Comparing Starbuck and Ahab
Ahab is the Captain of the Pequod, a grave older man reaching his sixties who has spent nearly forty years as a sailor, only three of which he has spent on dry land. The novel is essentially the story of Ahab and his quest to defeat the legendary Sperm Whale Moby Dick, for this whale took Ahab's leg, causing him to use an ivory leg to walk and stand. Ahab is a dour, imposing man who frightens his crew through his firm obsession with defeating Moby Dick and his grand hubris. In many respects, Melville portrays Ahab as barely human, barely governed by human mores and conventions and nearly entirely subject to his own obsession with Moby Dick. Melville describes him in mostly alien terms: Ahab is a spectral figure haunting Stubb's dreams and existing in a place away from the living. He is in some ways a machine, unaffected by human appetites and without recognizable emotion. And most importantly, he claims himself a God over the Pequod, but instead he may be a Satanic figure through his somewhat offensive quest against the white whale. Starbuck, however, is the chief mate of the Pequod, a Nantucket native and a Quaker with a thin build and a rational manner. In appearance, Starbuck is quite thin and seems condensed into his most essential characteristics, and his streamlined appearance well suits his attitudes and behavior. Melville portrays Starbuck as both a strong believer in human fallibility and an idealist who believes that these failings may be contained. Among the characters in Moby Dick, it is only Starbuck who openly opposes Captain Ahab, believing his quest against the great whale to be an impulsive and suicidal foolishness. However, despite his open misgivings about Ahab and the open hostility between these two characters that culminates when Ahab points his musket at Starbuck, the conflicted Starbuck remains loyal to his captain even when he has the possibility of vanquishing Ahab. If Ahab serves as the protagonist of the...
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