The major story elements of this novel can be summarized as follows:
Setting: The story takes place almost entirely at sea with the important characters all aboard the Pequod, Captain Ahab's ship.
Character: While the cast of characters in this long novel is considerable, there are only a few central characters. These include Captain Ahab. Ahab is the main character and drives the action of the novel. Other central characters are Ishmael, who narrates much of the story, Quequeq, Starbuck, Pippin and, to some extent, the whale Moby Dick.
Conflict:: The story's conflict is driven by Ahab's desire to take revenge on the white whale (to kill the whale), thereby affirming his right to free will (and the potency of independent will).
Climax and Resolution: The novel reaches its climax when the crew of the Pequod spots Moby Dick and gives chase. After a three day chase, the Pequod catches Moby Dick. The whale is harpooned. It then turns to ram the ship and sinks it, killing everyone but Ishmael.
As the ship sinks, the whirlpool draws him closer to the site of the wreck, but because of his distance from the ship, he is not pulled under. Instead, out of the center of the whirlpool, Queequeg’s coffin rises to save him. Aided by the strange “life preserver,” Ishmael floats for “almost one whole day and night” before the Rachel, a whaling ship searching for part of its crew, picks him up.