Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

  • Yes, this chapter has the same title as Chapter 26, if you were wondering about that. It has different content, though, so you do have to read it.
  • Ishmael (or possibly Melville or an unnamed narrator) describes the second mate, Stubb, who is basically the ultimate laid-back chill guy.
  • Stubb is from Cape Cod, and he’s a cheerful, "happy-go-lucky" (27.1) individual who never seems to worry about anything. Even in dangerous, stressful situations Stubb remains calm and relaxed and likes to hum little tunes.
  • Ishmael suggests that Stubb is able to be so mellow all the time because he smokes so much—the first thing he does in the morning, before he even gets dressed, is to put his pipe in his mouth, and before he goes to bed he smokes a whole row of pipes. (And yes, he's smoking tobacco.)
  • All this tobacco smoke seems to ward off anxiety for him... although we don’t recommend it as a general strategy.
  • Next up is the third mate, Flask, who is from Martha’s Vineyard. Flask is Stubb’s opposite; instead of being mellow, he’s aggro.
  • Flask seems to have a serious grudge against whales and doesn’t have any sense of them being beautiful or awesome or dangerous.
  • Flask’s nickname is "King-Post" because he’s like the timber brace of a ship that’s called by that name.
  • Ishmael explains that, if they do find a whale, each of these three mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, will be in charge of a boat, sort of like being the captain of a military company.
  • Each mate has a harpooneer to assist him. So, the mates are sort of like knights, and the harpooneers like squires. (That’s why the title of the chapter is ...oh, you get it.)
  • Starbuck’s harpooneer is Queequeg, whom we know already.
  • Stubb’s harpooneer is Tashtego. Tashtego is a pureblooded Native American from Martha’s Vineyard, and Ishmael sees him as having inherited a warrior and a hunter’s spirit. Instead of taking that prowess and hunting beasts on land, though, Tashtego pursues whales. Hmm, stereotype much?
  • Flask’s harpooneer is Daggoo, an African tribesman who chose to join a whaling ship that landed on the coast of his native country when he was young. Daggoo isn’t very acculturated; he’s only been in Africa, Nantucket, and different whaling ports, so he retains most of his tribal customs. He’s tall and proud and makes Flask look "like a chess-man beside him" (27.9).
  • The rest of the crew of the Pequod, Ishmael (or perhaps Melville) tells us, is equally diverse.
  • In whaling, just as in the military and in construction crews, only about half the workers are white Americans. (These are the numbers the text gives, but we’d have to check our history to know if they’re accurate.)
  • Most of the Pequod’s crew are South Sea Islanders like Queequeg.
  • Ishmael or Melville hints that most of these crewmembers aren’t going to return from this voyage— "Black Little Pip" never did. (This is the first we’ve heard of Pip, but apparently he has a tragic end. So don’t get too attached.)

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