Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 28: Ahab

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 28: Ahab

  • For a few days after the ship sails, Captain Ahab stays alone in his cabin and nobody sees him.
  • It seems like the three mates are completely in charge except that every so often they give random orders that obviously come from someone bossing them around behind the scenes.
  • Whenever Ishmael comes on deck, he immediately looks to see whether Captain Ahab is there.
  • (Ah, Ishmael, there you are. So, he’s still around in the story.)
  • Ishmael’s starting to get pretty nervous about Ahab, especially because of Elijah’s weird prophecies.
  • Whenever he’s worried, though, he thinks about the three mates and the harpooneers, who all make him feel a lot more confident about the voyage.
  • The ship keeps sailing south, moving from the icy winter weather off the New England coast into gradually less extreme conditions.
  • One morning, Ishmael comes on deck for the watch and ...da dum! There’s Captain Ahab.
  • Ahab doesn’t look like he’s actually been sick, but he does look "wasted" (28.3), as though he’s almost been burned at the stake but cut away before it actually killed him.
  • Starting in his hair and going down one side of his face and neck under his collar, Ahab has a strange white scar.
  • Nobody ever talks about it (because it’s not like you can just ask the captain of your ship about his facial disfigurements), so nobody knows whether it’s a birthmark or something that happened to him in a fight or at sea.
  • One of the Native American seamen claims that he got it suddenly when he turned forty and that it goes all the way down his body. Happy Birthday, Ahab!
  • And, of course, Ahab is missing one leg. Instead of a wooden leg, he has an ivory leg made from a sperm whale’s jawbone.

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  • He’s able to walk around on the deck of the ship because there are half-inch holes bored in the deck in different places and he can steady the end of the bone leg in them.
  • Even though Ahab is on deck, he doesn’t say anything or give any orders. Apparently he’s content to just stand around looking creepy.
  • As the weather gets nicer, Ahab gets gradually more pleasant (sometimes he almost smiles) and comes on deck more often, although he still doesn’t say or do anything.
  • This continues until May. (Remember that the Pequod began its voyage at Christmas, so it’s been almost six months before Ahab really takes part in the action.)

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