MOBY DICK, BRIEF PLOT OVERVIEW Our intrepid narrator, a former schoolteacher famously called Ishmael, signs up as sailor

on a whaling voyage to cure a bout of depression. On his way to find a ship in Nantucket, he meets Queequeg, a heavily tattooed South Sea Island harpooneer just returned from his latest whaling trip. Ishmael and Queequeg become best buds and roommates almost immediately. Together, they sign up for a voyage on the Pequod, which is just about to start on a three-year expedition to hunt sperm whales. On board the Pequod, Ishmael meets the mates − honest Starbuck, jolly Stubb, and fierce Flask − and the other harpooneers, Tashtego and Daggoo. The ship’s commander, Captain Ahab, remains secluded in his cabin and never shows himself to the crew. The mates organize the beginning of the voyage as though there were no captain. Just when Ishmael’s curiosity about Ahab has reached a fever pitch, Ahab starts appearing on deck – and we find out that he’s missing one leg. When Starbuck asks if it was Moby Dick, the famous White Whale, that took off his leg, Ahab admits that it was and forces the entire crew to swear that they will help him hunt Moby Dick to the ends of the earth and take revenge for his injury. They all swear. After this strange incident, things settle into a routine on board the good ship Pequod. While they’re always on the lookout for Moby Dick, the crew has a job to do: hunting sperm whales, butchering them, and harvesting the sperm oil that they store in huge barrels in the hold. Ishmael takes advantage of this lull in plot advancement to give the reader lots of contemporary background information about whale biology, the whaling industry, and sea voyages. The Pequod encounters other ships, which tell them the latest news about the White Whale. Oh yeah, and everyone discovers that Ahab has secretly smuggled an extra boat crew on board (led by a mysterious, demonic harpooneer named Fedallah) to help Ahab do battle with Moby Dick once they do find him. Over the course of more than a year, the ship travels across the Atlantic, around the southern tip of Africa, through the Indian Ocean, among the islands of southeast Asia, into the Sea of Japan, and finally to the equator in the Pacific Ocean – Moby Dick’s home turf. Despite first mate Starbuck’s misgivings and a variety of bad omens (e.g., all the navigational instruments break, a typhoon tries to push the ship backwards, and the Pequod encounters other ships that have lost crewmembers to Moby Dick’s wrath), Ahab insists on continuing to pursue his single-minded revenge quest. In a parody of the Christian ceremony of baptism, he goes so far as to dip his specially forged harpoon in human blood– just so that he’ll have the perfect weapon with which to kill Moby Dick. Finally, just when we think the novel’s going to end without ever seeing this famous White Whale, Ahab sights him and the chase is on. For three days, Ahab pursues Moby Dick, sending whaling boat after whaling boat after him – only to see each one wrecked by the indomitable whale. Finally, at the end of the third day, the White Whale attacks the ship itself, and the Pequod goes down with all hands. Even while his ship is sinking, Ahab, in his whaling boat, throws his harpoon at Moby Dick one last time. He misses, catching himself around the neck with the rope and causing his own drowning/strangling death. The only survivor of the destruction is Ishmael, who lives to tell the tale because he’s clinging to the coffin built for his pal Queequeg when the harpooneer seemed likely to die of a fever.

