Ishmael was an observant young man from Manhattan. He had made many voyages as a sailor but now yearned for a whaling adventure. One day, on a cold, dull night in December, he arrived at the Spouter-Inn in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As the inn was full, he had to share a bed with Queequeg, a harpooner from the South Pacific.
Initially, Ishmael did not like Queequeg’s strange habits and was frightened by his tattooed appearance. But gradually, Ishmael appreciated the man’s kindness and generosity. They became friends and decided to go together on a whaling vessel. Together they sailed to Nantucket and signed up for a voyage on the Pequod. It was about to start on a three-year expedition of hunting sperm whales.
The Pequod was a savage-looking ship. It was decorated with the bones and teeth of sperm whales. Peleg and Bildad were the Pequod’s owners. They told Ishmael and Queequeg about the strange captain, Ahab. The captain was still recovering from the shock of his lost leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last expedition. Before leaving, Ishmael and Queequeg met a stranger, Elijah, who predicted disaster on their journey.
The Pequod left Nantucket on Christmas. On board Ishmael met Starbuck, Stubb and Flask. Starbuck was a Quaker and a native of Nantucket. He was very practical. Stubb had a jovial and carefree attitude. Flask, the native of Martha’s Vineyard, was very aggressive. Ishmael also met the Indian harpooner Tashtego and the African harpooner Daggoo. Captain Ahab was nowhere to be seen and remained secluded in his cabin.
After days on a high sea, Captain Ahab finally appeared. He was a man who always seemed angry. He had a large scar on his face and his peg leg (artificial leg) was made of a whale bone. Captain Ahab had lost his leg when a giant whale, Moby Dick, attacked him years before. Since then, he had been following it without rest. He nailed a doubloon (a Spanish gold coin) to the mast and promised to give it to the first man who found Moby Dick.
As the Pequod sailed towards the southern tip of Africa, the sailors caught sight of a whale on the horizon. The boats were lowered. The sailors weresurprised to see Ahab in a different boat with a mysterious crew which had been hidden. The leader of this crew was Fedallah. Ahab hoped that his skills and Fedallah’s prophetic abilities would help him hunt for Moby Dick. The crew attacked the whale and Queequeg did strike it, but it escaped.
The Pequod destroyed the next whale it came across. Stubb struck the whale with his harpoon. But as the crew members tried to bring the whale onto the ship, the sharks attacked them. Queequeg nearly lost his hand while defending. The Pequod rounded Africa and entered the Indian Ocean. It encountered many other whaling vessels and Ahab’s only purpose in communicating with them was to get information about Moby Dick.
One of the ships the Pequod came across was the Jeroboam. On board was Gabriel, a crazy prophet, who predicted destruction for anyone who threatened Moby Dick. When Tashtego tried to drain the oil from the head of a captured sperm whale, he fell into the whale’s big head. The head got separated from the ship and began to sink. Queequeg dived into the ocean and cut into the sinking head to save Tashtego.
Soon after, the Pequod met the Samuel Enderby, a whaling ship. Its Captain Boomer had lost an arm during his encounter with Moby Dick. The two captains, Boomer and Ahab, met and discussed Moby Dick. Though Boomer lost an arm, he was happy to have survived. At the same time, he could not understand Ahab’s desire for revenge.
One day, Queequeg fell ill. Thinking he was going to die, he ordered the carpenter to make a coffin. When the coffin was made, he filled it up with his harpoon, his idol and a variety of other important belongings. He lay in it to check the size and closed its cover. Queequeg soon got well and emerged from his coffin. Ishmael attributed this recovery to Queequeg’s savage nature.
After reaching the Pacific Ocean, Ahab asked Perth, the blacksmith, to make a special harpoon to kill Moby Dick. Ahab demanded the harpoon to be tampered with the blood of his pagan harpooners.
The next ship that the Pequod encountered was the Bachelor, a Nantucket ship. The captain of the ship denied the existence of Moby Dick. Ahab heard from Fedallah the prophecy of his death. Fedallah
had predicted that he would die before Ahab, and that Ahab could be killed only by hemp. Before dying,
Ahab would see two hearses upon the sea. The next day, the Pequod was caught in a typhoon.
It was time for Ahab to decide to go back to Nantucket or move ahead in pursuit of Moby Dick. Ahab chose to continue his quest. Soon the Pequod’s compass moved out of alignment. Starbuck went to Ahab’s cabin to inform him, but the old man was asleep. He considered shooting Ahab but he could not when he heard Ahab cry in his sleep “Moby Dick, I clutch your heart at last.”
The next morning, Ahab corrected the compass and the ship continued on its journey. The quest for Moby Dick lasted three days. On the first day, Ahab saw the whale and the boats were lowered. Moby Dick attacked the boat, causing it to sink. But Ahab managed to survive and reached Stubb’s boat. Regardless of this failed attempt at defeating the whale, Ahab pursued it for the second day.
On the second day also, Ahab had to face the defeat. This time, Moby Dick broke Ahab’s peg leg. Fedallah got entan led in the harpoon and was drowned. After this second attack, Starbuck told Ahab that his pursuit was wicked and sinful. But Ahab did not abandon his mission and pursued it for the third day.
On the third day, the boats were again sent after Moby Dick. The whale destroyed the Pequod. Ahab threw his harpoon at Moby Dick but himself got entangled in it and went down with it. Only Ishmael survived the attack. He floated atop Queequeg’s coffin. He was rescued by the Rachel, which was still searching for its crewmen lost in its earlier encounter with Moby Dick.