Moby Dick Summary

Moby Dick summary

In Moby Dick, Ishmael tells the story of Captain Ahab and the white whale. Ahab, the grizzled captain of the whaling boat the Pequod, has become obsessed with the white whale that eludes him. Ahab's relentless pursuit of the whale results in tragedy.

  • Ishmael joins the crew of the Pequod, a whaling ship helmed by Captain Ahab. There, he befriends a fellow shipmate, Queequeg.

  • Captain Ahab reveals that the white whale, Moby Dick, bit off his leg and that this is why he has a peg leg. Ahab continuously seeks information from other boats as to the white whale's location.

  • In a deadly confrontation, the entire crew of the Pequod is killed except for Ishmael, who lives to tell this story.


Moby Dick cover image

Summary of the Novel
Ishmael, the narrator of the story, explains that he goes to sea whenever he is depressed. In the port of New Bedford, he stays at the Spouter Inn. He is at first frightened by Queequeg, his tattooed, tomahawk-toting bedmate, who has been out selling shrunken heads. Queequeg soon becomes Ishmael’s bosom friend.

Ishmael attends a service at the Whaleman’s Chapel where Father Mapple gives a sermon about Jonah and the whale. The next day, Queequeg and Ishmael set out for Nantucket where they sign onto a whaler. On the ferry ride to the island, a young man mocks Queequeg. Later, this same young man falls overboard and is saved by Queequeg.

While Queequeg performs his rites of Ramadan in the room at the Try Pots, Ishmael signs onto the whaler Pequod owned by the Quaker captains, Bildad and Peleg. The heathen Queequeg must prove his skill as a harpooner before he is accepted.

As the two friends are about to board the Pequod, they are accosted by the crazed Elijah, who utters vague warnings about Ahab and the voyage. In the mist, they see four or five shadowy figures go aboard. The ship sets sail on Christmas day. The chief mate, Starbuck, chooses Queequeg for his harpooneer; the second mate, Stubb, chooses the Indian, Tashtego; and the third mate, Flask, chooses the African, Daggoo.

Several days after the ship sets sail, Ahab finally appears on deck. His appearance sends shivers through Ishmael. A white scar runs from his hairline, over his face, and down his neck beneath his clothing. He stands upon an artificial leg made of whale bone.

Ahab calls all men on deck. He hammers a gold doubloon to the mast and tells the men that the first to spot Moby Dick, the white whale, will win the coin. Ahab admits that it was Moby Dick that took off his leg.

When the first whale is sighted and the boats are lowered, the sailors are surprised to see Ahab in his own boat with a mysterious crew who had been hidden below deck. The exotic Fedallah is his harpooner. A squall comes up during the chase. Ishmael's boat capsizes and is later nearly rammed by the Pequod.

After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the ship has its first of many gams, or meetings with other ships. Ahab’s sole purpose in communicating with these ships is to get news of Moby Dick. Several of the ships have lost men to the whale. The Rachel has recently chased Moby Dick and is now searching for a lost boat. The young son of the captain is in that boat, but Ahab refuses to join the search. Starbuck confronts Ahab and tries to convince him to abandon his mission to get his revenge on Moby Dick.

Stubb’s boat is the first to kill a whale. While Stubb eats his whale steak, Fleece, the cook, delivers a sermon to the sharks. During the cleaning of another whale, Tashtego falls into the tun, the forehead of the whale containing the spermaceti. When the head breaks loose from the ship and falls into the water, Tashtego is rescued by Queegueg. Pip, the timid black boy, is temporarily abandoned in the sea during another whale chase which drives him to madness. Queequeg, stricken with fever and believing death is near, has the ship’s carpenter build him a coffin.

Ahab has the blacksmith fashion a special harpoon, tempered in the blood of the heathen harpooners. During a storm, Ahab holds the harpoon above his head and it is struck by lightning. Later, Ahab has a dream, which is interpreted by Fedallah. The Parsee predicts that he will die before Ahab, that only hemp can kill Ahab, and that before he dies, Ahab will see two hearses upon the sea.

At last, Moby Dick is sighted by Ahab. The chase lasts three days. Fedallah dies, lashed by tangled lines to the body of the great beast. Ahab thrusts his harpoon into Moby Dick, but his line runs afoul and catches him around the neck; he is pulled down to the depths. Moby Dick smashes into the bow of the Pequod, and Queequeg’s coffin shoots out of the whirlpool created by the sinking ship. The only survivor, Ishmael, clings to this strange life buoy and is later rescued.

