Follow TV Tropes


Characters / Moby-Dick

Go To

Characters appearing in the novel Moby-Dick.

    open/close all folders 

Crew of the Pequod

"Call me Ishmael."

The narrator and sometimes protagonist of the novel, Ishmael is a Manhattan Islander with an apparently chronic desire to sail, which leads him to New Bedford and onto the crew of the Pequod.

  • The Everyman: We don't learn that much about him besides his name.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: He's the narrator of the book but has a very minor role in the story. Once he boards the Pequod, the narration drifts away from his perspective to the point that it essentially becomes an omniscient third-person voice, including descriptions of things that Ishmael couldn't have seen himself.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Queequeg. By the cannibal's culture they are married but the Ho Yay comes mostly from Queequeg while Ishmael sees it as a strong friendship.
  • Meaningful Name: In the Bible, Ishmael is banished to a desert. Here, he feels an urge to live at sea.
  • No Name Given: An intriguing variation: he 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. See Meaningful Name for why he'd tell you to call him Ishmael if that isn't his real name.
  • Sole Survivor: Of the wreck of the Pequod.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The major conflict of the book is between Moby Dick and Ahab. Ishmael is only involved because he stepped onto Ahab's boat.
  • Unreliable Narrator: A downplayed version of this trope. There's no reason to question Ishmael's version of events (even though some parts are ones he shouldn't have been around to witness), but he's given to lengthy discussions involving the biology of whales, on which topic he is given to idiosyncratic ideas, such as classifying cetaceans like books:
    Ishmael: I take the good old-fashioned ground that the whale is a fish

     Captain Ahab 

By far the most famous character in the novel, Ahab is the captain of the Pequod, who has abandoned commercial whaling in favor of his obsession with hunting down and taking revenge on the whale which ate his leg: Moby Dick.

