Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

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Moby Dick Character Analysis

The novel’s antagonist, Moby Dick is a white whale, wild and lethal, hunted by many and killed by none. No one in the novel, not even Ahab, succeeds in catching the whale, and Moby Dick eventually destroys the Pequod and nearly all its crew. Moby Dick is seen by the characters as both a monstrous whale and as a symbol, or stand-in, for fate, divine power, or God himself.

Moby Dick Quotes in Moby-Dick

The Moby-Dick quotes below are all either spoken by Moby Dick or refer to Moby Dick. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Moby-Dick published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless procession of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

From the beginning, Ishmael notes that the White Whale, Moby-Dick, has haunted him - although it is not clear how Ishmael could have known about the existence of Moby-Dick while living in New York City, unless he had heard about it in legends whispered from sailor to sailor. At any rate, Ishmael tells the reader that Moby-Dick (here described in poetic, mysterious, semi-religious language) has occupied his thoughts even before he determines he ought to try his hand at being a sailor.

Thus Ishmael's understanding of free will, in this opening chapter, seems to reflect Ahab's later conception - that man can only choose so much of his fate, and that a great deal of one's life is set out for him in advance. Ishmael might have chosen another occupation - he might have decided to stay in New York. But something pulled him toward the open sea, to the Pequod and Ahab and the search for Moby-Dick. And even if Ishmael can't identifying what pulled him, he knows nevertheless that it is a strong force. 

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Chapter 36 Quotes

It’s a white whale, I say . . . a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out.

Related Characters: Ahab (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Ahab takes it upon himself in this section to explain, at least in part, what is so special about Moby-Dick. The whiteness of the whale, which will be described at other moments in the novel, is striking to Ahab - it is a reminder of how special that whale is. But it is not this alone that makes the whale Ahab's enemy. That, of course, has to do with Ahab's attempt on a previous voyage to kill Moby-Dick - an encounter that ends with Moby-Dick biting off one of Ahab's legs.

Starbuck and other characters will later beg Ahab to end his quest, which they consider foolish, to kill the animal that maimed him. They say this because revenge against an animal is, for them, fundamentally different from revenge against a human. Animals, they note, do not intend the violence they cause - it is simply in their nature. Moby-Dick does not hate Ahab - he merely wants to eat him, or keep from being killed himself. But, for Ahab, Moby-Dick's violence demands violence in return - an eye for an eye. Furthermore, Ahab seems wedded to the very idea of Moby-Dick as an horrifying, unbeatable force, a terrible challenge for Ahab to struggle against. It is not just hate, but also pride and even longing that drives him.

Chapter 41 Quotes

For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Moby Dick
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

This, in Ishmael's words, is the reason why he goes along with Ahab, at least in the beginning, on that man's quest to find and kill Moby-Dick, and to avenge the violence the whale has done to him. Ishmael, of course, has no bone to pick with the whale - it is his first voyage, and he has a hard time even understanding how Ahab could hate a "brute" with such force. But Ishmael also notes that he was susceptible to the desires and the rage of others in the crew. At least in the early part of the voyage, the other sailors also want to kill Moby-Dick, perhaps as a way of showing support for their captain, whom they love and fear. But as the novel goes on, this desire on the part of the crew to capture the whale, and therefore help their leader, goes by the wayside - the characters begin to wonder whether Ahab isn't insane, and whether the quest to kill the whale isn't the quest of a madman. 

Chapter 71 Quotes

Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the horrible tail!

Related Characters: Gabriel (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel, like Old Thunder, is another one of the novel's prophets - a person who, though seemingly a normal human, has also taken on a religious quality that enables him, or so he claims, to see into the future, and to predict events that others might not be aware of. Here, Gabriel (another Biblical name, that of a messenger angel) warns that Moby-Dick is more powerful than any man - that no one would be able to defeat the white whale alone, and that perhaps only a beneficent fate could make such a battle even something a man might be able to live through.

Thus Old Thunder and Gabriel both believe that Moby-Dick is himself a god-like figure, one whose power is so far superior to man's that there is nothing a man can do to save himself. Gabriel, like Old Thunder, urges the men around him to consider man's relationship to the divine - that God is the master of all things, and that if God has sent this whale in his stead to rule the waters, man must respect the overwhelming force of that animal. 

Chapter 100 Quotes

He’s welcome to the arm he has, since I can’t help it, and didn’t know him then; but not to another one. No more White Whales for me; I’ve lowered for him once, and that has satisfied me.

Related Characters: Boomer (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 482
Explanation and Analysis:

Boomer, the speaker of these lines, is the captain of an English vessel called the Samuel Enderby. Boomer excites Ahab, when the ships stop to speak to one another, by saying that he has in fact encountered Moby-Dick. At this point, Boomer emerges as a foil to Ahab, for he too is a man who has wrestled with the white whale. Boomer has lowered boats against Moby-Dick, and, falling off his boat, tore his arm, and a ship doctor then amputated it. Boomer feels that he has "given enough" to the white whale, and vows to go back home and preserve his life.

