Why does the crew choose to follow Ahab in his mission to kill Moby Dick?Herman Melville's Moby Dick

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 36 of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Ahab has paced the deck as is his wont; finally, he orders Starbuck "to send everyone aft." When all the ship's company is assembled, Ahab paces some and then asks them, "What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?" The united voices answer him. Ahab's magnetism is tremendous as he pulls the men's attention.  Before he indicates his intent, he nails a Spanish gold doubloon to the mast; then, after mesmerizing them with this bit of wealth, Ahab mentions Moby Dick.  He tells them,

Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; shosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke--look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!

The "intense interest and surprise" of the harpooners, Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg adds to the the excitement:  they know Moby Dick.  Starbuck then asks if it were not Moby Dick who took off Ahab's leg.  "Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round...."

In his monomanical desire for revenge, Ahab swears that he will chase Moby Dick around the Cape of Good Hope if he must.  He asks the men if they will join him.  The harpooner shout, "Aye! Aye!"  Ahab elicits the crew to help him avenge himself on the White Whale, explaining that the whale represents the impossibility of going behind the superficial layers of nature or reality.  He sees in the white whale "an inscrutable malice."  Further, Nature wears an "unreasoning mask," and Ahab wishes to break through this mask and understand what lies behind it.

Something is touched in the "innermost being" of the men as Ahab declares his both physical and metaphysical mission to find the whale and breakthrough "that pasteboard mask."  He orders the men to have communion with him as a flagon is passed around.  Then, Ahab calls the mates and has them cross their lances cermoniously. He has them remove the ends of their lances and pour the liquor into them.  Alluding to himself as the Pope and his mates as the cardinals, Ahab gives the ceremony religious significance. Ishmael narrates that

A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine.  With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.

The men are mesmerized by the search for the great white, evil whale.  They wish to destroy this force.