Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 26 27 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 26–27 | Summary

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Summary

Ishmael describes Starbuck, a Quaker and first mate of the Pequod, as a hardy, tight-skinned man whose life at sea has made him a little superstitious. Stubb, the second mate, calls Starbuck "careful," but Ishmael points out that this word may have a different meaning among whale hunters than it does for other people. Starbuck is brave yet practical, and Ishmael implies that even in the events to come in his story, Starbuck will maintain his courage.

Then beginning in Chapter 27, Ishmael describes Stubb, a native of Cape Cod, as a pleasant, imperturbable man. He often hums while working, even when in the midst of a whale hunt. Stubb is never seen without a short, black pipe in his mouth. He has several so he never has to be without one—one is always filled and ready to go. Ishmael wonders if the smoke acts as a disinfecting agent, because Stubb seems to always be feeling fine. Next Ishmael describes Flask, the third mate, who is from Martha's Vineyard. Flask takes his hunting personally, as if he has a grudge against whales in general and doesn't have much respect for the grandeur of the creatures.

Each of the mates—Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask—has a harpooner who accompanies him on the whaleboat when they are deployed in the hunt. They are Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo, respectively.

Analysis

Ishmael describes Starbuck at length, focusing on his great courage and steadfastness. This helps prepare readers for events later in the novel when Starbuck's morality and courage must face off against the absolute madness of Captain Ahab.

On a whaling ship, small boats are lowered and deployed when a whale is sighted. Each of these boats has a mate to command it, a harpooner who must be ready to kill the whale, and a crew of other oarsmen to help row. The harpooner has a challenging job on the boat, as he must be both oarsman and harpooner. The Pequod has three such teams.

The hierarchy of the mates (the "knights") and their harpooners (the "squires") introduces the idea that the Pequod is a microcosm of humanity. The knights Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask are all Christians and white men. Their squires Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo are all members of various non-European or American peoples—Tashtego is a Native American, Daggoo is a black man, and Queequeg is the "savage" cannibal.

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