  • A Father to His Men: This obviously goes off the rails in the end, but Ahab is a surprisingly humane and evenhanded captain. His crew is willing to go along with him chasing a terror of the sea for a reason.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Vaguely described as insane (monomania has not been a valid diagnosis for over a century). However, the symptoms he does exhibit most closely resemble Bipolar 1 disorder and PTSD.
  • Ambiguously Evil: We're not sure what his morality is, but we're pretty sure he's not good.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Loses his leg to Moby Dick before the story begins, prompting his quest for revenge.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: A realistic expression of this trope. Promotion to captain of a whaling ship means being an exceptional whaler. Ahab earned his position and is generally admired for it.
  • Badass Longcoat: In most adaptations. Given the fashion of the time, most likely in the book, too.
  • Big Bad: Although Moby Dick is ostensibly the villain, it theoretically only attacks Ahab's crew in self-defense, thus it does not create the conflict and therefore does not fill the role of a big bad. The true cause of the problems in the novel is Ahab himself, and his obsession with killing the whale at all costs, even if it means killing his entire crew.
  • Broken Ace: He's considered the best captain in Nantucket, a charismatic leader who inspires devotion in his crew, and a skilled whaler despite his advanced years and missing leg. Even so, his dangerous obsession with the white whale proves his undoing.
  • The Captain: Right there in his job description. He's an excellent captain at that, admired by the Pequod's owners and crew alike. That is, except for that one little problem he has.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Deconstructed. His insanity makes him completely unfit to command a vessel and results in the death of himself and all his crew save Ishmael.
  • Cool Old Guy: The badass is practically a given as captain of a whaling ship, but he's noted as being particularly badass even as such. He's also getting up in his years, and the book regularly refers to him as "old man". Neither age nor disability keep him from casting iron at whales. The age part is actually downplayed a bit considering that we eventually find out that for all Ahab's (and Ishmael's) talk of him being very old, he is actually only 58; closer to middle-aged than truly elderly.
  • Crazy Sane: He is a pretty competent captain, and seems perfectly normal until he talks about his Animal Nemesis.
  • Determinator: Could be classified as an early examination of this kind of character's flaws. Absolutely nothing will stop Ahab from trying to take his revenge on the White Whale, up to and including sacrificing his entire crew to do it. The crew, for their part, both respect and fear Ahab, while at the same time considering him completely out of his mind over his obsession.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Only Starbuck truly opposes his blatantly bad intentions throughout the book. The other crewmembers find his leadership almost hypnotic even as he leads them to their deaths.
  • Evil Cripple: He is a lunatic who recklessly endangers his crew in order to kill the whale that bit off his leg. Amputated leg aside, he's perfectly capable as a captain (the Pequod can even rig up a way to get him onto the mast) — he's just obsessed with "dismembering his dismemberer."
  • Fatal Flaw: His obsession with revenge against the title whale costs him his life, his ship, and his crew.
  • Father Neptune: A master mariner if there ever was one.
  • Famous Last Words: Some of the most famous in English literature:
    Ahab: Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!
  • Freudian Excuse: Heavily implied. What little we know about his backstory includes being orphaned as a baby, spending less than three full years on land since he was eighteen, and dueling somebody in a church.
  • Evil Cripple: Has a peg leg made of whalebone to compensate for the leg Moby Dick bit off above the knee.
  • Handicapped Badass: Losing a leg seems to have barely slowed him down.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Accidentally kills himself by getting his neck tangled in a rope attached to a harpoon he already threw at Moby Dick. He gets pulled underwater and drowns as soon as the whale submerges again.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Chapter 132 has him consider abandoning the chase for Moby Dick and return home to his family (see below). He does not go through with it.
  • I Have a Family: A wife and son, back in Nantucket.
  • Implacable Man: Lost a leg, and it barely slows him down.
  • The Insomniac: Type B, forgoing sleep for as long as possible to stay focused on his mission.
    Ahab: Sleep? That bed is a coffin and those are winding sheets. I do not sleep, I die.
  • Irony: Would you believe this vengeful seadog is a Quaker?
  • Karmic Death: Dies in the pursuit of his pointless revenge.
  • The Leader: Of the Pequod.
  • Nay-Theist: He's a Quaker, so he definitely believes God exists. It's just that Ahab also thinks that God is incompetent.
  • Only One Allowed To Kill You: Has this attitude toward Moby Dick. Whenever he runs into another whaler that's encountered Moby Dick, the first thing he asks if they got him or not.
  • Only One Name/No Name Given: Known only as Captain Ahab, no surname is ever provided.
  • Pet the Dog: With his Morality Pet Pip.
  • The Philosopher: He can't seem to speak more than two sentences before dissolving into a rant about existentialism.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The only reason Ahab allows the crew to hunt other whales is to keep up their morale and prevent any ideas of mutiny.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: 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: The Trope Codifier. His only concern is killing Moby Dick, regardless of the negative effects on himself, his crew, or anyone else.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: Captain Ahab is one of the Trope Codifiers (to the point that some examples on this page are Expies of either him or Long John Silver, the other Trope Codifier). Captain Ahab lost a leg during a previous whaling voyage while hunting the white whale and now has a grudge against it. In fact, his missing leg is the main force that drives his revenge plot against the titular whale. Notably, Ahab's peg leg was apparently made with whalebone. In fact neither character has this trope as usually portrayed — Silver's leg is missing from the hip, and he moves about on a crutch; Ahab apparently has a mid-thigh amputation, judging by the scene in which he works out sextant shots on a specially-shaped area of his prosthesis.
  • Third-Person Person: Constantly refers to himself as "Ahab" for no apparent reason other than dramatic effect.
  • Tragic Hero: Universally considered the greatest captain in Nantucket, driven to his doom by his obsession with revenge. His monologues highlight the tragic part, showing the internal struggle between his old, "good" nature, and his new, maimed self driven by vengeance.
  • The Unfettered: Is described many times as a monomaniac, willing to do anything to kill Moby Dick.
  • Unknown Rival: Ahab sees Moby Dick as his nemesis. To the monster, Ahab is probably just another harpooner and the Pequod just another ship for him to sink be he provoked or not.

Ahab's first mate, and the calm and steady one on board the ship.
  • Badass Pacifist: He is a good whaler and sturdy but he won't attack another human being even if he is crazy and endangering people.
  • I Have a Family: A wife and son, just like Ahab.
  • Nice Guy: Perhaps the most genuinely kind person on the Pequod.
  • Number Two: To Ahab.
  • Only Sane Man: He's the only one to realize how dangerous Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick is.
  • The Starscream: Subverted; Starbuck can't bring himself to kill Ahab, even as the captain's mad quest endangers them all.
  • What You Are in the Dark: At one point near the end, he's alone with a gun and considers killing Ahab when he realizes that Ahab's Revenge Before Reason will probably get them all killed, but he relents.

