Moby Dick


Chapters 1 - 19

Chapter 1 Summary

The narrator, Ishmael, having no money and nothing holding him on land, decides to try his fortunes on the sea. Ishmael tells us that his longing for the sea is not new; it is something that he chooses “whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in [his] soul.” He believes it is a feeling common to most men, and describes how the docks of Manhattan (his native city) are always crowded with gazing, contemplative men. Ishmael never travels as a mere passenger, for that would not satisfy his longing, but always works as a sailor. In the past he has always sailed on merchant ships, but today, for the first time, he decides to sign on aboard a whaling ship. Ishmael attributes this decision to three things, primarily: the inexplicable hand of the Fates, his curiosity about a creature so “portentous and mysterious” as the whale, and his love of adventure—his desire to “sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts.”

Chapter 2 Summary

Ishmael puts his few possessions into a carpet-bag and leaves Manhattan. He arrives in the U.S. whaling capital of New Bedford, but is disappointed to find that he has just missed the last ferry for Nantucket and will have to stay in New Bedford for the next two days. Although Ishmael could sign up with a whaling ship in New Bedford, he is determined to sail only on a Nantucket craft because it was the original whaling capital. With little money to spend, Ishmael wanders through a cold, dark city looking for cheap accommodations. He trusts his instincts and follows the city’s chilly, unwelcoming streets toward the water, where he comes at last to the bleak-looking Spouter-Inn, owned by Peter Coffin. Ishmael notes the ominous nature of the owner’s name and the generally dilapidated appearance of the building, but icy-cold and weary as he is, he enters the inn with eagerness.

Chapter 3 Summary

The first thing Ishmael notices inside the inn is a large, blurry oil painting. Upon close...

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