The Whale part 2


(Ishmael addresses the audience.)

ISHMAEL. And we’re off. Christmas day, for those keen on symbolism.

Now here’s something interesting about the Pequod. Ahab, the captain, is white. Starbuck and Stubb and Flask, the mates, are white. But the harpooneers? The ones who actually kill the whales? Not white. Listen:

(Queequeg addresses the audience.)

QUEEQUEG. My name is Queequeg. I come from an island in the South Pacific. I was a prince of my people, the first son of the King. I would have been King. But when I saw my first whaler? That was it for me. I climbed on board and never looked back.

(Tashtego addresses the audience.)

TASHTEGO. My name is Tashtego. I’m an Indian from Martha’s Vineyard, the Western part, Gay Head, one of the last villages left. There’s a lot of us in Nantucket now, in whaling. The white people call us “Gayheaders”. Men in my village used to hunt moose, but we can’t do that any more. Now we climb aboard ships and hunt whales.

(Dagoo addresses the audience.)

DAGOO. My name is Dagoo. I’ve never been anywhere except Africa, Nantucket, and wherever my ship puts into harbor. I’m six-foot-five. My earrings are solid gold. I don’t wear shoes. Never could. For some reason, white people are scared of me.

ISHMAEL. We have a number of Negroes. Pip is from Alabama, but many others are Islanders: Jamaicans, Haitians, Bahamians, what have you. Islanders make good whalers, I don’t know why. What else do we have? On a purely informal investigation, I found a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Icelander, a Maltese, a Sicilian, a Long Islander, an Azorean, a Chinese, a Manxman, a Lascarian, a Tahitian, a Portuguese, a Dane, an Englishman, a Spaniard, and one guy from Belfast.

Now I want to clear something up. People have this “idea” about whaling, that we’re “butchers”, that we’re somehow “below” decent society. Yes, we’re butchers. We kill noble beasts. But so do armies. So do generals. When a general wipes out a thousand men,
he’s a hero. But when a harpooneer brings down a whale, brings you oil and spermaceti, brings you jobs and income and trade by putting his life on the line by facing the most terrifying creature on the planet, he’s a “butcher”. Your candles, your lanterns, every light burning on this planet, your perfume, your skin cream, the bones in your pretty corsets, seven million dollars in trade in 1851 in America alone. That’s what whaling is.

But of course what you want to see is Ahab. “Where’s Ahab? The mysterious Ahab? We don’t care about you, we don’t care about the demographics of the crew, the economics of whaling. We want to see crazy old Ahab!”

You’re not alone. I have the same problem. Where’s Ahab? He’s not around. Days, weeks go by, no Ahab. I’m thinking we don’t have a captain.

But then one morning, there he is. Standing on the quarter-deck, looking out to sea.

(And there he is, standing on the quarter-deck, looking out to sea.)

Silent. He talks to no one, no one talks to him. He’s not sick, he doesn’t look sick, but he doesn’t look well either. He doesn’t look…all…there, really. If you pull a man off the stake? He’s still alive but his spirit is gone? That’s Ahab.

He’s bronze. He’s made of bronze. There’s a white mark that starts in his hair and goes all the way down his face. Some say it’s a scar, some say it’s a birthmark, some say it goes all the way down to his toes.

And then of course there’s his leg. His leg. Which, of course, is not there. Missing; replaced. Made of whale-bone. So it’s no surprise that he’s not all there; he really isn’t all there.

And that’s the way it is: days, weeks, months. We take care of the ship, Ahab watches the sea. The men eat and dance and work and swear and shit and sing and piss and prepare to kill whales, and Ahab watches the sea.

And then, finally, April comes, and then May, and Ahab starts to move. A little. Not much. Not his body. But his face. His face moves. A little. In May, his face does something – on another man it might be called a smile.

And then, what do you know. He paces.

(Ahab paces.)

Up and down. All day, all night. Rarely sleeps. Up and down. Weeks. Paces. Up and down. Up and down.

(Night falls. Ahab paces. Stubb approaches.)

STUBB. Captain Ahab sir?

AHAB. Mr. Stubb?

