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Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Quotes


Call me Ishmael.

Ishmael, Chapter 1

The famous opening line of the novel reveals that the narrator wishes to be called by the name of an exiled son of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible. The sentence implies that this is not the character's real name and that he identifies with a biblical wanderer.


Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.

Ishmael, Chapter 7

Ishmael introduces his belief that his soul is separate from and better than his body.


Names down on the papers? Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be, will be; and then again, perhaps it won't be. Any how, it's all fixed and arranged already.

Elijah, Chapter 19

A mysterious man named Elijah warns Queequeg and Ishmael about Ahab and the Pequod. When they say they've already signed on to the ship, he comments on the influence of fate and destiny on the future. However, he seems to contradict himself.


For what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!

Ishmael, Chapter 24

Ishmael, in comparing soldiers in war to whalemen hunting, notes that many brave soldiers would be terrified if they faced a whale.


And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave.

Captain Ahab, Chapter 36

Ahab reveals his true mission to the crew of the Pequod, winning them over to his cause with his exciting and flattering words.


I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market.

Starbuck, Chapter 36

Starbuck reminds Ahab of the official mission of the Pequod and does not agree with the captain's quest for vengeance.


What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do! They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer.

Captain Ahab, Chapter 37

Ahab is completely aware of his madness, which suggests that he is not completely insane, and he is unashamed. He is absolutely devoted to his quest for revenge.


Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.

Ishmael, Chapter 63

Ishmael helps readers understand the structure of the novel by comparing it to a tree with a trunk, branches, and twigs.


Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders.

Captain Ahab, Chapter 134

At the end of his life, Ahab still believes he had no choice but to hunt the White Whale, contending that he acted in accordance with destiny or fate. This suggests that he cannot be entirely held responsible for his actions.


No coffin and no hearse can be mine:—and hemp only can kill me! Ha! ha!

Captain Ahab, Chapter 135

Ahab clings to Fedallah's prophecy as evidence that he will not be killed; but in the end, Fedallah's prophecy comes true and he is killed.

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