In this short chapter, Stubb tells Flask of a dream he had the night before—the night he was told off by Ahab. Stubb dreams that Ahab kicked him with his ivory leg, and after doing so, that Ahab turned into a kind of “pyramid,” and Stubb did his best to kick this pyramid back, but did no damage. Stubb muses, in the dream, as to whether it is better to be hit with a “living” or a “dead” thing—a living hand or foot, rather than an ivory one—and concludes it is far worse to be hit with something living. Then, in the dream, a “merman” with a hunched back appears, and tells Stubb that it was in fact an honor to be kicked by so noble a man as Ahab, and with an ivory leg—a leg worth a great deal of money.
A strange and surreal chapter, which also deviates from the relatively realistic descriptions established in the preceding chapters. The dream equates Ahab with ancient spiritual places (the purposes of which are lost to the understanding of modern men) and Ahab’s ivory leg, here, achieves a kind of symbolic status—an indicator that Ahab is not entirely human, but rather has a part of him that more resembles a machine or an inanimate object. (Queen Mab, by the way, is a mythological bringer of dreams.)
Flask hears out this dream and concludes that it sounds like a “foolish” one. But Stubb believes it has given him some useful information about Ahab, and tells Flask that he will not fight with Ahab anymore—he will simply follow the man’s orders. Stubb also tells the third mate that Ahab has been ordering men around to keep their eyes out for whales, especially a white whale. Stubb wonders what this could mean—white whales are exceedingly rare—and hurries to prepare the deck according to Ahab’s wishes.
Stubb here decides to give in to Ahab, to follow his leader who he sees having a kind of greatness to him (even if it is a strange or frightening greatness). It is interesting that Stubb decides this even as he senses that the “white whale” might also be a stand-in for something larger—for a struggle against God and fate. The characters of the novel, interestingly, grasp Moby Dick both as a horrible monster and, simultaneously, as a symbol for other monstrous events in men’s lives, and still follow the monomaniacal Ahab to face it. The grandeur and implacable power of Ahab's almost inhuman will is a critical aspect of the novel.