Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville, starts out on land with the narrator Ishmael. He decides to go whaling to get away from his depressing thoughts; he says the sea always helps him. At an inn, he is asked to share a room with Queequeg, a savage covered in tattoos. This makes him uneasy at first, but he soon finds that he is a good friend. Queequeg is a kind, generous man, even if he does have "savage" ways. They board the same whaling vessel, the Pequod. The captain of this ship is Ahab. Ahab, while doing his job, has another motive to go whaling. He hopes to catch the white whale; it had taken off his leg a while back, and he wanted revenge. For a long time no whales are spotted at all. On the first hunt Pip, a cabin boy, goes crazy after a harrowing experience. He becomes a prophetic, symbolic character. Soon, Queequeg falls ill and expects to do. He orders a coffin made for himself, but he makes an amazing recovery and the coffin is not needed. Ahab becomes crazy about finding the white whale and killing it. To him, it represents all evil in the universe that he must destroy. Even after being warned by other ship captains, he refuses to forget about his vengeance. When they encounter the whale, it ends in disaster. Ahab insists on pursuing the whale as it flees. This turns out to be a terrible mistake, and Ahab does not think clearly about what is best for all the crew members. He is described as a monomaniac throughout the novel. In the end, Ahab leaps out of the boat to attack the whale. He uses a special harpoon that was made to be cruelly painful for the whale, but it ends up being to no avail. Ahab gets caught and tangled in the ropes while on the whale's back. The white whale drowns the caught captain and destroys the ship. Ishmael ends up being the only survivor of the disastor; he uses the coffin as a lifeboat. This is an ironic ending; the thing that is meant for the dead becomes a tool for survival.
1. Ahab dies as a result of his battle/revenge against the whale. This symbolizes Melville's belief in man's insignificance in the unverse and that he will inevitably be defeated by it. Is man significant? Does one human's will mean anything?
2. At first glance, Queequeg seems like a foreboding man. He has dark skin and is covered in tattoos. During the time this novel was written, the Civil War was taking place; slavery was soon to be abolished. What is significant about Ishmael's respect for Queequeg?