The mad captain of the Pequod, Ahab had been a respectable Quaker whaling captain until he lost his leg to the white whale, Moby Dick. He is considered “the old man,” about fifty, with a young wife and son in Nantucket, whom he has rarely seen. Ahab bears the name of the wicked biblical king, and an old squaw predicted at birth that his name would prove prophetic. He has a scar from his gray hair running down his body like a seam and “looks like a man cut away from the stake” (28. 120). He vows revenge on the White Whale and follows it around the world, refusing to budge in his fixed purpose. For all his madness, “Ahab has his humanities” (16.80) and at the last moment regrets he will cause his wife and child suffering.
We first meet Bulkington, the six foot tall young Virginian, in the Spouter Inn signs up continuously for whaling voyages, not wanting to spend time on land. He is aloof and does not drink or mingle with the grosser men. He will perish on the Pequod, but Ishmael makes him into an idealist and archetype of the seeker of truth in the chapter, “The Lee Shore.”
The carpenter is an old man who makes Ahab’s whale bone legs and Queequeg’s coffin. Ishmael finds him almost inhuman, a machine with no personality. He thinks only about his trade.
Daggoo is the gigantic black African harpooner in Flask’s boat, six foot five, one of the “squires” to the “knights” or mates. Each mate has a harpooner in his boat skilled at striking the whales. Daggoo has gold hooped earrings. Flask is tiny in comparison to him.
The anonymous man who calls himself Elijah is a mad street prophet in Nantucket warning Queequeg and Ishmael not to ship on the Pequod, but it is already too late. It is implied he just returned himself from a voyage with Ahab, and his deranged prophesies are not a good omen.
Fedallah, “The Parsee,” is tall and dark, with one tooth protruding from his mouth. He wears a black Chinese jacket and turban intertwined with his long hair. This harpooner is part of Ahab’s special crew smuggled aboard to man his personal boat. Fedallah has a special gift of prophesy. He tells Ahab he will die only when certain conditions are met. The rest of the crew is afraid of Fedallah and call him the son of the devil, afraid he is influencing the captain. At any rate, Fedallah and Ahab are linked in their fates, for the Parsee’s death on the second day of the chase is the signal Ahab will follow.
Flask is the third mate from Martha’s Vineyard, pugnacious towards whales. He is short and round, nicknamed King Post because of his shape, with a sort of unconscious fearlessness. Flask is good at his job but cares only for material comforts. He is called by Ishmael one of the “wrought nails” among men, made to “clinch tight and last long” (26. 116). For Ishmael, he stands for mediocrity.
Fleece, the black cook, gives a sermon to the sharks to control themselves; so must we all govern the shark in us.
Gabriel is the mad prophet aboard the Jereboam, who virtually runs the ship and the captain. He is a crazed Shaker from Nantucket who warns against attacking Moby Dick, thinking he is an incarnation of a Shaker God.
Ishmael, the name the narrator gives himself, refers to a biblical son of Abraham, a wanderer and outcast. We know little of him except that he is a young adventurer like Melville was, perhaps in his teens. He has been a schoolteacher, like Melville had, and served a time on a merchant ship. This is his first whaling voyage. He is good natured and intelligent, a humanitarian and democrat, a keen observer, and is able to put all the crew and action into perspective for us. He inserts whaling lore along the way and philosophical observations on life. He is the only character who can match Ahab’s spiritual dimension and the only survivor of the tragic voyage, the one who passes on the wisdom of the story.
Father Mapple is the eccentric, old whaleman preacher of the chapel in New Bedford where Ishmael and Queequeg go before their voyage. He has retired from the sea and now preaches in a pulpit that looks like the bow of a ship. His sermon on Jonah’s sin of pride prefigures the story of Ahab’s pride.
Moby Dick, the legendary White Sperm Whale, one hundred feet long, almost as large as the Pequod itself that he sinks, has been terrorizing whalers for years. Anyone tangling with him is injured or dies or loses a ship. He is known for his size, his huge hump, deformed jaw, his enigmatic wrinkled brow, and aggressive behavior. He seems unable to be killed. In the story, Moby Dick represents the evil forces of Nature to Ahab.
Perth Perth is the old blacksmith. He had been a prosperous Englishman but lost everything, his wife and children and home, to drink. In remorse he went to sea and can be seen bent over with a broken back, toiling away. He is the one who forges Ahab’s special harpoon point for Moby Dick, baptized in the blood and oaths of the harpooners.
Pip is the black cabin boy from Alabama. He is happy, singing and playing his tambourine until he is abandoned in the sea during a whale chase. When he is finally rescued, he is mad, and ever after the special companion to Ahab, who feels drawn to Pip and understands him.
Queequeg is the tattooed best friend of Ishmael. He is from the South Seas, with a simple and honest heart and filed and pointed teeth. He peddles shrunken heads on the street, smokes a tomahawk pipe, wears a beaver tophat over a bald head with a topknot. A prince in his own land, he left to learn Christian ways for his people; nevertheless he feels he cannot return home because he has been soiled by contact with Christians and prefers to die a pagan. He worships his little black misshapen idol, Yojo, who tells him he must let Ishmael pick their ship. Queequeg is the best harpooner on the Pequod, and given the highest share of the profit. He is assigned to Starbuck’s boat. It is his coffin that saves Ishmael’s life.
Starbuck is first mate of the ship, and Ahab’s main opponent. He is a reverent, virtuous and sober Quaker from Nantucket, about thirty years old, a religious, family man who wants to return home. He is steadfast, hardy and healthy with endurance and common sense, yet he cannot understand Ahab’s mad quest for Moby Dick and calls it unholy. He has his superstitious side, and the omens show him Ahab is dangerous. He considers killing or imprisoning the captain but has not the strength to do it and finally gives in to Ahab’s demands. Ishmael calls him “mere unaided virtue,” showing that simple decency is no match for Ahab. Despite their opposition, there is an affection between Starbuck and Ahab. Ahab tries to save Starbuck’s life at the end by ordering him to stay on board the ship.
Stubb is from Cape Cod. He is the happy-go-lucky second mate who laughs at danger and treats hunting whales as a sort of joke. He is easy going and never without his pipe. He hums in the boat while facing a whale. The only time he is flustered is when he is insulted by Ahab. He has a dream about kicking Ahab in revenge, only to find Ahab is like a pyramid. Once he discovers Ahab’s invincible purpose, he laughs it off and gives in to his fate.
Tashtego is the Native American harpooner from Gay Head in Martha’s Vineyard is assigned to Stubb’s boat. He has long black hair, high cheek bones, and is a proud warrior.
Moby Dick: Character Profiles