Melville's exciting sea-tale relates the adventures of the Pequod, a
Nantucket whaler, in pursuit of the great white whale, Moby Dick, the
terror of the sea. Ahab, the captain of the Pequod, a grim and
grizzled old fellow, was half crazy with rage
against the monster, who in a previous voyage had shorn off his leg at the knee. On each side of the Pequod's deck an auger-hole was bored, where the skipper could steady his artificial leg of whale ivory. At the beginning of the voyage Ahab nailed to the mast a Spanish gold doubloon, promising it to the man who should raise "a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and crooked jaw, with three harpoon holes punctured in the starboard fluke." Ahab's three mates, Starbuck, Stubb and Flask, were Nantucket whalers. But the rest of the crew obeying this crazy captain was a miscellaneous collection of half-savages. Three chief harpooners were Tashtego, an American Indian, Daggoo, a gigantic coal-black negro, and Fedallah, a mysterious East Indian. The Pequod sailed from Nantucket, rounding Cape Horn to the Pacific, where Captain Ahab expected to meet his enemy somewhere in his favorite feeding-grounds along the Equator. They killed many whales, and had many wild adventures; but they were continually on the watch for Moby Dick, and sought tidings of the monster from every ship they met. Gradually the news became more definite and recent, until they met a whaler which on the previous day had encountered the great white whale, losing five good men thereby. Immediately Captain Ahab became wild with excitement, and ordered everyone to keep constant lookout. The story of "The Chase" begins at this point.
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