Ahab, after pacing for several days around the quarterdeck, and appearing as though he has something on his mind, tells Starbuck one day to rouse the enter crew aft (or behind the quarterdeck), as Ahab would like to address them. Ahab roars that he will give any man who spots a white whale with a curious jaw, and with three wounds in his side, an ounce of gold (which he nails to the mast of the Pequod). Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg wonder aloud if this isn’t Moby Dick, the same whale that bit off Ahab’s leg, and Ahab agrees, saying that all the men aboard have shipped out not just on a normal whaling mission, but on a mission to capture and kill Moby Dick.
It is notable that this “big reveal,” in which Ahab finally discusses his plans to use the Pequod’s voyage as an excuse to find and kill Moby Dick, does not occur until the ship is well out to sea. Of course, this has a practical advantage—the crew will be less likely to mutiny, if they know that they are already far from land. But it appears that Ahab, and Melville, both want to savor the suspense of this moment—to lead up to it after hundreds of pages of narrative, rather than to have it described at the very beginning of the novel.
Starbuck alone protests to Ahab, saying that he and others shipped not for “vengeance” on one fish, but on a normal whaling adventure. But Ahab counters that it is not exactly the whale itself he wants to fight and kill, but the thing “behind it,” whatever that might be—perhaps fate, or the unearthly power that has caused Ahab to lose his leg and nearly his life. Ahab then passes around a chalice so that all assembled may drink, and he calls the three harpooneers and mates together, to place their harpoons and hands together, and to agree to hunt Moby Dick to the end of the earth. Starbuck is concerned by the strangeness of this ritual of devotion to Ahab, but the rest of the crew seems excited to kill Moby Dick, and Ahab orders them all to disperse soon thereafter.
The crew is far from desirous of mutiny, however—they realize that Ahab cannot be dissuaded from his purpose, but they also wish, ardently, to find and kill Moby Dick themselves. The reasons for this are perhaps not easy to explain. Of course, the gold doubloon might be an enticement for some sailors, particularly those who don’t not expect much money from the voyage, because they have been given a “long lay” like Ishmael. But there is something, too, in the collective fervor of the crew: they become “infected” with Ahab’s passion, and wish only to serve their captain. Only the practical Starbuck, who is unaffected by fate or quests for glory, sees anything wrong in these events.