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.
Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement ThemeTracker
Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Quotes in Moby-Dick
Call me Ishmael.
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 . . . .
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.