What does Moby represent to Ahab, Starbuck, and the crew of the Pequod?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Melville's Moby Dick, to all Moby Dick is a formidable force, but Starbuck, the Quaker, feels that it wrong for Ahab to seek vengeance upon a dumb brute:  "to be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."  But Ahab responds Ahab feels justified in wreaking evil upon a being that is evil: 

He tasks me, he heaps me, I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the White Whale agent of be the White Whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.

While Ahab seeks revenge for the loss of his leg; he also wants to strike though the exterior of Moby Dick--the "pasteboard" and "unreasoning mask"--in order to understand what secrets and evil Nature disguises.  Ahab and Starbuck are foils of each other; whereas Starbuck advocates moderation, Captain Ahab incites the entire crew in his search for vengeance. For, after their pagan ceremony in which they pass the flagon and drink from it, the men are united in their search for Moby Dick.  But, theirs is a hunt for a mystical monster, a grand trophy for whom the first to sight him will be given a Spanish dragoon. "God keep me!--keep us all!" murmurs Starbuck lowly as the others partake of the pagan ceremony.