Ishmael then notes, briefly, the nature of Ahab’s dining. Ahab eats his dinner each nigh with the three mates, and they sit at an ivory (whalebone) table over which Ahab presides, like the head of a family. Starbuck gets the largest portion of the three mates, then Stubb, then Flask, and Flask must leave the table first to tend to his duties back on deck—Stubb and then Starbuck follow him.
Division of life on a whale ship, like similar divisions in the military, break down along lines of “class” or status. Here, the officers of the ship, like the officers in the military, tend to associate with one another, and not with the crew, or troops. Ahab seems to emphasize this hierarchy, and his own place at its top, more than most.
Ishmael also describes, briefly, the meals eaten by the three harpooneers—Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo—whose lip-smacking and “barbaric” manners tend to scare the dough-boy, or cook, on the ship. Ishmael notes that, although in some ships, the captain makes the officers and the harpooneers feel comfortable lounging and talking in the captain’s quarters, Ahab engenders no such camaraderie, but instead keeps mostly to himself before and after meal times.
The harpooneers, for their part, act as something like “non-commissioned officers,” or officers of a middle tier, between the ship’s captain and mates, on the one hand, and the crew, on the other. The “strange” habits of the “savage” harpooneers (described by Ishmael in a manner that would now be considered offensive) are often viewed as impenetrable and mysterious by others on the vessel. Ahab is again notable for how he sets himself apart.