Estimated Reading Time

Reading time will improve as the reader becomes accustomed to Melville’s style. In an hour’s sitting, 30 to 35 pages could be covered. The book could be completed in 20 to 25 hours.

Moby Dick Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ishmael is a schoolmaster who often feels that he must leave his quiet existence and go to sea. Much of his life has been spent as a sailor, and his voyages are a means of ridding himself of the restlessness that frequently seizes him. One day, he decides that he will sign on a whaling ship, and packing his carpetbag, he leaves Manhattan and sets out, bound for Cape Horn and the Pacific.

On his arrival in New Bedford, Ishmael goes to the Spouter Inn near the waterfront to spend the night. There he finds he can have a bed only if he consents to share it with a harpooner. His strange bedfellow frightens him when he enters the room, for Ishmael is certain that he is a savage cannibal. After a few moments, however, it becomes evident that the native, whose name is Queequeg, is a friendly person, for he presents Ishmael with an embalmed head and offers to share his fortune of thirty dollars. The two men quickly become friends and decide to sign on the same ship.

Eventually they sign on the Pequod, a whaler out of Nantucket, Ishmael as a seaman, Queequeg as a harpooner. Although several people seem dubious about the success of a voyage on a vessel such as the Pequod, which is reported to be under a strange man, Captain Ahab, neither Ishmael nor Queequeg has any intention of giving up their plans. They are, however, curious to see Captain Ahab.

For several days after the vessel has sailed, there is no sign of the Captain, as he remains hidden in his cabin. The running of the ship is left to Starbuck and Stubb, two of the mates, and though Ishmael becomes friendly with them, he learns very little more about Ahab. One day, as the ship is sailing southward, the Captain strides out on deck. Ishmael is struck by his stern, relentless expression. In particular, he notices that the Captain has lost a leg and that instead of a wooden leg, he now wears one cut from the bone of the jaw of a whale. A livid white scar runs down one side of his face and is lost beneath his collar, so that it seems as though he were scarred from head to foot.

For several days, the ship continues south looking for whale schools. The sailors take turns on masthead watches to give the sign when a whale is sighted. Ahab appears on deck and summons all his men around him. He pulls out a one ounce gold piece, nails it to the mast, and declares that the first man to sight the great white whale, known to the sailors as Moby Dick, would get the gold. Everyone expresses enthusiasm for the quest except Starbuck and Stubb, Starbuck especially deploring the madness with which Ahab has directed all his energies to this one end. He tells the Captain that he is like a man possessed, for the white whale is a menace to those who would attempt to kill him. Ahab lost his leg in his last encounter with Moby Dick; he might lose his life in the next meeting, but the Captain does not listen to the mate’s warning. Liquor is brought out and, at the Captain’s orders, the crew drinks to the destruction of Moby Dick.

Ahab, from what he knows of the last reported whereabouts of the whale, plots a course for the ship that will bring it into the area where Moby Dick is most likely to be. Near the Cape of Good Hope, the ship comes across a school of sperm whales, and the men busy themselves harpooning, stripping, melting, and storing as many as they are able to catch. When the ship encounters another whaling vessel at sea, Captain Ahab asks for news about the white whale. The captain of the ship warns him not to attempt to chase Moby Dick, but it is clear by now that nothing can deflect Ahab from the course he has chosen.

Another vessel stops them, and the captain of the ship boards the Pequod to buy some oil for his vessel. Captain Ahab again demands news of the whale, but the captain knows nothing of the monster. As the captain is returning to his ship, he and his men spot a school of six whales and start after them in their rowboats. While Starbuck and Stubb rally their men into the Pequod’s boats, their rivals are already far ahead of them. The two mates, however, urge their crew until they outstrip their rivals in the race, and Queequeg harpoons the largest whale.

Killing the whale is only the beginning of a long and arduous job. After the carcass is dragged to the side of the boat and lashed to it by ropes, the men descend the side and slash off the blubber. Much of the body is usually demolished by sharks, who stream around, snapping at the flesh of the whale and at each other. The head of the whale is removed and suspended several feet in the air, above the deck of the ship. After the blubber is cleaned, it is melted in tremendous try-pots and then stored in vats below deck.

