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Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Theme Analysis

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Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Theme Icon

The book explores many different forms of equality, fellowship, and enslavement in human relations. A notable example of fellowship and racial tolerance is Ishmael’s close friendship with Queequeg. Although Ishmael is initially repulsed and terrified by Queequeg’s appearance and background, he soon perceives Queequeg to be principled, loyal, affectionate, and talented. The two men become “married,” in Queequeg’s parlance, meaning that they vow to join their fates and lay down their lives for each other.

The organization of the Pequod is portrayed as more meritocratic and less racist than society at large. The crew is racially diverse, with rank and pay dependent on skill; meanwhile, the men are financially interdependent, since none of them are paid upfront and any profit will arise from collective success. This interdependence also takes a physical form: Ishmael notes that the Pequod is distinct among whaling boats in that a harpooner and the crew member in charge of holding onto him with a rope are tied together, so that if the harpooner is dragged into the sea, the corresponding crew member will be dragged down too.

The Pequod does parallel conventional society in that the captain and mates are all white, while all the harpooners working under them (as well as many lower-order crew members) are non-white. However, all members of the Pequod’s crew are subject to Ahab’s whims and bouts of frenzy; in this sense, they are all equally enslaved. Early in the novel, Ishmael asks rhetorically, “Who ain’t a slave?” He is referring to the fact that most people, and not just sailors like him, live at the beck and call of others; everybody follows orders, and everybody is subjugated in some way. Notably, Ishmael’s chosen name (“Call me Ishmael,” he says in the opening chapter, making it unclear whether it is his real or assumed name) is Biblical in origin, and refers to the prophet Abraham’s son with the slave woman Hagar.

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Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement appears in each chapter of Moby-Dick. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Quotes in Moby-Dick

Below you will find the important quotes in Moby-Dick related to the theme of Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Call me Ishmael.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the most famous sentences in world literature. Ishmael is the narrator of Moby-Dick, and for the first part of the novel he is also the most important character -  a young man who, deciding to make his fortune on the sea, signs on to a whaling voyage with the notorious Captain Ahab. As the novel goes on, Ishmael's narrating position fades slightly to the background, and new chapters occupy the middle portion of the book - including extended meditations on whale anatomy and the nature of the whaling industry. It is not clear whether Ishmael, too, is the narrator of these sections, or whether another, unnamed narrator supersedes him (perhaps Melville himself).

It is also interesting to note that Ishmael does not directly say that Ishmael is his name - rather, he notes only that the reader can "call" him that. In the Hebrew Bible, Ishmael was another son of Abraham, born of the slave girl Hagar, and he was passed over in the family's succession in favor of Isaac. Whether this Biblical background bears on Ishmael the character is for the reader to decide. 


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Chapter 16 Quotes

I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo’s judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god . . . .

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Queequeg
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael describes at great length Queequeg's religious rituals, which at first he finds utterly confusing and strange. Queequeg does not worship a Christian god, but instead places all his faith in Yojo. Ishmael later realizes that Yojo satisfies, for the harpooner, the same logic as does the Christian god - that if, in other words, Christians place their lives in the hands of divine providence, so too do practitioners of other faiths. As Ishmael comes to meet different people from different walks of life aboard the Pequod, he is less likely to judge them as being odd or deviant for following a religion that is not his.

Coupled with this, too, is something else Ishmael realizes about the Christian faith - namely, that even those who practice it, like the Quakers from whom the Pequod is leased, can be immoral, or can follow rules that are not in line with those described in the Christian Bible. 

Chapter 52 Quotes

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only thought numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

Another opportunity for Ishmael's musings. Many important parts of the novel are the talks (or "gams") that occur between crews of boats passing each other on the high seas. Here, the Pequod falls in line with the Albatross, which is headed back for home, and whose nearly starving, nearly mad crew marvels at the Pequod's mission to sail around the world. It is only when Ishmael sees the Albatross and its crew that he realizes, fully, the difficulty of the enterprise in which they are engaged - and the terrible things that might befall the Pequod's crew after many months at sea.

These conversations between boats serve as the "messaging system" in a novel where letters, let alone vocal messages, cannot be exchanged between characters who spend many months or years at a time on ships. When the Pequod is out on the high seas, its crew is starved for human contact, and this makes interactions with ships like the Albatross all the more valuable, even if the Albatross's crew seems half crazed. 

Chapter 54 Quotes

So help me Heaven, and on my honor the story I have told ye, gentlemen, is in substance and its great items, true. I know it to be true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship . . . I have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Steelkilt, Radney
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an important passage in the novel, because it indicates the time in which Ishmael is currently narrating the tale, and hints at Ishmael's fate. After all, we now know that, at this point, Ishmael must survive the voyage of the Pequod to find Moby-Dick - for how else would Ishmael be able to relate to the reader something that happens after Ishmael has been on that boat with Ahab and his crew?

