Captain George Pollard Jr.
Captain George Pollard Jr. is a 28-year-old with his first command on the whaleship Essex. Pollard is skilled enough to command a whaleship, but he lacks the authoritarian "fishiness" required for a captain to succeed. He makes his decisions through democratic consensus with his two officers and ends up overriding his own instincts, which results in the ordeal of the Essex.
Owen Chase is the first mate of the Essex, having just moved up from boatsteerer. Although he is only 22 years old, he believes he knows enough to be a captain. He overrides the captain's decisions twice, and the result is that only eight men survive the Essex shipwreck. Chase writes about the disaster, making himself look heroic in his own account of the story.
Matthew Joy is the second mate on the Essex and four years older than Owen Chase. When he goes to sea he is already sick, so when the shipwrecked crew suffer the privations of dehydration and starvation, he is the first to die. Joy simply follows whatever Owen Chase says in talking the captain out of his best instincts.
Thomas Nickerson is a 14-year-old orphan who goes to sea for the first time, as a cabin boy on the Essex. When he is past 70 he writes his own account of the Essex disaster. Nickerson is aboard the Essex with Owen Chase when the whale attacks. He ends up in the whaleboat with Chase for the harrowing journey back to South America.