The men are kept busy, but their excitement increases as their ship nears the Indian Ocean and the probable sporting grounds of the white whale. Before long, they cross the path of an English whaling vessel, and Captain Ahab again demands news of Moby Dick. In answer, the captain of the English ship holds out his arm, which from the elbow down consists of sperm whalebone. Ahab demands that his boat be lowered at once, and he quickly boards the deck of the other ship. The captain tells him of his encounter and warns Captain Ahab that it is foolhardy to try to pursue Moby Dick. When he tells Ahab where he had seen the white whale last, the captain of the Pequod waits for no civilities but returns to his own ship to order the course changed to carry him to Moby Dick’s new feeding ground. Starbuck tries to reason with the mad Captain, to persuade him to give up this insane pursuit, but Ahab seizes a rifle and in his fury orders the mate out of his cabin.

Meanwhile, Queequeg has fallen ill with a fever. When it seemed almost certain he would die, he requests that the carpenter make him a coffin in the shape of a canoe, according to the custom of his tribe. The coffin is then placed in the cabin with the sick man, but as yet there is no real need for it. Queequeg recovers from his illness and rejoins his shipmates. He uses his coffin as a sea chest and carves many strange designs upon it.

The sailors had been puzzled by the appearance early in the voyage of the Parsee servant, Fedallah. His relationship to the Captain cannot be determined, but that he is highly regarded is evident. Fedallah prophesies that the Captain will die only after he has seen two strange hearses for carrying the dead upon the sea, one not constructed by mortal hands and the other made of wood grown in America. He also says that the Captain himself will have neither hearse nor coffin for his burial.

A terrible storm arises one night. Lightning strikes the masts so that all three flame against the blackness of the night, and the men are frightened by this omen. It seems to them that the hand of God is motioning them to turn from the course to which they had set themselves and return to their homes. Only Captain Ahab is undaunted by the sight. He plants himself at the foot of the mast and challenges the god of evil, which the fire symbolizes for him. He vows once again his determination to find and kill the white whale.

A few days later, a cry rings through the ship. Moby Dick has been spotted. The voice is that of Captain Ahab. None of the sailors, alert as they had been, had been able to sight the whale before their captain. Boats are lowered and the chase begins, with Captain Ahab’s boat in the lead. As he is about to dash his harpoon into the side of the mountain of white, the whale suddenly turns on the boat, dives under it, and splits it into pieces. The men are thrown into the sea, and for some time the churning of the whale prevents rescue. At length, Ahab orders the rescuers to ride into the whale and frighten him away, so he and his men could be rescued. The rest of that day is spent chasing the whale, but to no avail.

The second day, the men start out again. They catch up with the whale and bury three harpoons into his white flanks, but he so turns and churns that the lines become twisted, and the boats are pulled every way, with no control over their direction. Two of them are splintered, and the men hauled out of the sea, but Ahab’s boat has not as yet been touched. Suddenly, it is lifted from the water and thrown high into the air. The Captain and the men are quickly rescued, but Fedallah is nowhere to be found.

When the third day of the chase begins, Moby Dick seems tired, and the Pequod’s boats soon overtake him. Bound to the whale’s back by the coils of rope from the harpoon poles, they see the body of Fedallah. The first part of his prophecy had been fulfilled. Moby Dick, enraged by his pain, turns on the boats and splinters them. On the Pequod, Starbuck watches and turns the ship toward the whale in the hope of saving the Captain and some of the crew. The infuriated monster swims directly into the Pequod, shattering the ship’s timbers. Ahab, seeing the ship founder, cries out that the Pequod—made of wood grown in America—is the second hearse of Fedallah’s prophecy. The third prophecy, Ahab’s death by hemp, is fulfilled when rope from Ahab’s harpoon coils around his neck and snatches him from his boat. All except Ishmael perish. He is rescued by a passing ship after clinging for hours to Queequeg’s canoe coffin, which had bobbed to the surface as the Pequod sank.

