Stubb is the second mate of the Pequod’s crew, and just as his title suggests, his overall demeanor exists in between those of the first and third mates, Starbuck and Flask. A Presbyterian from Cape Cod, Stubb possesses a notable nonchalance which allows him to remain rather distanced from Captain Ahab and his unabating desire for revenge against Moby Dick. His entire approach to whaling involves a level calmness and indifference that few other sailors can achieve, and as a result, he has virtually no fear in the face of death. While Stubb does still incur Ahab’s wrath at times, his indifference largely prevents him from getting involved in moments of confrontation like Starbuck does. Stubb’s relaxed behavior and demeanor on the Pequod’s dangerous voyage ultimately implies that he is a fatalist, and this worldview serves as a stark contrast to Ahab’s determination to reclaim his power through killing Moby Dick.
The indifference that Stubb feels, both toward whaling in general and his role on the Pequod, emerges early in the novel as a means of establishing his character as a kind of middle ground among the crew. In Chapter 27, Ishmael explains that Stubb’s long career as a fisherman is responsible for making him relaxed in the face of danger, an attitude which sits in between Starbuck’s reputation “as careful a man as you’ll find” and Flask’s “ignorant, unconscious fearlessness.” Creating this spectrum of characters allows Melville to highlight the diversity of the crew’s points of view, a choice which supports the novel’s broader interest in the role of interpretation. Stubb’s attitude also has elements of light humor which stand out among the intense feelings of other crew members, and this levity comes from his belief in the power of fate. He can laugh easily, calmly lead his crew on a hunt, and bravely put himself in danger because he believes that he is powerless to change the predetermined path that fate has chosen for him.
Stubb’s behavior and the worldview behind it are often at odds with Captain Ahab’s perspective, but his carefree nature ironically keeps this tension from exploding. In Chapter 29, for example, Ahab overhears Stubb making jokes about him and lashes out, harshly berating him. Rather than fighting back, Stubb explains that he does not want to be spoken to in such a manner, calmly walks away, and proceeds to have mixed feelings about what to make of the moment. This approach reflects his ability to adapt in challenging situations, a capability which the Pequod’s monomaniacal captain lacks. Perhaps this quality is what enables Stubb to succeed at whale hunting while Ahab inevitably fails.