The Pequod’s Leaders: Their Differing Characteristics

L.R.G.

Captain Ahab, First Mate Starbuck, Second Mate Stubb, and Third Mate Flask. From the time they are first introduced, the Pequod’s leaders are noticeably very different from each other. Almost everything is different about these men save the fact that they are all four on a whaling ship. Why did Melville take such care to develop these four men as he did? Would the story have been as profound without these distinct character foils? Probably not. I think what Melville was trying to accomplish by having such differing personalities aboard the Pequod was to keep the reader interested on the personal level of the story as well as to put emphasis on Ahab’s obsession.

Captain Ahab is certainly an interesting character. He is driven mad by desire for revenge because of an injury he incurred from the gigantic white whale known as Moby Dick. He spends nights studying maps of ocean currents and reefs in an attempt to locate and slay the whale. He portrays the whale as evil and attempts to make everyone aboard believe that the quest for Moby Dick is their common destiny. Under his command, the sole purpose of the voyage is to hunt Moby Dick. While he is mad, he still realizes that his crew could defy him and stage a mutiny so to solve this, he offers a gold ounce to the man who kills the whale. Ahab even has his own private boat crew, which he seemingly smuggled on board, to help him kill Moby Dick. Right up until the bitter end he is certain of his ability to slay the whale. Unfortunately for him, fate, luck, or a combination of the two prevent him from doing so.

Starbuck, the first mate, is a religious, conservative man. Unlike Ahab who is driven by his manic hate for the whale, Starbuck is a devout Christian who lets his religion dictate most aspects of his life. He is the only one aboard the Pequod who openly disputes Captain Ahab’s order to solely hunt Moby Dick. Starbucks conservatism is a direct negation of Ahab’s monomania.

The second mate, Stubb, is described as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He doesn’t take anything seriously enough to bother or frighten him. He is popular among the crew and always shows his good humor. Due to the large amount of time he’s spent whaling, he seems to be desensitized to the dangers of the trade. Stubb, unlike Starbuck or Ahab, believes that everything happens for a reason and that there’s not much he or anyone else can do to change that.

Flask, the third mate, is a short, stocky man who seems to have a touch of what we call “short man syndrome.” He finds it very invigorating to kill a whale yet never stops to think about the greatness of the creature. Actually, unlike the other leaders of the ship, he never really stops to think about anything of much importance. His offensive attitude, paired with his physical appearance, earns him the nickname King-Post.

These men’s personalities are in contrast to one another mainly to draw attention to Captain Ahab’s madness but also to keep us interested in the story. It is true that if all the mates had plain, unimportant personalities, Ahab’s madness would still be quite noticeable. But what Melville did by giving the mates personalities that are in great contrast to that of Ahab’s, is heighten our awareness of his madness.