Moby Dick Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Moby Dick: Or, The Whale is Melville’s masterpiece, the book in which he most thoroughly used his experiences in the South Seas to examine the human condition and the metaphysical questions that were at the center of the author’s troubled worldview. From the novel’s famous opening line, “Call me Ishmael,” the reader is addressed directly by the book’s youthful but embittered narrator. Unlike many of Melville’s youthful narrators, Ishmael is not presented as a young innocent, although he does face an initiation into the ways of the world. Instead, he is depicted as a young man with a past, who takes to the sea to avoid taking some more drastic action in response to the difficulties he has faced.

Ishmael comes to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to sign on to a whaling ship, but before sailing he is confronted with comic and foreboding events that suggest the broad range of the novel. First, Ishmael shares a bed with a tattooed South Seas islander named Queequeg. Despite his initial comic horror, Ishmael demonstrates his open-mindedness by overcoming his fears and becoming friends with the cannibal.

Ishmael also attends the famous whaleman’s chapel, where he hears Father Mapple deliver a sermon based on the story of Jonah and the whale, a sermon that emphasizes the dangers of human pride. After selecting the Pequod, a ship named after an Indian tribe that was massacred by the Puritans, the narrator and his new pagan companion are confronted by a strange old man who warns them of dangers to come.

The Pequod sails on Christmas, but Captain Ahab remains in his cabin for many days. Meanwhile, the ship is managed by the three mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. Ishmael describes the careful hierarchy of the ship, whose ethnically diverse crew composes a microcosmic vision of the world. When Ahab does reveal himself to the crew, his scarred face and whalebone peg leg present a sobering image of a physically and mentally damaged man.

Ishmael, who is reflective and open to all ideas, provides the reader with a wealth of information regarding whales, whaling, and whaling ships. His approach to the gathering of knowledge is eclectic, ranging from scientific classification to imaginative association. As the Pequod’s crew hunts for whales and Ahab hunts for Moby Dick, Ishmael hunts for meaning.

In the pivotal chapter, titled “The Quarter-Deck,” Ahab reveals his purpose to the men. In a masterful display of persuasive oratory, he stirs the crew to dedicate themselves to assist him in his vengeful pursuit of the white whale and nails a gold doubloon to the mast as the prize to the man who sights Moby Dick. When Starbuck, whose name suggests his struggle against fate, questions Ahab’s personal pursuit of vengeance against a dumb animal, Ahab reveals his belief that the world is operated by a malicious force that works through visible objects. Thus, Ahab’s quest is not only a matter of individual vengeance but an effort to strike at the controlling force of nature.

During the journey around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean, the Pequod’s crew lowers boats to pursue whales. Ahab then reveals the special boat led by the demonic Fedallah, which he has kept hidden. The Pequod also meets other vessels. Before the novel is over, the Pequod has met nine other ships (Goney, Town-Ho, Jereboam, Jungfrau, Bouton-de-rose, Samuel Enderby, Bachelor, Rachel, and Delight), and each meeting adds perspective to Ahab’s mad quest. As he begins to hear direct testimony about the white whale from sailors on other ships, Ahab’s obsession intensifies. He orders his men to ignore opportunities to capture other whales and frantically studies his charts.

Before the final, tragic confrontation, the African American cabin boy, Pip, is lost overboard and goes insane before he is finally rescued by the Pequod. Touched by the lad’s condition, Ahab takes Pip under his personal care, and Pip returns Ahab’s kindness with an innocent devotion that almost distracts Ahab from his vengeful course. It is clear that in order to persevere in his quest, Ahab must sever all ties of human affection.

In the end, the crew of the Pequod wages a three-day battle against Moby Dick, a struggle that concludes with the whale’s destruction of the ship and all the crew except Ishmael. The narrator ironically escapes aboard Queequeg’s coffin and survives to tell the tale.

Moby Dick is an expansive book in which Melville uses diverse styles. The book incorporates a wide range of dialects and rhetorical models as different as the new sermon and the tall tale. As in Typee and other earlier novels, Melville inserts autonomous chapters, such as the chapter on cetology, that interrupt the narrative; in Moby Dick, however, the interrelation of these chapters to the themes of the book is closer. Moreover, most of the autonomous chapters in Moby Dick use a particular subject, object, or event to present Ishmael’s musings on the meaning of experience.

Moby Dick Summary

Call Me Ishmael
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale chronicles the strange journey of an ordinary seaman named Ishmael who...

(The entire section is 1237 words.)