This, of course, is what separates Boomer from Ahab, and makes the two men mirror images of one another. After his encounter with the white whale, Boomer realizes the limits of his own human strength, and feels he has given his best to the fight - that he is simply not strong enough to defeat the whale. Ahab, however, has vowed after his first encounter with Moby-Dick to stop at nothing in trying to kill him. 

Chapter 133 Quotes

Men, this gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let it abide here till the White Whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man’s, and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now!

Related Characters: Ahab (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 602
Explanation and Analysis:

Not only does Ahab believe that he must be the man to kill Moby-Dick, and that it is fair to risk the lives of many men in order to kill the animal that (he believes) has wronged him; Ahab also vows that he was always fated to be the one to spot Moby-Dick, and that the doubloon he placed on the mast could have only one owner, and that is the man that placed it there.

In this passage, then, Melville displays Ahab's total megalomania, or belief that he, and he alone, is capable of defeating the whale, of spitting in the eyes of fate, of ensuring that order will be restored in the universe after the whale has taken his leg. No man could possibly think in these terms unless he were deluded, and yet Ahab really does think in them. And though he is single-mindedly set in his mission, he nevertheless manages, despite the metaphorical blindness of his obsession, to see the whale and to claim the money he placed before the crew. 

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Moby Dick Character Timeline in Moby-Dick