Plot Summary Call Me Ishmael Moby-Dick; or, The Whale chronicles the strange journey of an ordinary seaman named Ishmael who signs on for a whaling voyage in 1840s Massachusetts. A thoughtful but gloomy young man, Ishmael begins his odyssey in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a prosperous whaling town and crossing point to the island of Nantucket. Arriving on a dark Saturday night in December, he finds cheap lodgings in a waterfront dive called The Spouter Inn. There he is forced to share a bed with a South Sea islander and "cannibal" named Queequeg, a fiercelooking harpooner covered with tattoos and carrying a tomahawk and a shrunken head. After some initial uncertainty, the two become close friends and decide to seek a berth together on a whaling ship. Before leaving for Nantucket, however, Ishmael decides to visit the local whaleman's chapel, where he sees memorial plaques to lost sailors and hears a disturbing sermon about the prophet Jonah and the terrors of the whale. On Nantucket, the two sailors set out to find the best ship for their voyage. After consulting Queequeg's "black little god," a tiny totem named Yojo, they settle on the Pequod, a whaling vessel run by the notorious Captain Ahab. They sign the ship's papers, but on their way back to the inn to get their belongings, they meet Elijah, a shabbily dressed old man who haunts the docks. Elijah hints at the dangers to come and warns the two not to get involved with the vengeful captain. The Quest The Pequod leaves Nantucket on Christmas day headed for the whaling grounds in the Pacific. Captain Ahab remains in his cabin for several days, while the crew accustoms itself to life at sea. When Ahab does emerge, his appearance startles Ishmael. A long, white scar runs down Ahab's face, and he walks on an artificial leg made of whale bone. Soon he calls the entire crew together and informs them that their voyage will be no ordinary whaling cruise. Ahab has returned to sea with the sole purpose of finding and killing the whale that took his leg on the previous voyage. He offers a sixteen-dollar gold piece to the first man who spots the white whale, MobyDick, and then conducts a demonic ceremony in which the three "pagan" harpooners cross their lances and drink to the death of the whale. When not under the influence of Ahab's obsessive search, Ishmael gathers information and meditates upon the business of whaling and the strange attractive power of the white whale. Among other possible explanations, he suggests that Ahab both fears and hates the whiteness of Moby-Dick because this blankness recalls the "colorless, all-color of atheism," a nothingness that lies behind all nature. He also describes the ship's first whale hunt and the subsequent butchering of the sperm whale. He discusses the whale as it is depicted in paintings and compares the images to his own experiences; and he observes the whale itself, pondering the meaning of its huge and mysterious body, its equally peaceful and violent behavior, and its often contradictory significance to the men who hunt it. Despite several successful hunts, including one encounter with a herd of sperm whales near the coast of Java, they continue to search for Moby-Dick. Having revealed the presence of his "infidel" boat crew led by Fedallah, the Parsee (a member of the Zoroastrian religious sect from India), Ahab can no longer hide the true extent of his obsession. He orders the blacksmith to forge a special harpoon from the nail stubs of racing horses. He then tempers the barb in the blood of the three harpooners, baptizing the weapon "in nomine diaboli!" (in the name of the devil). Soon after, he throws his navigational quadrant overboard and, in a moment of defiance of nature and God, cries out at the corposants, a strange blue fire of static electricity (sometimes called "Saint Elmo's Fire") that covers the ship's masts. Not even Starbuck, the respected first mate, can convince the captain of his madness. At this stage in the story, Ishmael becomes less prominent as a character. He reappears occasionally to offer his thoughts on the mythological history of whaling and the symbolic meanings of the story of Jonah from the Bible. While Ahab rages at the world, Ishmael describes the sensual pleasures of squeezing lumps of whale oil or spermaceti. He tells how he once measured a whale's skeleton on the (fictional) island of Tranque in the Arsacides and describes the illness of Queequeg, who is so near death at one point that he orders a coffin from the carpenter. Queequeg survives, however, and turns the coffin into a bed, carving its ex-terior with the same "hieroglyphic marks" that are tattooed on his body. When the ship later loses its standard life-buoy, the carpenter