Moby Dick Chapter Summary and Analysis

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Moby Dick Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Ishmael: the narrator of the story; a seaman

Ishmael explains he has chosen to go to sea to cure his depression as an alternative to suicide. There is “magic” in bodies of water, he says. “Crowds of water-gazers” flock to the wharfs of Manhattan, a temporary escape from the occupations in which they are “pent up.” Wanderers in the woods find their way to lakes.

Ishmael never goes to sea as a passenger; he doesn’t have the money to pay. He never goes as an officer; he has all he can do to take care of himself. He never goes as a cook. Rather, he goes to sea as a “simple sailor” to get paid, to get exercise, and to breathe...

(The entire section is 400 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 2-4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Peter Coffin: the owner of the Spouter Inn

Bulkington: a whaler in the Spouter Inn just returned from a

Queequeg: a pagan harpooner with whom Ishmael must share a bed

Ishmael stays over in New Bedford, waiting for a packet to take him to Nantucket. He searches the cold, dark streets for a place to stay. After accidentally going into a “Negro church,” he comes upon a sign, “The Spouter Inn:—Peter Coffin.”

The entryway of the inn reminds Ishmael of a “condemned old craft.” Dominating the scene is a large, enigmatic oil painting, which Ishmael interprets as a “half-foundered” ship in a...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 5-9 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Father Mapple: pastor of the seamen’s chapel

Ishmael greets his landlord and bears no hard feelings for the joke Peter Coffin played in the matter of his bedfellow. All the boarders, mostly whalemen, gather at the table for breakfast. Although they are all adventurers, paradoxically, they are timid in the social setting. Queequeg sits at the head of the table, using his harpoon to “grapple” the steak.

After breakfast, Ishmael ventures into the streets of New Bedford where he sees all manner of people including “cannibals chatting at street corners” and hayseeds from Vermont “athirst for the glory” of whaling. Nonetheless, New...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 10-15 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Bumpkin: mocks Queequeg on packet to Nantucket

Mr. and Mrs. Hosea Hussey: owners of the Try Pots Inn

Ishmael returns to the Spouter Inn, where he finds Queequeg turning through the pages of a book. They share a smoke from the tomahawk pipe, and Queequeg declares Ishmael a bosom friend for whom he would die. Ishmael joins Queequeg in his rites of praising the ebony idol.

Queequeg tells Ishmael of his past. The son of a high chief from Kokovoko, Queequeg was determined to learn more about Christians and to bring his knowledge back to his people to make them happier. After being picked up by a ship, he discovered that Christians...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 16-18 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Yojo: Queequeg’s little god, the black idol

Captains Peleg and Bildad: Quaker Nantucketers, owners of the Pequod

Captain Ahab: captain of the Pequod

The Pequod: ship onto which Ishmael signs

Queequeg believes that Yojo has told him to have Ishmael pick out a whaling ship. While Queequeg begins his day of fasting, Ishmael chooses the Pequod. He signs on with the owners, Bildad and Peleg, who after some bickering, give Ishmael the 300th lay, his share of the profit from the whaling voyage.

When Ishmael asks to see his captain, Peleg tells him...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 19-25 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Elijah: a strange, ragged old man; a prophet of doom

Aunt Charity: Bildad’s sister

As Queequeg and Ishmael approach the Pequod, which is being made ready for its long voyage, they are accosted by Elijah, who makes many vague and unsettling innuendos about the ship and its captain, whom he calls Old Thunder.

The morning the ship is to set sail, Ishmael sees some “shadows,” which he takes to be men, boarding the boat. Elijah approaches him once again and tells him to see if he can find those sailors when he goes aboard. Although Ahab had come on the ship the night before sailing, he has remained in his cabin.


(The entire section is 425 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 26-31 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Starbuck: chief mate

Stubb: second mate

Flask: third mate, called King-Post

Tashtego: Stubb’s Indian harpooner

Daggoo: Flask’s African harpooner

The first two chapters of this section, both entitled “Knights and Squires,” describe the officers of the Pequod. “Three better, more likely sea-officers and men, each in his own different way, could not readily be found, and they were every one of them Americans.”

