Chapter 109, “Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin”
Starbuck goes to Ahab to tell him of an oil leak in the caskets of whale oil in the hold. He urges to have them all pulled out to find the one that is leaking, for this is loss of precious money. Ahab says, “Let it leak,” not wanting to be distracted from his hunt for the White Whale. He claims he is the commander of the ship and more important than the owners.
Starbuck argues with him, and Ahab seizes a musket and aims it at his first mate, telling him as there is one Lord over the earth, there is one lord over the Pequod. Starbuck is insulted and withdraws, warning, “Let Ahab beware of Ahab” (109. 470). Ahab thinks about it and finally does as Starbuck wishes.
Analysis Chapter 109
Starbuck is the main character opposing Ahab in his suicidal course of action, rather than Ishmael. Ishmael, who sometimes blends into an omniscient narrator, as in this chapter, serves as the witness or observer, able to take in the perspective of all the other characters and sympathize. In his person, he does not oppose Ahab, for he is only a seaman and fairly contented with his first adventure on a whaler.
Starbuck is first mate and the only one with enough power to stop Ahab, but he has been trained to respect authority. Ahab keeps up a delicate dance with him, drawing back so as not to push Starbuck too far. Ahab is shown in this chapter in a moment of sanity when he actually appreciates Starbuck’s goodness and judgment, and backs down to keep the peace. Yet by flourishing the gun at his first mate, Ahab signals his monomaniacal purpose that will stop at nothing.