The Doubloon

Before this equatorial coin, Ahab, not unobserved by others, was now pausing.

“There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here,—three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, ‘t is fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.”

—The Doubloon

An ounce of gold, a doubloon from the Spanish colonies in South America, is promised to whichever man first sights Moby Dick. Ahab makes this promise, this wager, by roughly nailing the coin into the mainmast.

This talisman has much significance throughout the story, and is conceptually explored through the overheard voices of a cast of significant characters in Chapter 99: The Doubloon. Well into the voyage, each man gives the coin a closer examination, to chart out it’s meaning. What’s found is that every man takes a different meaning from the coin, depending on his character. Poor little prophet Pip indirectly points out this perspective-game with his strange grammar practice—’I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look’. A chapter that’s both haunting and hilarious (Stubb’s interpretation of the Zodiac is particularly funny, and little pragmatist Flask sees only the forty cigars he could buy with the coin), The Doubloon draws the eyes of any man—therefore in the game it can be used to tempt any man into your boat, for who can’t be bought by the lustre of this elemental prize?

(see Bribing)