STUBB. You think maybe you could muffle the leg, sir? We’re trying to sleep.

AHAB. Oh yes. The leg. Yes. You need to sleep, yes. I forgot. Your nightly grave, yes. Fine. Back to your kennel.

STUBB. My kennel sir?

AHAB. Go away, Mr. Stubb.

STUBB. Are you calling me a dog, sir?

AHAB. No Mr. Stubb, I’m calling you a jackass. Go away.

STUBB. Captain –

AHAB. Down below or over the side, Mr. Stubb.

STUBB. Now wait just a –




(Stubb with Flask.)

STUBB. He called me a dog. And a jackass. I want to hit him. I want to pray for him. I want to pray for him but I’ve never prayed before. Very strange. He’s very strange. He’s the strangest man I’ve ever met. He’s crazy, that’s it. He’s crazy, he’s mad. Doesn’t sleep. And when he sleeps he doesn’t sleep. He’s fevered is what. He’s a, he’s a, he’s a, I don’t know what he is.


STUBB. I dreamed he kicked me.

FLASK. Yeah?

STUBB. But not with his foot.


STUBB. No, with his other foot.

FLASK. What? Oh.

STUBB. You know.

FLASK. Right.

STUBB. And I thought “What’s worse? A man kicks you with his real leg or his fake leg?”

FLASK. I’m sure I don’t know the answer to that.

STUBB. And I thought “Well it’s only a fake leg. See? It’s not a real leg.”

FLASK. Uh huh.

STUBB. So it’s not so bad.

FLASK. Right.

STUBB. So I kick him back. I kick him in the leg. The fake leg.

FLASK. Uh huh –

STUBB. And I – did I mention that he’s like twenty feet tall?


STUBB. He is. And I’m kicking his fake leg, and he’s like “Stop that!” Right? And I’m like “But you kicked me,” right, and he says “You should be honored to be kicked by such a great man.” See?

FLASK. Huh. And did you tell him about this dream?

STUBB. Are you out of your fucking mind?


(The deck. Men mill about. Ahab calls to Starbuck.)

AHAB. Starbuck! Everyone aft!

STARBUCK. Yes sir! (calling) All men assemble on the aft deck!

(Ad lib as necessary.)

AHAB. You! Mast-heads! You too!

(The men assemble while Ahab paces. Finally, he stops.)

What do you do when you see a whale?

TASHTEGO. Sing out!

AHAB. Good! Then what?

DAGOO. Lower the boats!

AHAB. Good! And then?

QUEEQUEG. Chase after him!

AHAB. And then?




AHAB. Right. That is right. A dead whale or a stove boat. Good. Mr. Starbuck, get me a hammer. Men, the time has come to reveal to you your very special purpose.

You’re all whalers. And I know that. You’re the best, the finest, probably, in the world. And you signed onto the Pequod because you knew she was the finest in the world. And I know that.

But the time has come to tell you what you’re really doing here. What I’m doing, what the Pequod is doing here.

Because this is not your average whale trip. We are not hunting your average whales. No. Men, you have come to hunt only one. Only one whale. A unique whale. A one-of-a-kind whale. The largest, the meanest, the most dangerous creature in the sea.

(He produces a large gold coin.)

This is a Spanish gold ounce. See? This is worth sixteen dollars. Do you see it?

Now listen: there is a whale. A white whale. With a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw. With three holes in his starboard fluke. Whoever sees that white whale first gets this ounce of gold.

(He nails the coin to the mast.)

TASHTEGO. Are, are you talking about Moby-Dick?

AHAB. Have you seen him?

TASHTEGO. He has an unusual fan tail.

AHAB. Yes!

DAGOO. And is spout is bushy, like a plume.

AHAB. Yes!

QUEEQUEG. And he’s all stuck up with irons.

AHAB. Yes!

QUEEQUEG. Twisted up like a corkscrew.

AHAB. Yes! You’ve seen him! You’ve seen him!

STARBUCK. Captain? Forgive me – isn’t Moby-Dick the fish that took your leg?

