Moby Dick
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Character Analysis

(Avoiding Spoilers)

Living… the life of “a simple sailor,” in his words, “jumping from spar to spar like a grasshopper in a May meadow. Very much like a slave.” Ishmael, in search of a vessel and a steady income, “having little or no money in my purse,” joins the Pequod, a whaling ship, commanded by Captain Ahab, a stern leader who doesn’t even appear on deck until many days at sea. And when Ahab does appear, Ishmael learns that he has signed up for much more than the normal whaling excursion. Captain Ahab has other plans in mind. This voyage has one purpose, and that purpose is to hunt down and kill Moby-Dick, a great whale who took Ahab’s leg and escaped capture.

Profession… “a simple sailor.” Ishmael knows quite a bit about living at sea, and during his time on the Pequod, he learns a lot more about whaling and cetology, the scientific classification of whales.

Interests… the lives of others. Ishmael seems to entertain himself by learning a lot about their lives and characters, especially the ruthless Ahab and friendly but mysterious Queequeg.           

Relationship Status… single. Ishmael is a young man, and has to think about how he’s going to feed himself before he can think of taking on a romantic partner.

Challenge… surviving the voyage. Normally, his life wouldn’t be in such danger. But in the hands of Captain Ahab, who sees only his desire to take revenge on Moby-Dick, Ishmael slowly realizes that the odds of survival are far worse than he might have expected.

Personality… observant, quiet among the crew, and almost transparent. Ishmael instead walks between the conversations and desires of others, focusing on their stories instead of telling about his own.


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