Meet the Guys!

By page 103, Ishmael and Queequeg are the only two whalers Mr. Melville has explored intimately. Almost as intimately as they’ve explored each other. But as soon as they climb aboard the Pequod, it’s clear that we’re going to learn more, a lot more, about Ishmael and each of Queequeg’s shipmates to be. Curiously Ishmael already knows a boatload of details about everybody—work histories, personality traits, habits, turns on and turn offs—even though he hasn’t traveled one nautical mile with any of them.

He begins with Starbuck, the first mate, and continues all the way down the line of command over the next several chapters. Mostly he seems obsessed, no surprise, with their bodies. Starbuck’s flesh is “hard as a twice baked biscuit” and his “pure tight skin was an excellent fit.” Stubb, the second mate, doesn’t entice as much as Starbuck. He’s second, after all. But Ishmael has apparently watched him get dressed: “Instead of first putting his legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his mouth.” He finishes up with a saucy description of the third mate, Little Flask, who is “one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long.”

It gets worse: Each mate gets to choose his very own harpooneer. Naturally these couples develop “a close intimacy and friendliness.” Naturally. Starbuck chooses Queequeg (so long, Ishmael) and Stubb picks Tashego, who has “long, lean, sable hair,” “high cheekbones,” “black rounding eyes,” and “tawny brawn lithe snaky limbs.” With the two hottest harpooneers already spoken for, poor Little Flask has to settle for Daggoo, who at least is “erect as a giraffe” and has great taste in jewelry. “Suspended from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the sailors called them ringbolts.”

The rest of the crew is hardly worth mentioning. Ishmael calls them “residue.” They’re just a bunch of muscles while the Americans—Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask (from Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard, respectively)—are the brains.

Stuck at the bottom, the Pequod’s equivalent of the mailroom, is the steward: Dough-Boy. Really? His parents named him Dough-Boy? The only explanation is that when he was a baby, his parents (“a bankrupt banker and a hospital nurse”) poked his tummy and he giggled. Cute then, not so useful now. Now he’s condemned to a life of serving crescent rolls to a bunch of barbarians who don’t stop at tickling him; they treat him like a punching bag. He waits on them at dinner and if he isn’t quick enough, “Tashtego has an ungentlemanly way of accelerating him by darting a fork at his back, harpoon-wise.” Another time Dagoo and Tashego doubled up torturing the “pale, loaf-of-bread” kid, whose “whole life was one continual lip-quiver.”

So those are the boys in the boat. Save one who we have yet to meet. He’s the big cheese, the big cajuna, the boss man, el jefe, el capitán, the head honcho—the kingfish, if you will, and the guy who merits his very own chapter: Ahab.