AHAB.(to Starbuck) Yes. Yes it is. (to all) Yes it is. Moby-Dick took my leg. Yes. Yes, and gave me this stump, yes. Moby-Dick made me a cripple, a monster, a freak. Yes he did. And yes, I am hunting him. Around Good Hope, around the Horn, around the Norway Maelstrom, and around the flames of Hell if that’s what it takes to kill him. And that, men, is what you’re doing here. To do one thing and one thing
only. Kill the white whale! Can you do it?


AHAB. We will not stop until he spouts black blood and rolls fin out! Are you with me?!

ALL. Huzzah! Huzzah! Kill Moby-Dick! Kill Moby-Dick!

AHAB. Grog for everyone!

ALL. Huzzah!!

(Grog is poured. The men all drink.)

STARBUCK. Captain?

AHAB. Mr. Starbuck?

STARBUCK. Captain, you know that I’m not afraid of a whale.

AHAB. God yes of course!

STARBUCK. I kill whales. That’s what I do. I’m a whale killer.

AHAB. Glad to hear it.

STARBUCK. It’s my business. You could say. I am in the business of killing whales.

AHAB. I smell a “point” brewing somewhere, Mr. Starbuck.

STARBUCK. My business – this ship’s business – is killing whales, sir. Not the captain’s revenge. Sir. You understand, sir.

AHAB. Well Mr. Starbuck, you call me “captain”, so I presume you have a basic understanding of maritime tradition, yes? That the “captain” is the guy in charge on a boat?

STARBUCK. Pardon. Sir. But the white whale – we have orders from Mr. Peleg, Mr. –

AHAB. Phuh! Those idiots –

STARBUCK. From the widows and children with shares in this ship – one whale is worthless –

AHAB. To them, yes. To me it’s everything.

STARBUCK. Pardon sir. Again. But you don’t vow revenge on a fish. The whale – he didn’t know it was your leg, sir.
You don’t vow revenge on a table because you bark your shin on it.

AHAB. Appears to be.

STARBUCK. Excuse me?

AHAB. Appears to be a fish. To you and me. Less so to me. Appears to be. My job, Mr. Starbuck? “My business”? To take away that mask. To cut through that veil. We know what the whale appears to be. I am going to find out what he is.

STARBUCK. It’s blasphemy, sir.

AHAB. To want revenge on a fish? Starbuck, I would have revenge on the sun if it insulted me. What are you staring at? Wait, don’t go. All right. I’ve made you angry. Don’t take everything so personally.

Look at the crew, Mr. Starbuck. Look at them. They want to hunt the whale, that’s what they came for. Look at them. Savages. Cannibals. Catholics. Blunt, stupid, glorious animals, who live and eat and die and never give anything a second thought. They love me now. Look at them laughing. They’re ready to do this. They’re ready to follow me to the end of the world.

STARBUCK. They are bored, sir. They are looking for something to do.

AHAB. But that’s fine, Starbuck, who isn’t? Who doesn’t want to be special? Who doesn’t want to feel that they’re involved in a grand enterprise, a grand scheme, who doesn’t want to be on the team that dares the impossible? Look at you, you wish to “know God’s
will”. And you call me a blasphemer? All I want to do is kill a whale. Look at the crew, at what I’ve done to them, the fire I’ve lit. Now tell them you defy me.


AHAB. Go on. Tell them. Tell them what a bad idea this is. How wasteful, how impertinent, how wrong. Tell them they’re going to Hell. Tell them they’re going against God. Mr. Starbuck, I am their God. The heathens; I am their God.

STARBUCK. Then God help us.

(He exits.)

AHAB. Harpooneers! Bring me your weapons! Cross them! All of you! Now let me touch them. These are the blades that will kill Moby-Dick!


AHAB. Drink! Drink men! To the death of Moby-Dick!


AHAB. God hunt us if we don’t hunt Moby-Dick!


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One Response to “The Whale part 2”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    All these years, and I only just now figured out what a “stove boat” meant.

    If you want revenge from the whale’s perspective, I again recommend Orca. (Oddly, I was just talking about it again last night.)

    I have the vague temptation to re-read this to see which phrases are from the original, but then I’m not sure how well I could take the “whales are fish” bits.