What does Starbuck symbolize in Moby Dick?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Starbuck represents a kind of rationality, and conventional Christian morality, in contrast to Ahab’s personal revenge-centered worldview. Starbuck is the one who is able to question Ahab’s quest to kill Moby Dick—he is the one who says to him, about Moby Dick, “To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.” Starbuck himself has has lost a father and brother at sea, and knows first hand the loss whales can cause; but rather than seek some sort of cosmic revenge, Starbuck learns to be careful: as he puts it, “I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs.” Yet for all his courage, Starbuck is still afraid of Ahab: “brave as he might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible in some intrepid men, which … cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.” When Starbuck calls Ahab’s quest “blasphemous” in “The Quarterdeck” chapter, Ahab’s basic response is, “Talk not to me of blasphemy, man! I’d strike the sun if it insulted me”—a statement that overawes Starbuck, who can only mutter “God keep me” in response.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial