Novel Moby Dick: Synopsis,Setting, Characters, Themes, Moral Values, Point of View, Tone and Mood, Language and Style, Literary Device
Ishmael, the narrator, goes to Nantucket to become a whaler. There he meets Queequeg and they become great friends. Ishmael signs up to work on the Pequod and the following day takes Queequeg to the Pequod.
The Pequod sails on Christmas morning. After three weeks, Captain Ahab appears on deck and tells the crew about Moby Dick. They learn about his obsession to kill the white whale. Starbuck tells Captain Ahab that his plan is crazy but the captain declares that the white whale is evil. The crew of the Pequod go after their first whale. Ishmael sees Captain Ahab’s men, including Fedallah, go after the whale. Due to heavy rain and strong winds, their first whaling encounter is unsuccessful.
After that, the crew of Pequod successfully hunt many whales. However, Captain Ahab isn’t happy. He constantly thinks of Moby Dick. The Pequod meets other ships such as the Albatross and Samuel Enderby, but Captain Ahab is only interested in information about Moby Dick. Captain Ahab only talks to Fedallah. He looks at his maps while Fedallah watches for whales at night. One night, Fedallah spots Moby Dick. They follow Moby Dick but they lose it.
Many weeks after that, Pip, a young cook, goes on a whaling trip. However, he jumps out of the boat on the second and third trips. When he jumps out on the third trip, Stubb leaves him in the ocean and goes after the whale. Pip is in the ocean a long time. As a result, he becomes a little crazy. After he is rescued, he follows Captain Ahab everywhere and thinks Captain Ahab is God.
Later, Starbuck discovers that they are losing oil in the barrels. However, Captain Ahab is only focussed on Moby Dick and does not listen to Starbuck when he pleads for him to stop and fix the barrels. Later, Captain Ahab stops the ship and tells the men to fix the problem with the barrels. Queequeg is involved in this hard and heavy work and falls very ill. He thinks he is going to die so he asks for a coffin to be built. Ishmael and the others are sad. Then, one morning, Queequeg declares he has things to do first so he will die later. The coffin is stored with the barrels.
Captain Ahab tells Fedallah about his dream where he dies and sees his coffin. Fedallah informs the captain that he will be killed by a rope. Fedallah also tells Captain Ahab that he (Fedallah) will die first. The following day, some of the crew members see Captain Ahab angrily throwing away his maps. Starbuck and the men are afraid. Captain Ahab also threatens to kill any man who tries to turn the Pequod around. Later, Starbuck is in Captain Ahab’s room and has an opportunity to kill him but cannot bring himself to do it.
The Pequod crosses paths with the Rachel. Captain Ahab wants to know about Moby Dick and learns that it is close by. However, Captain Ahab refuses to help the captain of the Rachel, who is looking for his 12-year-old son who is missing. Even though some of the whalers want to help the captain of the Rachel, they have no choice but to follow their captain who only wants to look for Moby Dick.
Moby Dick is sighted and Captain Ahab sends his men out. Captain Ahab and his men are in the first boat. There are many harpoons in Moby Dick’s body. The battle with Moby Dick goes on for three days. On the first day, Captain Ahab’s boat is capsized. On the second day, it capsizes again. On this day, Captain Ahab also loses his whalebone leg and Fedallah is killed. On the third day – with only one whaling boat left – Ishmael follows Captain Ahab and some of the other whalers after Moby Dick. When Moby Dick emerges from the ocean, they see Fedallah’s body. Captain Ahab throws a harpoon at Moby Dick. It hits their whaling boat and Ishmael falls out. The boat sails away fast, leaving Ishmael in the water. Moby Dick targets the Pequod. It hits the ship and it sinks. Captain Ahab throws another harpoon at Moby Dick. However, Captain Ahab gets tangled in the rope at the end of the harpoon and is pulled out of the boat. Ishmael watches the Peqoud and his friend, Queequeg, go under the water. The whaling boat with Captain Ahab’s men is also pulled under the water.
Then, Queequeq’s coffin pops out of the water near Ishmael. He climbs onto it. Later, he is rescued by the Rachel, whose crew are still looking for their captain’s missing son.
1. Time: The story is set in mid nineteenth-century America.
2. Social: During this period in American history, the country was experiencing industrialisation. Young Americans were exploring the west to seek new land and opportunities. At that time, people not only from Europe but also from Tahiti, Fiji and Indies travelled to America and worked in farms and factories. Many of the crew on the Pequod were from different parts of the world – showing how America was a melting pot of different cultures. During this period also the whaling industry was profitable. Ports such as Nantucket and New Bedford were rich and prosperous because their whaling ships sailed the oceans.
Nantucket – The town where the first American whalers sailed, Ishmael goes there to be a whaler, Ishmael meets Queequeg here.
The Pequod – The whaling ship, captained by Ahab, which ultimately sinks after Moby Dick hits it.
The open sea – The Pacific Ocean where Captain Ahab takes the Pequod to whale and hunt Moby Dick.
Ishmael, the narrator of the story, a sailor, a junior crew member of Pequod, lone survivor of the Pequod
Ahab, captain of the Pequod
Moby Dick, the great white sperm
Starbuck, the first mate of the Pequod, who thinks that Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick is crazy.