Starbuck, a Quaker, is a lean, “steadfast man.” He had lost both a father and a brother to whaling and has a family at home. Consequently, he is a cautious whaleman...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 32-35 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Dough-Boy: the cabin steward

Ishmael believes that to understand the references to whales that will follow in his narrative, it is first necessary to have some knowledge of the general classifications of whales. He defines the whale as “a spouting fish with a horizontal tail.” He then classifies whales according to size into three “books,” each with its “chapters.” The first book is made of the largest whales, such as the sperm and right whales. The second consists of middle-sized whales, such as the narwhale and killer whale. The last contains porpoises.

Ishmael then explains the hierarchy of the whale ship. The chief harpooner...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 36-40 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Pip: the cabin boy

Ahab summons all hands to the quarter-deck. He hammers a gold coin to the mast and promises it to the first man who sees the white whale “with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw.” Ahab admits that it is Moby Dick, the whale that “dismasted” him. He also admits that killing Moby Dick is the purpose of the voyage. He rallies all the men behind him; only Starbuck dissents.

Ahab gathers the crew around him, his hand upon the crossed lances of his mates. They all drink from a pewter goblet. The harpooners drink from the detached iron spears of their harpoons.

Ahab, alone in his cabin, cannot enjoy the beauty...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 41-42 Summary and Analysis

As encounters with Moby Dick become more frequent among whalers, rumors about him grow more fantastic. Some say he is ubiquitous, that he could be in two places at once. Others say that he is immortal. Many ascribe to the creature a kind of malignant intelligence.

Ishmael learns more about Ahab’s encounter with Moby Dick. His three boats stove in and his crew swirling in the eddies, Ahab futilely plunged a six-inch blade into the whales’s flank. It was then that Moby Dick took his leg in his great, crooked jaw.

Ahab’s madness came upon him during the homeward voyage. For months, he lay in his hammock, “his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another” and so made...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 43-47 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Archy and Cabaco: sailors aboard the Pequod

Archy hears coughs from under the hatches where no one should be. Cabaco tells him it must be something he ate. Every night in his cabin, Ahab studies nautical charts trying to map out the most likely path to bring him to Moby Dick. For several years the whale has been sighted at the time and place known as Season-on-the-Line. The Season will not occur for another year, but in the meantime, Ahab plots the migratory patterns of sperm whales.

Ishmael offers proof for all he has said about whales. Whales do have recognizable traits and are given names such as Rinaldo Rinaldini,...

(The entire section is 385 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 48-51 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Fedallah: Ahab’s mysterious harpooner

Ahab’s boat is lowered by Fedallah and his crew. Fedallah is tall and dark and has one tooth protruding from his lips. His braided white hair is wrapped around his head like a turban. Ahab takes his place at the helm of his whale boat. All the other boats are lowered as well.

Just as Queequeg throws his harpoon at a whale, the boat is swamped. Ishmael, Starbuck, and the others are thrown from the boat, but manage to pull themselves back in. They are separated from the others and lost all night in the storm and fog. At dawn, the Pequod finds them. After this incident, Ishmael makes out a...

(The entire section is 367 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 52-54 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Radney: mate on the Town-Ho

Steelkilt: sailor on the Town-Ho

Dons Pedro and Sebastian: young men to whom Ishmael told the Town-Ho’s story

The Albatross: ship with which the Pequod has an unsuccessful gam

The Town-Ho: ship manned by Polynesians

Southwest of the Cape of Good Hope, the Pequod meets the Albatross, a ship heading home after a four-year voyage. Ahab hails the ship asking if they have seen the White Whale. As the other captain is about to reply, he drops the horn through which he was about to speak into the water. His...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 55-60 Summary and Analysis

Few pictures of whales are accurate because the true majesty of the whale can be seen only in unfathomable waters. However, there are many pictures of whales. A crippled beggar in London holds a painted board depicting the scene in which he lost his leg. Sailors carve and etch whale bone and whale teeth, a craft called scrimshanding or scrimshaw. With imagination, whales can be seen in the stars and in undulating mountain ridges.

The Pequod cruises through a meadow of brit, the yellow substance eaten by right whales. Daggoo raises the cry for the White Whale, but what he has sighted is really a huge, white squid. Starbuck considers it a bad omen.

Typically, the whaling...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 61-66 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Fleece: a 90-year-old, black cook

Drowsing during his watch at the foremast-head, Ishmael, spots a gigantic sperm whale lolling in the tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean. The boats are lowered; Tashtego harpoons the whale; and Stubb kills it with his lance.