The function of time in Moby-Dick, therefore, is highlighted in this scene. Ishmael is a conduit for the reader - he siphons off the story of Ahab and his men and presents it to the person holding the novel in his or her hands. But Ishmael also seems not to be bound by certain physical considerations, as others in the novel are - he does not, in short, go down with the ship. He is free to tell his tales to future generations - something not possible for Ahab or Starbuck. 

Chapter 60 Quotes

All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rope (the Line)
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

Another important metaphorical passage in the novel. Here, the "line" (or rope) can represent many things. It can be the lines of the novel itself - the words that Ishmael has relayed to the reader, and which contain the story of Ahab's journey and his attacks on Moby-Dick. The line can also be the rigging of the Pequod, which literally holds the men together, draws them into a common goal of keeping one another afloat. This second line, as Ishmael mentions, can be dangerous, as it can "catch" a man who's not looking and drag him overboard.

This leads to the third kind of line drawing men together in the text, the lines of fate, the web in which all men and women are born, and in which they die. Ishmael seems, as the novel progresses, to ascribe more and more to the idea of a blind fate that has arranged for the lives and deaths of all people. He believes that, by embarking on the Pequod, he has entered into one of these networks of fate, even if he does not know, while the voyage is happening, whether or not he will survive. 

Chapter 82 Quotes

Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there’s a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman’s can head off like that?

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis:

Another one of Ishmael's short philosophical essays, in which he takes up a topic related to whaling and its history. Here, Ishmael demonstrates his broad learning and understanding of the Greek and Roman classics, to argue that a great many heroes in antiquity fought and defeated whales. This was a way, he argues, of demonstrating superiority over beasts that tower over human beings. Ishmael notes that it is somehow natural for humans to attempt to conquer beasts of this size, and to demonstrate, therefore, their power over the natural world that surrounds them.

The consequence of this likeness, too, is to raise whalemen in Ishmael's day to the level of Greek or Biblical heroes. Ishmael might do this in part because he wants to aggrandize himself. But he seems also to genuinely believe that Ahab and the crew of the Pequod are engaged in a special and heroic journey on the high seas, something of which not all men would even be capable. 

Chapter 92 Quotes

What then shall I liken the Sperm Whale to for fragrance, considering his magnitude? Must it not be to that famous elephant, with jeweled tusks, and redolent with myrrh, which was led out of an Indian town to do honor to Alexander the Great?

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 449
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael here takes up some features related to the physical appearance and the smell of a sperm whale. Ishmael argues that sperm whales in fact do not smell the way people expect them to, and neither does whale oil. What does smell, however, is a sick whale, but sick whales also produce ambergris, a substance derived from whale oil, and a fragrance of great value on land.

Ishmael then muses on the relation between a sick animal and its ability to produce something so magnificent as ambergris. Ishmael also argues that whale oil itself is miraculous, and by comparing the whale to Alexander the Great's elephant, Ishmael demonstrates that he places the sperm whale at the absolute top of the animal pyramid, as regards its beauty, its inherent valor, and its majestic nature. That the sickness of the whale makes its oil even more valuable is, for Ishmael, merely another reflection of the power and wonder 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. 

Chapter 135 Quotes

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 624
Explanation and Analysis:

Not only has the white whale defeated Ahab, despite Ahab's best efforts to kill him. Not only has the whale defeated the entire crew, the group of men Ahab has marshaled to aid in this attack. The white whale has, in fact, obliterated all remnants of the Pequod, all evidence that the boat even existed and once sailed the sea. These things are gone completely when the boat sinks and is sent to the bottom of the ocean.

The narrator, or Ishmael, in this scene thus relates how completely man is at the mercy of nature. Despite all Ahab's ravings and the power of his will and hate, there was nothing he could do to stop the boat from sinking, to prevent nature from taking over the scene and rolling the waves once more over the boat. For all his yelling that he controlled fate, fate has mastered Ahab here - and the rest of the crew along with him. 

Epilogue Quotes

On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her tracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 625
Explanation and Analysis:

This Biblical story of Rachel (who is immortalized as the archetype of a mother mourning for her lost children) ties the book together, and shows that, even in the moments where he approached death, Ishmael believed, based on Biblical precedents, that he might be saved. Ishmael is orphaned because the crew of the Pequod, his family, has gone down with the ship. He no longer has Ahab as his leader and father - he no longer has Queequeg as a brother (and possible beloved, in some interpretations). Ishmael is indeed all alone, and he has "escaped" to relate to the reader the story of Moby-Dick, the whale who defeated man's best efforts to kill him.

Thus Ishmael's actions seem to be foretold, as so many actions in the novel have been spoken of by prophets and seers, men who appear crazy to other men, but seem to know the future as the crew of the Pequod does not. Ishmael now, presumably, goes back to land and writes the story of Moby-Dick - the novel the reader now holds in his or her hands.