Moby Dick


Plot Summary

The novel is narrated by Ishmael, a sailor who looks back on his experience aboard the whaling ship, the Pequod, some years later. He begins the narration just before signing on to the Pequod, explaining that he has been on several sea voyages before, but never aboard a whaling vessel. Ishmael travels from New York to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he takes a room at a crowded inn. Because the inn is full, Ishmael agrees to share a room with Queequeg, a harpooner from an island in the South Pacific. Initially, Ishmael is somewhat frightened of the islander, who comes from a tribe of cannibals and has an imposing appearance, but he soon sees past these facts into the goodness of Queequeg’s spirit. The two men quickly become close friends and decide to find work aboard the same ship. They travel to Nantucket together and are taken on as crew members of the Pequod, a formidable-looking whaler owned by two thrifty Quakers and captained by a mysterious man named Ahab. Ishmael learns that Ahab recently had his leg bitten off by a giant white sperm whale but has recovered and is, according to the boat’s owners, still a capable captain.

Ishmael has some misgivings about tying his fortunes and fate to a ship whose captain he has never met, but he tries to ignore his ominous feelings. For the first several days of the voyage, Ahab remains alone in his cabin, only seen by his first officers. The crew is capable and experienced, however, and the ship functions perfectly even in his absence. When Ahab finally emerges, he is grim and brooding and often paces the deck restlessly. His ivory false leg is made from the jaw of a whale, and he thrusts it into a hole bored into the deck when he wants to stand still. Early in the voyage, Ahab informs the crew of his intention to hunt down and kill the whale who bit off his leg—a whale so famous that it has been given a name: Moby Dick. Ahab promises an ounce of gold to the man who spots Moby Dick. Ahab’s first mate Starbuck openly protests the folly of exacting vengeance on a “dumb...

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