Moby Dick Summary

Herman Melville

Moby Dick

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Moby Dick Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Moby Dick, published by Herman Melville in 1851, is about a captain named Ahab who becomes obsessed with defeating a whale, a whale that has already gotten the best of him.  The story is told by a sailor named Ishmael, and Ismael explains that he goes to sea whenever he feels down.

One day, in the port of New Bedford, Ishmael stays at the Spouter Inn.  At the inn, Ishmael encounters a man named Queequeg.  At first, Ishmael is frightened by Queequeg and his tattooed appearance, but soon they become friends.

Ishmael then attends a service at the Whaleman’s Chapel where Father Mapple gives a sermon about Jonah and the whale. The next day, Queequeg and Ishmael travel together to Nantucket where they can get on board a whaler.  During the ferry ride to the island, a man makes fun of Queequeg.  Later, this same man falls overboard, and Queequeg is the one who saves his life.

We learn more about Queequeg and his religious beliefs when he practices Ramadan and its rituals.  As Queequeg is doing this, Ishmael signs onto the whaler Pequod owned by the Quaker captains, Bildad and Peleg.  Because of Queequeg’s different religious beliefs, and being considered a heathen, he is only permitted to also sign onto the Pequod once he proves his skill as a harpooner.

As the two friends are about to board the Pequod, they are approached by a man named Elijah who seems crazed and is warning them about Ahab and the voyage to come.  From a distance, Ishmael and Queequeg see several men go aboard.

The ship sets sail on Christmas day, and the chief mate, Starbuck, chooses Queequeg as his harpooner; the second mate, Stubb, chooses the Indian, Tashtego; and the third mate, Flask, chooses the African, Daggoo.  Several days after the ship sets sail, Ahab finally appears on deck.

Ishmael recounts that Ahab’s appearance sends chills through him.  Ahab has a white scar that runs from his hairline, over his face, and down his neck; and he stands on an artificial leg made of whale bone. Ahab calls all the men on deck.  He hammers a gold doubloon to the mast and tells the men that the first to spot Moby Dick, a white whale, will win the coin.  Ahab then tells them that it was Moby Dick that took off his leg.

When the whale is first sighted, the boats are lowered, and Ahab goes into his own boat with a crew he had not revealed to the other men.  This mysterious crew had been hidden below deck, and the men were very surprised by this.  Ahab’s harpooner is Fedallah.  A sudden storm arises while they are chasing Moby Dick, and Ishmael’s boat capsizes and is later nearly struck by the Pequod.

After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the Pequod has the first of many of its meetings with other ships.  Ahab communicates with these ships, and his sole purpose in doing so is to get news about Moby Dick.  In these communications, the crewmen learn that several of the ships lost men to the white whale.  One ship called the Rachel had recently encountered Moby Dick and is now searching for a lost boat.  The son of the Rachel’s captain is in that boat, but Ahab does not offer to help with search mission; rather, he is only focused on his mission for vengeance.  Fearing an ordinary death at sea, at some point, Queequeg has a coffin made for him and then later uses it as a sea chest.

One night before the chase for Moby Dick begins, Fedallah makes a prophecy.  He said that neither hearse nor coffin would be Ahab’s, that before Ahab dies, he must see two hearses and that Fedallah’s death will precede Ahab’s.  The chase then begins for Moby Dick.

On the first day of the chase, Ahab smells the whale, climbs the mast, and sees it. He orders all boats to lower except for Starbuck’s. The whale bites Ahab’s boat in two and the crew is scattered.

On the second day of the chase, Ahab leaves Starbuck in charge of the Pequod.  Moby Dick smashes the three boats that seek him into splinters and tangles their lines.  Ahab is rescued, but his ivory leg and Fedallah are lost.  Starbuck begs Ahab to stop, but Ahab vows to slay Moby Dick, no matter what it takes, in order to exact his revenge.

On the third day of the chase, Ahab sights Moby Dick.  Ahab lowers, and leaves Starbuck on board again.  Moby Dick destroys two boats.  Fedallah’s dead body, still entangled in the lines, is lashed to the whale’s back, so Moby Dick turns out to be the first hearse in Fedallah’s prophecy.  Ahab plants his harpoon in the whale’s flank – Moby Dick strikes the boat, tossing its men into the sea.  The whale then fatally attacks the Pequod.  Ahab then realizes that the destroyed ship is the other hearse in Fedallah’s prophecy.  The whale returns to Ahab, who stabs at him again.  The line loops around Ahab’s neck, and as the stricken whale swims away, the captain is drawn with him out of sight.  Ishmael is the only one to survive and is left at sea.  For an entire day, Ishmael floats on Queequeg’s coffin.  Then the Rachel still looking for its lost seamen, rescues Ishmael.