Ahab spots another whaling ship, this time an English one called the Samuel Enderby, and pulls up alongside it. When Ahab notes that the captain of this ship, named Boomer, has a white ivory arm and has seen the White Whale, Ahab immediately gathers Fedallah and has him and the “Manilla men” row him to the “Sammy,” which Ahab then boards as best he can, given his ivory leg. Ahab wants to hear Boomer’s story about the White Whale. In contrast to Ahab, Boomer seems in fairly high spirits, despite having lost this arm and not having caught Moby Dick.
Ahab is overjoyed to find someone who has actually seen Moby Dick. This chapter is very much a study in contrasts, as Boomer is far more at peace with his disability, and with the manner by which it came, then Ahab is. For Boomer as for Starbuck, a whale is simply an animal that cannot have feelings or desires—the whale will eat a human because that is what whales do instinctively. Thus Boomer holds no grudge against Moby Dick.
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 of sperm oil, they did their best to lance it. But Boomer was not able to hold Moby Dick on his line, and fell out of his boat—his own harpoon then tore into the flesh of his arm, and though Moby Dick did not bite it off, the White Whale was the cause of the deep wound, which necessitated that the ship doctor cut off Boomer’s arm. Ahab asks if Boomer knows where Moby Dick is now, but Boomer has no information for Ahab, and wonders why someone would seek out a whale that is clearly so dangerous to man. But Ahab, in a huff, leaves Boomer, who is confused as to Ahab’s anger, stating that the whale is just a whale, and that there is no reason to hunt it as though one holds a grudge against it.
Boomer is another of the novel’s foils to Ahab. One wonders what the novel would be like if Ishmael were to have shipped out on the Sammy instead of on the Pequod. Of course, a good deal of the drama of the novel would be lost, since Ahab’s monomania derives from his belief that Moby Dick “stands for” something, and that to defeat Moby Dick is to fight against man’s fate in general. Boomer, on the other hand, is content to view whaling as a violent and dangerous occupation, one by which a man can lose a body part—this is simply the job that Boomer signed up for.