Queequeg, Ishmael’s good friend. He is a skilled harpooner and the finest whaler on the ocean.
Stubb, the second mate of the Pequod. He likes to laugh and tell funny stories.
Fedallah, Captain Ahab’s harpooner. He gives the captain a prophecy.
Pip, a 14-year-old American black boy. He is the cook.
Tashtego, Flask, Daggoo, Bildad, Manxman – crew of the Pequod
Captain Boomer, captain of the Samuel Enderby. He loses an arm to Moby Dick.
Captain Gardiner, captain of the Rachel. He is looking for his missing son.
Captain Ahab is obsessed with killing Moby Dick, the white whale. He has lost his leg because of Moby Dick and this makes him feel half a man. He is convinced that Moby Dick is evil. He believes he will have peace only when Moby Dick is killed. Captain Ahab’s desire for revenge is all he can think about. He abandons good values such as compassion and does not help Captain Gardiner look for his missing son or think of the lives of his crew and their families when he chooses to pursue Moby Dick.
Ishmael, the narrator, and Queequeg, share a great friendship. From their first meeting, they form a bond – spending the night sharing their life stories and becoming great friends by the next morning. Queequeg predicts that Ishmael will find a whaling ship that they will both travel on. Queequeg, indirectly, saves Ishmael’s life at the end of the story. The coffin, which Queequeg had built for himself earlier when he was sick and thought he was going die, saves his best friend’s life. Ishmael uses it as a life buoy until he is rescued by the Rachel – making him the only survivor of the fight with Moby Dick.
The theme of death is obvious throughout the story. The Pequod is a symbol of death as it is taking its crew of a journey which will only end in disaster. The coffin indicates death when it is built for Queequeg who thinks he is going to die. Whaling is also a dangerous occupation and death can come at any time to whalers when they go out on their small boats to kill large whales. Fedallah also predicts his and Captain Ahab’s deaths. Fedallah says that he will die first and then, Captain Ahab will die caused by a rope.
4. Man vs Nature
The story shows that humans are just a small entity in the vast natural world. When we don’t respect nature, we are disturbing the natural balance in the environment. We cannot co-exist peacefully when we choose to intrude into the natural habitat of the world’s magnificent animals.
We should not allow one goal to take control of our life until we forget all the other important things.
We should think for ourselves and not follow someone blindly as they can lead us down a dangerous path.
We should not hold on to our anger at someone or something or desire to get even. We will lose our peace of mind if we let anger take over our life.
Point of View
The narrator of the story is Ishmael, who gives a first person point of view. He is also the lone survivor of the Pequod, therefore allowing the story to be told.
Tone and Mood
The tone at the beginning of the story is light as Ishmael, the narrator, gives background information about himself and of his meeting with his future good friend, Queequeg. His tone is thoughtful throughout the story as he writes with attention to the feelings and experiences of the other characters. The tone turns tragic as he describes Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick, the captain’s crazy plan to go after Moby Dick without a thought of his crew’s safety and finally, the crew’s fight with the white whale which ultimately causes everyone, except the narrator, to perish. Even the Pequod is hit by Moby Dick and sinks – signifying the total destruction of Captain Ahab by the white whale.
The mood of doom approaching is felt early in the story when an old man named Elijah describes Captain Ahab – the captain of the Pequod, the ship Ishmael and Queequeg have signed up to go whaling – as ‘a sick man’ and ‘the devil’. Captain Ahab also discloses his crazy plan to go after the ‘evil’ white whale, Moby Dick, three weeks after setting sail. The mood that tragedy is looming and that the Pequod journey is only leading towards disaster comes across clearly.
Language and Style
The language used in the story is simple and easy to understand. The style the narrator uses is narrative. He is observant and describes the events and what is happening with the characters. He also describes the changes he sees in the characters’ behaviour and the emotions they show throughout the journey of the Pequod.
1. Symbolism is the use of symbols by giving them a different meaning which is deeper. Symbols are ideas, sounds, images or words which represent something else and help readers understand a thing or an idea. Symbols appear a few times in this story.
Moby Dick or the white whale means different things to different people in the story. To Captain Ahab, Moby Dick symbolises evil and he makes it his goal to destroy this evil.
The Pequod is a symbol of doom and indicator of death. It takes its crew on a journey destined for disaster. In the end, all those on board the ship are killed after it is struck by Moby Dick. The sinking Pequod pulls the whaling boat and all the men in it under water.
Queequeg’s coffin symbolises life and death. The coffin is built when Queequeg is very sick and he thinks he is going to die. After he recovers, the coffin is put away. Later, when Pequod sinks, the coffin becomes Ishmael’s ‘life boat’. It emerges to the surface and Ishmael climbs on it. He stays on it for two days and two nights until he is rescued by the crew of the Rachel.
2. Motifs are ideas, sounds, images or words which help to explain the main idea or theme of the story. Motifs can be seen throughout the story.
Moby Dick highlights the motif of the colour white. The colour white is usually associated with purity but for Captain Ahab it means all things bad – ‘white is the colour of dead men’, ‘white is evil’. The colour white helps explain Captain Ahab’s obsessive desire for revenge. He equates anything white with evil that must be destroyed
– ‘white is the ice and ice takes strong ships down under the water’ and ‘white is evil and this (white) whale is evil’.