Essay title: Moby Dick or White Whale
They take a ferry to Nantucket, the traditional capital of the whaling industry. There they secure work on the Pequod, a savage-looking ship adorned with the bones and teeth of sperm whales.
Peleg and Bildad, the Pequod’s Quaker owners, drive a hard bargain in terms of salary. They also mention the ship’s mysterious captain, Ahab, who is still recovering from losing his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage. The Pequod leaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day with a crew made up of men from many different countries and races. Soon the ship is in warmer waters, and Ahab makes his first appearance on deck, balancing gingerly on his false leg, which is made from a sperm whale’s jaw. He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick, the legendary great white whale who took his leg, because he sees this whale as the embodiment of evil.
Ahab nails a gold doubloon to the mast and declares that it will be the prize for the first man to sight the whale. As the Pequod sails toward the southern tip of Africa, whales are sighted and unsuccessfully hunted. During the hunt, a group of men, none of whom anyone on the ship’s crew has seen before on the voyage, emerges from the hold.
The men’s leader is an exotic-looking man named Fedallah. These men constitute Ahab’s private harpoon crew, smuggled aboard in defiance of Bildad and Peleg. Ahab hopes that their skills and Fedallah’s prophetic abilities will help him in his hunt for Moby Dick. The Pequod rounds Africa and enters the Indian Ocean.
A few whales are successfully caught and processed for their oil. From time to time, the ship encounters other whaling vessels. Ahab always demands information about Moby Dick from their captains. One of the ships, the Jeroboam, carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom for anyone who threatens Moby Dick. His predictions seem to carry some weight, as those aboard his ship who have hunted the whale have met disaster. While trying to drain the oil from the head of a captured sperm whale, Tashtego, one of the Pequod’s harpooners, falls into.