Second mate aboard the Pequod. Cheerful and carefree.
  • Affably Evil: As silly as he is, Stubb is arguably more outright malicious than Captain Ahab himself, having repeatedly derived amusement from mocking others' insecurities (such as Flask's height, Ahab's disability, and Starbuck's hesitance/passiveness), physically abusing people, and humiliating people (namely, Fleece the cook). Stubb also had a young boy replace an able seaman on his boat, and later genuinely attempted to abandon that young boy at sea for not doing a decent job — a deed at which even Ahab was appalled.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Despite his many eccentricities, he and his boat get quite a few whales killed.

Third mate aboard the Pequod. Hunts whales as if they've insulted him deeply.
  • The Napoleon: Most likely less than five feet tall, and probably the second-angriest person on board besides Ahab himself.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Being four-foot-something does not prevent Mr. Flask from being a force to be reckoned with. His nickname is "King-Post," after a type of short, thick wooden beam often used to reinforce ships and structures.

A Polynesian cannibal who serves as harpooneer on Starbuck's whaleboat. Ishmael is at first terrified of him, but after sharing a room at an inn together, the two remain best friends for the rest of the novel.
  • Closer to Earth: At times. Though, considering he's on a ship with the likes of Ahab, it's not difficult to be.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Has visions of his imminent doom, which drive him to have a coffin built. He eventually gets over his fear and starts using it for a storage chest; it's later pressed into service as a replacement lifebuoy, which comes in handy for Ishmael later on.
  • Gentle Giant: 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.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Ishmael.
  • Ignored Epiphany: He fails to heed his own predictions about his impending death.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: When Peleg doubts his skills, Queequeg points to a small drop of tar in the water and hits it with a thrown harpoon.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: His tattoos were drawn by a seer who claimed they contained the answers to all of life's mysteries, but he never told anyone how to decipher them. We never find out if the seer was telling the truth or not.
  • Noble Savage: All three harpooneers are non-white, highly skilled, and generally awesome.
  • Wild Samoan: Subverted. Ishmael initially fears him as a dangerous savage, but he turns out to be a basically civilized and decent fellow (in his own way) with some peculiar cultural mannerisms.

A Native American harpooneer who serves on Stubb's boat.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Particularly during the scene where he tells the sky to stop all the rain and thunder and rain rum instead.
  • Noble Savage: All three harpooneers are non-white, highly skilled, and generally awesome.
  • Sour Supporter: In stark contrast to his boss, Mr. Stubb, Tashtego is very cynical, deadpan, and resigned.

An African harpooneer who serves on Flask's boat.
  • The Giant: Six-foot-five is tall even by today's standards—but consider this: in America, the average height of an adult white male was five-foot-five, and Americans were actually taller than a lot of the world. So, assuming the story takes place between 1820 and 1848, Daggo would definitely qualify as a giant.
  • Noble Savage: All three harpooneers are non-white, highly skilled, and generally awesome.

A Parsi harpooneer who serves on Ahab's boat. Ahab keeps him and the rest of the boat's crew hidden aboard the Pequod at the start of the voyage; they only emerge once the ship first sights a whale.

A boy on board the Pequod. Ends up cast adrift on the ocean for hours before being rescued. The experience leaves a mark on him.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: He is never quite right again after he is left adrift in the ocean by himself for hours before his rescue.
  • That Man Is Dead: Going insane makes him think that Pip died at sea, and that he's someone else.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After he jumped out of the whale boat, Stubb warns him that he'll leave him adrift if he does it again. Not two minutes later does Pip jump in again.

The ship's blacksmith.
  • Crazy Sane: After a chapter tells us about Perth’s tragic life, Ahab himself asks why Perth averts this trope:
    "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?"
  • Tragic Backstory: His whole family died many years before he came aboard the Pequod.

The ship's carpenter.

People of New Bedford and Nantucket

     Father Mapple 
A preacher in New Bedford, and a former whale ship captain.
  • Badass Preacher: He used to be a whale ship captain, and had a ship pulpit installed in his church.