“It is the harpooneer that makes the voyage.” He must cast his harpoon 20 or 30 feet after rowing with all his strength and shouting loudly at the same time. Two harpoons are set in the crotch, but the second is usually thrown overboard where it dangles dangerously from the main harpoon line.

The whale is secured next to the Pequod. Stubb tries to enjoy his whale...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 67-71 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Captain Mayhew: captain of the Jeroboam

Gabriel: crazed prophet and crewman on the Jeroboam

Macey: Jeroboam’s chief mate killed by Moby Dick

The Jeroboam: ship plagued by an epidemic

On Sunday, a pulley system is rigged to the mast and a hook is attached to a huge strip of blubber. The strip of blubber is peeled from the whale like a peel from an orange. Starbuck and Stubb stand on staging just above the whale and simultaneously cut a scarf line with their sharp shovels. The whale spins like a log in the water as the spiraled blubber, called the blanket, is hoisted up....

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 72-78 Summary and Analysis

During the process of stripping the blubber from the whale, Queequeg must mount the carcass to secure the hook. For safety, he is attached to a monkey rope, a line which runs up the side of the ship and is attached to Ishmael.

Ahab orders the killing of a right whale because Fedallah has told him that a boat with a sperm whale head on one side and a right whale head on the other cannot sink.

Stubb and Flask kill a right whale. While they are towing it back to the boat, they discuss Fedallah. Stubb believes him to be the devil and suggests that Ahab has made a pact with him.

Ishmael contrasts the two whale heads now hoisted on either side of the ship. The sperm...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 79-81 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Derrick De Deer: captain of the Jungfrau

Jungfrau (Virgin): German ship empty of whale oil

Ishmael describes the physiognomy of the whale. The sperm whale has no nose, which gives the creature an added grandeur. Its brow gives it a “high and mighty God-like dignity.” The sperm whale is a fit object for pagan worship.

The brain is encased in a skull, which when scaled down, is not unlike man’s. The whale’s hump rises over one of its largest vertebrae. This hump indicates the “indomitableness” of the sperm whale.

The next whale hunt, involving both the Jungfrau and the...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 82-86 Summary and Analysis

Ishmael names “demi-gods, heroes, and prophets” who have been whalers: among them, Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Vishnu, and Jonah.

Not long after the Jungfrau episode, whales are spotted. The chase requires the use of the pitchpole, a 10- to 12-foot lance much lighter than a harpoon. The pitchpole can be thrown some distance to pierce the whale and then pulled back by a line and thrown again and again. Tashtego plants his iron in a whale, but the whale continues its fleet flight. The pitchpole is used to slow it down, and then it is caught.

Ishmael continues his speculations about the whale’s physiology. He tells us he is writing this particular passage on...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 87-92 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Guernseyman: first mate of the Rose-Bud

Rose-Bud: French ship with two rotting whales secured to her

Near the straits of Sunda, the Pequod is chased by Malaysian pirates whom the Pequod is able to outrun. The ship then encounters a huge herd of whales. Mid-chase, the whales become “gallied,” disoriented and swimming about in all directions. Queequeg harpoons a whale that escapes after towing the boat into a calm spot occupied by cows and their calves. The oarsmen pet them. Beneath the surface, cows nurse their young.

The whalers use a “drugg” to injure the gallied whales and slow them...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 93-99 Summary and Analysis

Pip replaces an injured man in Stubb’s boat. Pip is jarred from the boat and caught in the harpoon line. Tashtego grudgingly cuts the line to save Pip and loses the whale in doing so. On another hunt, Pip is once again thrown into the sea, but this time Stubb leaves him. Pip is later picked up by the Pequod, but his experience has left him mad.

Ishmael explains more steps in the processing of the whale. As the sperm cools in the tubs, it hardens. The sailors dip in their hands and squeeze the lumps back to liquid. Also, the whale’s phallus is skinned, the skin is dried, arm holes are cut in it, and the mincer slips it on before cutting up pieces of blubber for the melting...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 100-105 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Captain Boomer: one-armed captain of the Samuel Enderby

Dr. Bunger: ship’s doctor aboard the Samuel Enderby

Samuel Enderby: hospitable English ship

The Pequod has a gam with the Samuel Enderby. The blubber-hook is lowered for Ahab to be hoisted aboard the English ship. Captain Boomer lost his arm to Moby Dick. His boat was smashed and his arm pierced by a loose harpoon. Later, his arm had to be amputated. His carpenter made him a whale-bone arm.