nails the lid on the coffin, caulks it, and hangs it from the back of the ship as a replacement. The Chase Torn between the good and evil influences of Starbuck and Fedallah, Ahab instinctively guides the ship back to the "very latitude and longitude" of his first encounter with Moby-Dick. Starbuck makes a final appeal to his captain to "fly these deadly waters!" and return to his wife and child, but Ahab rejects his pleas and turns to Fedallah. In his role as demonic advisor, Fedallah has prophesied that Ahab will know "neither hearse nor coffin" and that before he can die on this voyage he must first see two hearses on the sea, one "not made by mortal hands" and the other made of American wood. He also declares that only hemp or rope can kill the captain, which Ahab understands as a reference to hanging. Since he is unlikely to be hung on his own ship and even less likely to see two hearses in the middle of the Pacific, Ahab declares himself "immortal on land and sea!" With any chance of relinquishing his obsession now lost, Ahab finally spots the white whale and the chase begins. For three days the crew of the Pequod fights Moby-Dick but fails to kill him. On the third day, with Ahab's harpoon in his hump, the white whale turns toward the ship itself and, with a powerful blow of his forehead, sinks the Pequod with all the crew still on board. Combined with the death of Fedallah, seen wrapped in the ropes that now encircle Moby-Dick, the ship's sinking fulfills the first prophecy. Soon after, the third prediction also comes true when Ahab, trying to clear a kink in the rope attached to Moby-Dick, gets caught in a loop and disappears, dragged under by the whale. Caught in the whirlpool created by the sinking ship, all remaining members of the crew except Ishmael go down with the ship. Pitched overboard by the violent struggles of Moby-Dick, Ishmael floats on the edge of the action, witnessing the final moments of Ahab and his crew. As the ship sinks, the whirlpool draws him closer to the site of the wreck, but because of his distance from the ship, he is not pulled under. Instead, out of the center of the whirlpool, Queequeg's coffin rises to save him. Aided by the strange "life preserver," Ishmael floats for "almost one whole day and night" before the Rachel, a whaling ship searching for part of its crew, picks him up.

Teacher notes First Person (Peripheral Narrator); First Person (Central Narrator); Third Person (Omniscient Narrator)

For nearly the first 40 chapters of the novel, Moby-Dick is narrated in the first person by Ishmael. For the rest of the book, Ishmael’s personality, and the first person pronouns, fades in and out. In terms of point of view, then, there are four general types of chapter in the novel: 1. chapters where we can be certain that Ishmael is our first person narrator, such as chapter 41, which begins "I, Ishmael, was one of that crew"; 2. chapters where we have a first-person narrator who is probably Ishmael, such as chapter 45, where the narrator tells us details of whaling that, he says, "I have personally known" (45.3); 3. chapters told entirely in the third-person, such as Chapter 44 – these chapters sometimes, but not always, contain information that Ishmael can’t logically know, and yet, they still seem to use his voice or tone; 4. chapters that use a dramatic style, as though we were reading a play, like chapter 40. Obviously, this makes talking about point of view in Moby-Dick quite complicated. As a general rule, you can probably assume that the narrator is Ishmael unless there’s something in the chapter that he can’t possibly know. Still, you should try to notice when the first person seems ambiguous, as though it could be Melville himself talking about his whaling experience, for example, instead of his character, Ishmael. This leaves us with a few questions. First, when Ishmael is the first person narrator, is he a central or a peripheral narrator? This is related to the question of who the protagonist of the novel is – Ishmael or Ahab. If you think of the novel as Ishmael’s own story, then clearly he’s the central narrator; if you think of him as simply an observer of the larger story of Ahab’s quest, then he’s a peripheral narrator. We think of Ishmael as the First Person Central Narrator for the beginning of the book, while he tells his own story of deciding to go whaling and meeting Queequeg, and as the First Person Peripheral Narrator for most of the rest of the novel, when the narrative is more focused on Ahab. The most important question to ask about all these variations in perspective is, of course, why they have to happen at all. Why can’t every chapter just be from Ishmael’s perspective? Well may you ask – but we do want to point out that there’s a clear progression from Ishmael as the first person narrator at the center of the story to a third-person description of the destruction of the Pequod at the end, which doesn’t even mention Ishmael by name. (We only learn where he was in the Epilogue, where his voice comes back.) So something about this novel makes it necessary to push Ishmael offstage, or to silence him gradually.