The narrator, and a junior member of the crew of the Pequod. Ishmael doesn’t play a major role in the events of the novel, but much of the narrative is taken up by his eloquent, verbose, and extravagant discourse on whales and whaling.
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The egomaniacal captain of the Pequod. Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick. He is single-minded in his pursuit of the whale, using a mixture of charisma and terror to persuade his crew to join him. As a captain, he is dictatorial but not unfair. At moments he shows a compassionate side, caring for the insane Pip and musing on his wife and child back in Nantucket.
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The great white sperm whale. Moby Dick, also referred to as the White Whale, is an infamous and dangerous threat to seamen, considered by Ahab the incarnation of evil and a fated nemesis.
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The first mate of the Pequod. Starbuck questions Ahab’s judgment, first in private and later in public. He is a Quaker who believes that Christianity offers a way to interpret the world around him, although he is not dogmatic or pushy about his beliefs. Starbuck acts as a conservative force against Ahab’s mania.
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Starbuck’s skilled harpooner and Ishmael’s best friend. Queequeg was once a prince from a South Sea island who stowed away on a whaling ship in search of adventure. He is a composite of elements of African, Polynesian, Islamic, Christian, and Native American cultures. He is brave and generous, and enables Ishmael to see that race has no bearing on a man’s character.
The second mate of the Pequod. Stubb, chiefly characterized by his mischievous good humor, is easygoing and popular. He proves a bit of a nihilist, always trusting in fate and refusing to assign too much significance to anything.
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Stubb’s harpooner, Tashtego is a Gay Head Indian from Martha’s Vineyard, one of the last of a tribe about to disappear. Tashtego performs many of the skilled tasks aboard the ship, such as tapping the case of spermaceti in the whale’s head. Like Queequeg, Tashtego embodies certain characteristics of the “noble savage” and is meant to defy racial stereotypes. He is, however, more practical and less intellectual than Queequeg: like many a common sailor, Tashtego craves rum.
A native of Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard and the third mate of the Pequod. Short and stocky, Flask has a confrontational attitude and no reverence for anything. His stature has earned him the nickname “King-Post,” because he resembles a certain type of short, square timber.
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Flask’s harpooner. Daggoo is a physically enormous, imperious-looking African. Like Queequeg, he stowed away on a whaling ship that stopped near his home. Daggoo is less prominent in the narrative than either Queequeg or Tashtego.
A young black boy who fills the role of a cabin boy or jester on the Pequod. Pip has a minimal role in the beginning of the narrative but becomes important when he goes insane after being left to drift alone in the sea for some time. Like the fools in Shakespeare’s plays, he is half idiot and half prophet, often perceiving things that others don’t.
A strange, “oriental” old Parsee (Persian fire-worshipper) whom Ahab has brought on board unbeknownst to most of the crew. Fedallah has a very striking appearance: around his head is a turban made from his own hair, and he wears a black Chinese jacket and pants. He is an almost supernaturally skilled hunter and also serves as a prophet to Ahab. Fedallah keeps his distance from the rest of the crew, who for their part view him with unease.
A well-to-do retired whaleman of Nantucket and a Quaker. As one of the principal owners of the Pequod, Peleg, along with Captain Bildad, takes care of hiring the crew. When the two are negotiating wages for Ishmael and Queequeg, Peleg plays the generous one, although his salary offer is not terribly impressive.
Another well-to-do Quaker ex-whaleman from Nantucket who owns a large share of the Pequod. Bildad is (or pretends to be) crustier than Peleg in negotiations over wages. Both men display a business sense and a bloodthirstiness unusual for Quakers, who are normally pacifists.
A former whaleman and now the preacher in the New Bedford Whaleman’s Chapel. Father Mapple delivers a sermon on Jonah and the whale in which he uses the Bible to address the whalemen’s lives. Learned but also experienced, he is an example of someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness or revenge.
The jovial captain of the English whaling ship the Samuel Enderby. Boomer lost his arm in an accident involving Moby Dick. Unlike Ahab, Boomer is glad to have escaped with his life, and he sees further pursuit of the whale as madness. He is a foil for Ahab, as the two men react in different ways to a similar experience.
A sailor aboard the Jeroboam. Part of a Shaker sect, Gabriel has prophesied that Moby Dick is the incarnation of the Shaker god and that any attempts to harm him will result in disaster. His prophecies have been borne out by the death of the Jeroboam’s mate in a whale hunt and the plague that rages aboard the ship.