The timeline below shows where the character Moby Dick appears in Moby-Dick. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 37: Sunset
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...that, although Starbuck appears worried about the Pequod’s new mission, Ahab will exact revenge against Moby Dick, and “dismember” his “dismemberer.” Ahab vows that “the path to his fixed purpose is... (full context)
Chapter 38: Dusk
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...himself that Ahab is a madman, that nothing good can come of his obsession with Moby Dick, and that the crew now has come around to Ahab’s cause and is acting... (full context)
Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle
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...of wild celebration they say is brought on by Ahab’s exhortation to them (to kill Moby Dick), and by the wine Ahab has had them drink. A Spanish sailor gets into... (full context)
Chapter 41: Moby Dick
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...that night, and that he was caught up in the excitement surrounding the pursuit of Moby Dick, which he initially supported. Ishmael states that, because it is often difficult for sailors... (full context)
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Ishmael goes on to say that some sailors believe Moby Dick to be immortal, incapable of being killed. Ishmael says that Moby Dick is notable... (full context)
Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale
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Ishmael uses this chapter as a space to muse upon the whiteness of Moby Dick, which he believes to contribute to that whale’s strange dread power. Ishmael states that,... (full context)
Chapter 44: The Chart
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...own chambers, consulting several nautical charts of the “four seas,” and collating information on where Moby Dick had been spotted previously by other ships. Although Ishmael indicates that it might seem... (full context)
Chapter 45: The Affidavit
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...in a court of law, to make clear to the reader that the story of Moby Dick is grounded in truth and isn’t an utter fabrication. Ishmael avers that whales have... (full context)
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...been hunted after numerous attempts and successfully killed—in the same manner Ahab hopes to kill Moby Dick. Ishmael says that “landsmen,” or people who are not sailors, do not understand just... (full context)
Chapter 46: Surmises
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Ishmael here writes that, although Ahab is singularly devoted to the catching and killing of Moby Dick, still he is “not unmindful” of the normal purpose of a whaling ship, which... (full context)
Chapter 48: The First Lowering
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...something to do with Ahab’s desire to use all power necessary to find and kill Moby Dick. (full context)
Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout
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...spout, and believes it, along with many of the crew, to be a sign of Moby Dick, the Pequod gets no closer to it, and soon leaves the calm waters and... (full context)
Chapter 52: The Albatross
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...fish are afraid of the Pequod’s mission to sail around the world in search of Moby Dick. The two boats part, with Ahab yelling to the other captain, who still cannot... (full context)
Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story
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...is about to put his plan in motion, a crew member raises the call that Moby Dick, the white whale, has been spotted not far off. The crew of the Town-Ho... (full context)
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...goes out on a whale-boat with Radney, who is tossed from the small boat once Moby Dick is hooked on a line. Moby Dick then eats Radney, leaving only Radney’s torn... (full context)
Chapter 59: Squid
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...they realize it is only a giant squid—a rare sight even for experienced whalemen—and not Moby Dick. Ahab is disappointed and returns to the Pequod, although others on the boat understand... (full context)
Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story
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...took to Gabriel’s advice and considered him a true man of God. Gabriel announced that Moby Dick was the Shaker God itself, and that no one ought to kill it. (full context)
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As if to demonstrate this, Moby Dick was then spotted off the Jeroboam’s side, and a team was mounted to hunt... (full context)
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...during a gam between the two boats, but states that he will still seek out Moby Dick (over Gabriel’s loud objections). Starbuck finds a letter among the Pequod's sack for Macey,... (full context)
Chapter 80: The Nut
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...indomitability,” and Ishmael then comments that this "air" is in fact true—the sperm whale, especially Moby Dick, is almost impossible to defeat or capture. (full context)
Chapter 96: The Try-Works
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...try-works represent the dark, burning heart of Ahab himself, and of the quest to find Moby-Dick. Ishmael falls into a dream-state, and wakes up with his back to the ship, looking... (full context)
Chapter 99: The Doubloon
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...nailed to the main-mast on the day he challenged the Pequod to find and kill Moby Dick. Ahab himself sees in the doubloon “infernal” signs—marks of the devil and of Ahab... (full context)
Chapter 100: Leg and Arm
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Boomer tells Ahab that the Sammy pulled up alongside Moby Dick along the Line (the equator), and noting that the White Whale was large and... (full context)
Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg
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...the groin—and Ahab began cursing the ivory leg as an extension of the cruel animal, Moby Dick, who took away Ahab’s real leg in the first place. (full context)
Chapter 111: The Pacific
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...is to be found in that ocean, and he calls out to the crew that Moby Dick “spouts thick blood,” and lies ahead of them. (full context)
Chapter 113: The Forge
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...Ahab takes away his new steel weapon, ready to use it in the hunt for Moby Dick. (full context)
Chapter 115: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor
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...when Ahab stops the captain during a brief gam and asks whether he has seen Moby Dick, the unnamed captain of the Bachelor replies that he “doesn’t believe that the whale... (full context)
Chapter 116: The Dying Whale
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...does not make him any happier, it does cause him to approach his hunt for Moby Dick with even greater energy and resolve. (full context)
Chapter 118: The Quadrant
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...it is close to the equator, and whether it is therefore time to search for Moby Dick in earnest—for Ahab is now convinced that Moby Dick will be found along the... (full context)
Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy
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...seals. In the night, one of the crewmembers—who happens to be the first who spotted Moby Dick, while up at the top of the main mast—falls overboard in a fit of... (full context)
Chapter 128: The Pequod Meets the Rachel
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...with the Rachel, a boat that reports, through its Captain Gardiner, that they have seen Moby Dick, and that, the day before, they lowered boats to capture some whales and saw... (full context)
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...Ahab claims he is already losing time in talking with Gardiner rather than searching for Moby Dick. Gardiner, horrified, boards his own ship and sails away, and Ishmael comments that the... (full context)
Chapter 130: The Hat
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Ishmael states that the crew has become silent, awaiting the final encounter with Moby Dick. Fedallah seems never to sleep, and neither does Ahab, whose hat is pulled down... (full context)
Chapter 133: The Chase. – First Day
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Finally, after countless days of searching, Ahab sights Moby Dick’s spout from the top of the main mast of the Pequod. Although Tashtego and... (full context)
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Stubb and Flask also take out whaleboats, and each rows in furious pursuit of Moby Dick. Ishmael says that Moby Dick appeared so beautiful as to resemble a god from... (full context)
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...back to the Pequod, and once there, Ahab resumes his watch, saying that whoever sights Moby Dick on the day he is killed will truly get the doubloon—and if Ahab does... (full context)
Chapter 134: The Chase. – Second Day
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Some crew members believe they see Moby Dick spouting, but it is only one unrepeated spout, and the mates warn that Moby... (full context)
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...by Perth, but the other two boats are not so lucky, and are smashed against Moby Dick’s side—their crews get drenched and must swim to safety, clinging to bits of the... (full context)
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...up all the sailors, mates, and Ahab, who are swimming in the nearby waters, as Moby Dick glides quickly away. But Ahab realizes that Fedallah is missing—that he was trapped under... (full context)
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...to abandon the chase, saying that his boat has now been destroyed twice, and that Moby Dick will kill him and perhaps the rest of the crew. Ahab also shows that... (full context)
Chapter 135: The Chase. – Third Day
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...Pequod, and quickly try to make the boats ready and water-tight, to continue to attack Moby Dick. Meanwhile, Ahab sees a horrific sight: Fedallah’s body is trapped against the White Whale’s,... (full context)
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...what the second will be. Ahab nevertheless orders the crew to once again fly toward Moby Dick, who has appeared to “slacken” in his pace, perhaps because he is tired and... (full context)
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Ahab recovers, orders the crew back into the boat, and realizes that Moby Dick has turned away from attacking the small whaling dinghy, and has instead focused its... (full context)
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...one final shot with his harpoon at the whale, and urges the crew onward, toward Moby Dick. Ahab throws the harpoon and strikes the whale, but does not notice that the... (full context)