Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practical occasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that in this business of whaling, courage was one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no fancy for lowering for whales after sun-down; nor for persisting in fighting a fish that too much persisted in fighting him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs; and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom was his own father’s? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?
—Knights and Squires
First Mate. To see a bad situation and call it what it is—the cautious first mate Starbuck would rather not waste courage, indeed not waste men’s lives, in foolhardy hunting for legendary whales; an eye always on the weather, too, for the safety of his crewmates. The ability to retreat without drawing a Whale card may seem somewhat paltry and craven at first, but the rationality of cautious whaling may well be beaten into you by repeated experiences with the Whale deck.
The pious first mate is the only man among the crew to genuinely question the rationality and sanity of Ahab’s hunt for the White Whale. Even Ishmael quiets the foreboding he feels and his ‘cries go up with the rest’. It is Starbuck who must be made to see the ‘little lower layer’ of Ahab’s reasoning, since it is Starbuck alone who sees that supernatural vengeance against an animal isn’t at all reasonable, and is in fact blasphemous of the supernatural system he supposes all men to agree upon.
The three mates of the Pequod provide a tryptic of styles of play—on one end of the spectrum is Starbuck, ultra-cautious, and on the other is Flask, ultra-reckless. Stubb sits comfortably in the middle, happy-go-lucky and always on the dodge.
Original Image Courtesy of the University of Washington Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.