Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

Receiving the top-maul from Starbuck, he advanced towards the main-mast with the hammer uplifted in one hand, exhibiting the gold with the other, and with a high raised voice exclaiming: “Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke—look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!”

“Huzza! huzza!” cried the seamen, as with swinging tarpaulins they hailed the act of nailing the gold to the mast.

“It’s a white whale, I say,” resumed Ahab, as he threw down the topmaul: “a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out.”

—The Quarter-Deck

During the voyage of the Pequod, Ahab makes two covenants with his crew—the first is a collective oath he proposes to every man aboard, namely, to hunt Moby Dick to his death. Some of the sailors have heard of this whale, and Ahab indeed admits that it was the same White Whale that took his leg, ‘dismasted’ him on his last voyage. Ahab’s rousing speech, in which he swears his utter fealty to this pact, urging his men to do the same, is the influence of countless dramas—go searching for Ahabs in television, theater, film, print, music. He is everywhere. The unequivocal nature of Ahab’s path to destruction/knowledge is of course Faustian at its heart, but Melville’s uniquely layered man—the American, the industrialist, the king, the hero, failed Prometheus—is endlessly copied for his modern complexity and dark existential power.

Moved to pity and excitement, the energy of the crew reaches a fever pitch when Ahab passes freely the great measure of grog. The men, affected by this liquor and indeed a more spiritual drunkenness taken from Ahab’s livid, vengeful purpose increases their willingness to strike out against the ‘white fiend,’ and oaths and curses against him are sung out everywhere. In the chapters immediately following The Quarter-Deck, the forecastlemen sing and make merry, happy in their oath, drunk in their bellies, and inspired by their captain. It is their only time in the book to stand and be valued—all forecastlemen (Green Sailors) receive a +1 bonus during this chapter of play.

(see Nationality Sailors)