Captain Boomer tells Ahab he has seen the White Whale, but advises him to let well enough alone. Ahab becomes so agitated that...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 106-109 Summary and Analysis

Ahab had left the Samuel Enderby in such haste that he did damage to his ivory leg. Prior to the Pequod’s voyage, he had had another mishap involving his leg. Ahab had been found unconscious, lying face down, the leg nearly piercing his groin. The wound had not totally healed when the Pequod sailed, which explains why Ahab kept to his cabin at the beginning of the voyage. Because Ahab is now wary of any weakness in his leg, the ship’s carpenter fashions him another.

A leak is suspected in the oil barrels. Starbuck enters Ahab’s cabin to ask permission to “up Burtons”;—that is, to take the barrels out of the hold and find the leak. Ahab forbids it, for...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 110-114 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Perth: the Pequod’s blacksmith

Working in the dank hold to hoist the barrels, Queequeg becomes sick and nearly dies with fever. He orders the carpenter to make “a canoe” such as those in which the fallen whalemen of Nantucket are laid to rest. In the coffin, Queequeg places the iron from his harpoon, biscuits, water, and a bag of earth. He climbs in it, crosses his arms, and asks to have Yojo placed on his breast.

Pip asks Queequeg when he goes on his journey to seek out one called Pip, who has long been missing, and give him comfort. Queequeg, however, recovers when he remembers he has some duty to take care of on shore. He...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 115-121 Summary and Analysis

New Character
The Bachelor: homeward bound ship full of whale oil

Full of oil, the Bachelor joyously celebrates the beginning of her homeward journey. The captain tells Ahab he has heard of the White Whale, but doesn’t believe in him. He invites Ahab aboard, but Ahab tells him to be on his way.

Soon after, as if the good luck of the Bachelor had rubbed off, the Pequod kills four whales. Ahab watches as the whale he killed turns its head to the sun, as do all dying sperm whales. Ahab’s boat stays with its whale during the night since it is too far from the ship to be brought in before nightfall.


(The entire section is 597 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 122-127 Summary and Analysis

Starbuck goes below to inform Ahab that the wind has changed to a fair wind. Outside Ahab’s cabin, Starbuck removes a loaded musket from the rack. He thinks perhaps he should kill Ahab or at least overpower him and take him prisoner. He reasons that Ahab would have killed him with that very same musket, and Ahab has no compunction about endangering the whole crew. Starbuck turns from the door and sends Stubb back down to tell Ahab about the change in wind direction.

The next morning on deck, Ahab realizes the ship is sailing west, but the compass reads east. The storm had affected the compass needles, a most unsettling omen to the superstitious sailors. To allay their fears and show them...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 128-132 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Captain Gardiner: captain of the Rachel

The Rachel: ship that has lost a whaleboat and its men

The Delight: ship that lost five men to Moby Dick

Captain Gardiner of the Rachel begs Ahab’s help in finding a whaleboat which was last seen fastened to Moby Dick. In that whaleboat is Gardiner’s 12-year-old son. Ahab refuses.

Ahab now spends all his time on deck and refuses to be in Pip’s company. Ahab fears Pip will soften his heart and divert him from his purpose. His silent companion on deck is Fedallah, who never takes his eyes off Ahab.

Afraid that his men cannot...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Moby Dick Chapters 133-135 and Epilogue Summary and Analysis

Ahab is the first to spot Moby Dick. All boats, except Starbuck’s, are lowered and give chase. Just when it seems the whale has sounded, he rises straight up from the deep below Ahab’s boat and bites the boat in two. Under Starbuck’s command, The Pequod, drives the whale off, and Ahab and his crew are rescued.

On the second day, Moby Dick seems intent on destroying all three boats. The harpoon lines, fast to the whale, become so entangled that Stubb’s and Flask’s boats are drawn into each other and smashed. When Ahab’s boat comes to their rescue, Moby Dick lifts it right up out of the water and dumps its men into the sea. Fedallah is drawn under in the tangle of...

(The entire section is 595 words.)