"He's killed himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate stiggs done over again - there goes another counterpane - god pity his poor mother! - it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl? - there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with - "no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;" - might as well kill both birds at once."
Author Filibuster: Though he had reservations about killing whales ("So remorseless a havoc"), Melville had high regard for the brave whalers. In his generation, they were equivalent to cowboys and astronauts.
Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?
Ahab: From hell's heart I stab at thee. For hate's sake. I spit my last breath at thee!!!
First Person Peripheral Narrator: Ishmael tells the story, and at first appears to be the main character, but as the story goes on he becomes more and more peripheral to the story to the point that he almost disappears while Captain Ahab and the eponymous whale take center stage as the main characters.
Gentle Giant: Queequeg. He's a brawny cannibal prince from the South Sea islands who's covered in tribal tattoos, has his teeth filed to look like fangs, and is deadly accurate with his harpoon (which doubles as a razor for shaving). So what's his favorite pastime besides peddling shrunken heads in the street? Snuggling up with his best buddy Ishmael. D'awwwwwwww.
Arguably, Daggoo as well. Stubb can fit on his shoulders, and the man's not exactly a featherweight (that would be Flask).
Almost forgetting for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind. A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or instinct; but undulated there on the billows, an unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life.
As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck still gazing at the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild voice exclaimed — "Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to have seen thee, thou white ghost!"
Go Mad from the Revelation: nearly drowning twice as a result of his own cowardice and stupidity does wonders for Pip's sanity. The poor kid frequently rants and chastises himself. Ahab sees him as a kindred spirit, probably because Pip is the only person on the ship as mad as he is.
Light Is Not Good: Discussed, as in the "paradox" of the creepiness of albinos in spite of the positive symbolism of white. It should be noted that the whale is not an albino however, he's merely white because he's covered in scars.
Louis Cypher: Fedallah, possibly. Stubb certainly thinks so.
Ludicrous Precision: The question of whether the whale's spout is water or vapour has lasted from the beginning of history down to "this blessed minute (fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o'clock P.M. of this sixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851)"
The Man With No Name: Ishmael, if one interprets "Call me Ishmael" to imply that this is not his true name.
No Name Given: An intriguing variation: Ishmael does give a name at the beginning of the book, but only instructs the reader to "Call me Ishmael", as opposed to saying "My name is Ishmael." This is often cited as strong evidence that Ishmael is an unreliable narrator. If you can't even be sure that he told the truth about his name, then you can't be sure that he told the truth about anything.
Noodle Incident: "That deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in Santa."
Not What I Signed On For: Starbuck is on the Pequod to hunt whales, not assist his captain in his mad obsession. He certainly thinks this, and in some adaptations voices this very phrase. Only his sense of duty keeps him from mutinying.
Pet the Dog: Ahab and Pip in Chapter 125, "The Log and Line".
Plague of Good Fortune: A subtle example of type 4: Once Ahab has decided to destroy Moby Dick, a lot of good things (for a superior spirit, of course) happened to him: He discovers the beauty of nature, he appreciates the loyalty of his crew, he rediscovers love and charity again when he befriends Pip, Starbuck’s reminds him of his wife and son, the captain of the Rachel begs him to save his son… It’s like the whole universe conspires to save Ahab from his self imposed doom, to convince to abandon his philosophy of Rage Against the Heavens … he only can blame himself.
Power Born of Madness: "If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object."—Chapter 33.
Rage Against the Heavens: Ahab. The author directly states that Ahab has come to project all of the evil in the world onto Moby Dick, as if the white whale is the living personification of evil and bad fortune. Ahab himself acknowledges that he hates the whale that crippled him not so much as a mere whale, but for what it represents: bad luck, fate, the harsh nature of a post-Eden fallen world, whatever you want to call it. Ahab's anger, as the author put it, is the sum total of all of the anger of humanity going back to when Adam was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, anger at an imperfect world in which bad things can happen. Ahab sees the white whale as the living personification of all of this, and thus, something in the flesh which he can actually fight and kill.
Revenge Before Reason: Quoth Starbuck — "Vengeance on a dumb brute! That simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
Fridge Brilliance: Retorts Ahab — "Talk not to me of blasphemy, man! I'd strike the sun if it insulted me! For if the sun could do that, then I could do the other." (And if he were to strike the sun, what would happen to his hand...?)
The events depicted in The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex were another major inspiration.
Scavenged Punk: crossed with Creepy Awesome. Ahab asks the ship's blacksmith to build him a harpoon with a shaft forged from a bunch of horse-shoe nails used in races and the cutting edge from straight-razor blades, which he quenches in blood.
Science Marches On: While the author was very knowledgeable about cetology, some "facts" he used have since been proven to be inaccurate.
"Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish."
More of a case of definitions march on. "Fish" originally just meant "animal that lives exclusively in water". Melville recognises that whales are warm-blooded, breathe air, and bear live young, but just doesn't think that a sufficient reason to redefine what "fish" means. As made clear by several other lines in the same chaptern, Melville is very much a Lumper, not a Splitter.
He also mentions phrenology and physiognomy, both now considered pseudosciences.
Shown Their Work: Cetology and all aspects of whale fishing; All, I say. But they're interesting.
Remove the even-numbered chapters, and you've got an encyclopedia of whaling. Remove the odd-numbered chapters, and you've got an adventure story. And that story still has a bit of the encyclopedia.
Taking You with Me: In most film versions, the whale takes Ahab with him. Or is that the other way round? (In the book, the critical consensus is that Moby Dick survives.)
Talk Like a Pirate: Justified. "Avast" is an actual period nautical command, and it (and a few others) are used correctly in the story.
Truth in Television: Believe it or not, this book was based very heavily on a true story. Although, the story of Moby-Dick is quite a "softened" version of the actual events — the real tale is far more gruesome and chilling. Read for yourself. Also, it should be noted the angry ship-sinking cetacean was actually a sperm whale.
Chapter XLV of the novel itself cites the real-life story as evidence that a sperm whale can indeed sink a ship.
Ahab even has a wife and son at home, though he mentions them only once, so everyone else who's ever read the book (except Sena Naslund, author of the novel Ahab's Wife) might be forgiven for forgetting that.
What You Are in the Dark: Starbuck, the lone dissenting voice, has a moment where he's looking at the loaded muskets outside Ahab's cabin. He very seriously considers shooting Ahab in order to put an end to what he sees as a fool's quest. However, his loyalty to his captain (and presumably his Quaker faith as well) stops him.