A man who accosts Ishmael and Queequeg in the streets of Nantucket, trying to dissuade them from joining the crew of the Pequod.
  • Cassandra Truth: Despite a few low blows, all of his warnings about Ahab and the ship are correct but go completely unheeded.

     Peleg and Bildad 
The owners of the Pequod.

Characters met at sea

     Moby Dick 
The quarry of Ahab's hunt and the primary antagonist of the novel, Moby Dick is an almost mythical whale renowned for its incredible size, aggressiveness and white coloring.
  • Albinos are Freaks: He is an albino, but he is not so much consciously evil as he is an Animal Nemesis. The narrator, Ishmael, extensively discusses the fact that purely white things — such as albinos or white whales — are deeply unsettling even though white is the color of good. In fact, it's suggested this psychological factor drove Ahab to hate the whale even before Moby-Dick took his leg.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Is it just an animal acting on instinct, or is it a sentient, malevolent supernatural entity as Ahab and a number of other whalers claim?
  • Animal Nemesis: One of the most famous one in the history of fiction.
  • Annoying Arrows: Covered in harpoons from previous failed attempts at his its life. Those harpoons haven't even phased it.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: It successfully kills his main opponent and all but one of his followers, escaping to live another day... if you consider it to be "bad" in the first place.
  • Devil in Disguise: One of many theories.
  • The Dreaded: Established as having this reputation. See Shrouded in Myth.
  • Eldritch Abomination: A common interpretation of its stranger characteristics.
  • Famed in Story: He's a thing of myth and legend; every whaler has at least heard of him, and most know well enough to leave him alone.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The real whale he was based off of, Mocha Dick, was anything but aggressive. Reports say he was actually curious and docile, and was finally killed attempting to protect another whale and her calf from a group of whalers. Since Moby Dick is written from the perspective of 1850s whalemen, the titular whale is framed as a legendary, almost Satanic monster.
  • The Juggernaut: A nigh-unstoppable force of nature by claims.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Whether he's just an unusually large, aggressive whale, or the physical manifestation of Nature/God/Fate/Satan is up for interpretation.
  • Monster Whale: He's undoubtedly one of the most iconic examples of this trope. He's an incredibly destructive and fearsome albino sperm whale who's so notorious for killing whalers and destroying their vessels that he's speculated in-universe to be some kind of malevolent supernatural entity.
  • Non-Indicative Name: In-universe, there's no explanation for its distinctive name. In a meta sense, Melville named it after the real whale Mocha Dick, who was himself named for Mocha Island.
  • Sea Monster: He's a massive, aggressive creature, like a Leviathan of old.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Its reputation for destroying whaling vessels is so great that many sailors insist it is not a whale at all, but the physical manifestation of an Eldritch Abomination that exists everywhere in space and time at once but only sometimes takes corporeal form.
  • Uncertain Doom: Moby Dick is last seen, heavily wounded, plunging to the depths (and taking Ahab with him). The narration does not clarify if Moby Dick survives the final confrontation or not and readership seems split whether he did or not, with many adaptations leaning to the idea of Ahab and Moby Dick executing a Mutual Kill of sorts on each other.
  • Wild Card: He is a sperm whale, a species that have been known to attack ships whether they have been provoked or not. It comes with the territory.

     Captain Boomer 
Captain of the Samuel Enderby, who has recently had an encounter with Moby Dick.
  • An Arm and a Leg: He loses his arm to Moby Dick, but isn't especially upset about it.
  • Foil: To Ahab. Both are horribly wounded by Moby Dick, but while Ahab obsesses over having revenge for it, Boomer brushes it off.

     Captain Derick de Deer 
Captain of the Jungfrau ("Virgin"), a German whaling ship that has had no success in its current voyage.
  • Butt-Monkey: An exceptionally inept whaler who has to beg Ahab for oil just to keep the lamps on his ship lit. He tries to outdo Ahab's crew at hunting some whales they've spotted, but is last seen pursuing a species of whale which Ahab says is too fast to be caught by even the best of crews.

     The Rosebud 
A French whaling ship ("Bouton-de-Rose" in that language).
  • Butt-Monkey: The captain is nearly as inept as de Deer, having caught two already-dead whales whose blubber and oil will be of very little value. Stubb tricks him into cutting one of them loose so he can recover valuable ambergris from the carcass.

     The Rachel 

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: