Study Guide

Tashtego in Moby-Dick

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Okay, everyone on the Pequod is pretty much screwed, but poor Tashtego has insult added to injury when he gets trapped inside a dead whale's head. But who is this poor guy?

Tashtego is a Native American from Gay Head, the westernmost point of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. In Moby-Dick, he is presented as having inherited his hunting prowess as part of his tribal heritage.

Despite the (positive) racist stereotype behind this assumption (the idea of the "noble savage"), Tashtego’s character also illustrates the frustrating illogic of racism and racial hierarchies. As the harpooneer on Stubb’s whaling boat, it is Tashtego who strikes the first whale that we see killed in the novel—but the credit for the hunt and the kill goes entirely to Stubb.

It is also Tashtego who sights Moby Dick at the same moment that Captain Ahab does at the end of the novel—but Ahab insists he saw the White Whale first, denying Tashtego the promised reward of the gold doubloon.

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