloon?

1. Ship-keepers are the men who handle the ship while the whale boats are out. Pip was usually a ship-keeper.

2. One of Stubb’s...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Chapters 100-105 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What problem had Ahab not anticipated in the gam with the Samuel Enderby?

2. How is that problem solved?

3. Describe how the two captains greet each other.

4. Describe the relationship between Boomer and Bunger.

5. What does Ahab do to Bunger? Why?

6. What is the Enderby Whaling House famous for?

7. When did Ishmael go aboard the Enderby?

8. How does Ishmael know about whale skeletons?

9. What had the natives on the Arsacidean island made of the whale skeleton?

10. What does Ishmael think about the extinction of whales?


(The entire section is 183 words.)

Chapters 106-109 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why did Ahab need a new leg?

2. Before going on the voyage, how had Ahab been injured?

3. What mystery does this incident solve?

4. What are some of the skills of the ship’s carpenter?

5. What does Ishmael suggest happened to the carpenter’s brains?

6. Why would Ahab want his ideal man to have a skylight?

7. On what matter does Starbuck go to see Ahab in his cabin?

8. What answer does Ahab give Starbuck?

9. How does Ahab threaten Starbuck?

10. What warning does Starbuck give Ahab?

1. When Ahab hurriedly left the Samuel Enderby,...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

Chapters 110-114 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What causes Queequeg’s illness?

2. What does he put in his coffin?

3. How does Queequeg explain his recovery?

4. What does he do with his coffin?

5. What caused the deaths of Perth’s wife and children?

6. What does Ahab want Perth to make for him?

7. What are the iron and barbs made of?

8. What seam does Ahab ask Perth to smooth?

9. In what are the barbs of the harpoon tempered?

10. What temporarily soothes even Ahab?

1. Working in the slimy, damp hold causes Queequeg’s illness.

2. Queequeg puts the iron of his harpoon,...

(The entire section is 202 words.)

Chapters 115-121 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What are the men of the Bachelor celebrating?

2. What does the Bachelor’s captain say about Moby Dick?

3. What is in the vial that Ahab takes from his pocket?

4. What curious thing do dying sperm whales do?

5. What will Ahab see before he dies?

6. What is the only thing that can kill him?

7. Why does Ahab smash his quadrant?

8. Why does Stubb sing during the fury of the storm?

9. What happens to Ahab’s boat?

10. According to Stubb, why did Ahab remain unharmed when he held the chain end of the lightning rod?

1. The...

(The entire section is 207 words.)

Chapters 122-127 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What information is Starbuck going to report to Ahab?

2. What caused him to think about killing Ahab?

3. Rather than facing Ahab, what does he do?

4. What has happened to the compass?

5. How does Ahab allay the crew’s superstitions?

6. What do Ahab and Pip have in common?

7. Whom does Ahab call “creative libertines”?

8. What did the Manxman think the crying of the seals was?

9. What was used to replace the life buoy?

10. What did the carpenter attach to it?

1. Starbuck is going to report a change in wind direction.

2. The...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

Chapters 128-132 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How was the Rachel’s whaleboat lost?

2. With what horrible dilemma was Captain Gardiner faced ?

3. What did Stubb think Ahab should do regarding Gardiner’s request?

4. Why does Ahab not want to be with Pip?

5. What change has come over the Pequod’s crew?

6. Whom does Ahab entrust with the rope attached to the basket in which he is hoisted aloft?

7. What did the bird do to Ahab?

8. What do the sailors of the Delight see as the Pequod sails away?

9. What family does Ahab have back on Nantucket?

10. What promise did Starbuck’s wife make?


(The entire section is 209 words.)

Chapters 133-135 and Epilogue Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What happens to Ahab’s boat during the first day?

2. How will the men be rewarded if Ahab sights the whale on the day that the whale is killed?

3. What happens to Ahab on the second day?

4. What happens to Fedallah?

5. When does Ahab see Fedallah again as predicted?

6. What are the two hearses Ahab sees before he dies?

7. How does Ahab die by hemp as predicted?

8. What happens to the Pequod and her crew?

9. What “living part of heaven” went down with the ship?

10. How did Ishmael survive?

1. Moby Dick bites Ahab’s boat in...

(The entire section is 220 words.)