Goal Oriented

Ahab, you may recall, is the captain of the Pequod. Thus far, he’s completely harmless. All he does is walk the deck all night, his fake leg click-clacking away. He knows it makes a racket, so he avoids the area where the crew is sleeping just below. “Because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have been of the crunching teeth of sharks.”

What a considerate guy, Ishmael thinks. But his officers know better. They sense that he’s about to make a major announcement that will reveal malicious intent. “D’ye mark him, Flask?” whispered Stubb; “the chick that’s in him pecks the shell. ’Twill soon be out.” Sure enough, Ahab starts peeping; he calls for a meeting of the entire crew.

It starts off with a simple call and response. Why are we here? Ahab bellows. To hunt whales! the crew responds. (Like, duh.) Then Ahab raises the stakes. “ ‘Look ye! d’ye see this Spanish ounce of gold?’—holding up a broad bright coin to the sun—‘it is a sixteen dollar piece, men. D’ye see it?’ ”

Yep, they definitely see it. But how to get it? Simple. “Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke—look ye, whosoever of ye raises that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!”

Ahab, you may have noticed, is given to repetition. Just in case there’s any confusion, he emphasizes that the whale he wants is white. It’s a white whale. White, white, white, white. Whale, whale, whale, whale. Ahab could not be more clear. He wants a white whale. Preferably one that’s white.

The crew—idiots to a man—are totally on board with the idea. “ ‘Aye, aye!’ shouted the harpooneers and seamen. ‘A sharp eye for the White Whale; a sharp lance for Moby Dick!’ ” However, their superior—Starbuck—isn’t buying it. That’s why he’s superior. Starbuck says: “Look, dude [I’m paraphrasing here], if in the course of doing business we happen to kill Moby Dick, that’s fine with me. But I didn’t come on this trip to do my commander’s vengeance.”

He didn’t. But he will. Ahab makes him change his mind. Find out how in the next post: “Nose Job.”