Starbuck is the Pequod’s first mate, and his pragmatic attitude often serves as a foil for Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal desire for revenge. This difference in perspective often puts the two in conflict throughout their voyage, thus allowing Melville to explore the impact of authoritarianism even when it meets resistance. In Chapter 26, Ishmael offers a breakdown of the ship’s crew and explains that Starbuck is a Quaker and a native of Nantucket, two characteristics that he actually shares with his captain. Despite their similar backgrounds, the unique ways in which they view the world and their role in it ultimately shape their behavior throughout the course of the novel. Starbuck allows his rationality, work ethic, and courage to guide him, although the pervasiveness of Ahab’s fury on the Pequod eventually begins to take a toll on his morals as well. 

From some of the crew’s earliest interactions with Captain Ahab, Starbuck stands out as the voice of reason among them and is unafraid to push back against their leader’s aggressive rhetoric. In Chapter 36, for example, Starbuck speaks up in front of the entire crew and tells Ahab that his only obligation is to do his job and hunt whales for their oil, not to carry out personal acts of revenge. This bold statement, along with his later assessment of Ahab’s rage as “blasphemous,” reflects the depth of his commitment to his own values as he willingly makes himself vulnerable to his captain’s wrath. Even when he does eventually acquiesce to Ahab’s authority, Starbuck maintains his belief that their journey is ill-fated because of its irrational purpose and hopes to convince his captain to change course.

As their hunt for Moby Dick draws nearer to its conclusion, however, Starbuck begins to feel the influence of Ahab’s constant anger and almost loses sight of his reserved point of view. The ongoing tension between them leads Starbuck to consider killing the captain in Chapter 123, especially since Ahab almost took his life in a moment of rage in Chapter 109. At this point, the sudden similarities between Starbuck’s thought process and Ahab’s impulse reflect just how far the influence of authoritarianism can extend. A streak of evil emerges in Starbuck after continual exposure to his captain’s tirades, suggesting that even his strict sense of morals cannot fully withstand the pressure of external influences. He ultimately resists this temptation, however, and even has a heartfelt moment with his captain as Ahab expresses regrets about their voyage. Starbuck never gives up in his attempts to convince Ahab to desist, and although he fails in the end, he manages to reassert his own moral code in his final moments.