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Chapters 25 - 26
In these two chapters, the narrator elaborates on some of the crew members who are on board the Pequod. While Captain Ahab has still not appeared on the scene, Ishmael tells the reader about the other crew members who are in positions of power on deck: the chief mate Starbuck, the second mate Stubb and the third - Flack. Then the readers are introduced to other harpooners, Tashtego and Daggoo, besides Queequeg who will make up the main whaling boats.
Starbuck, the chief mate, is a strong determined man who believes that fear is a positive aspect in men for it prevents any kind of reckless bravado. In other words, true courage includes an awareness of the danger involved in a given situation. Moreover, Starbuck is a pious and conscientious person. For him, fighting a whale is essential for his income. He does not believe that it is necessary to go out of the way to fight a whale, since it will always fight back or be elusive. However, Starbuck’s bravery is limited to physical terrors. When he is faced in the "more terrific. . . more spiritual terrors," he loses his natural courage.
On the other hand, Stubb is a happy go lucky and reckless second mate. His obsession in life is his pipe which he never abandons, except when asleep. He is basically a man who lives for the moment as well as for all the good things in life.
Flask, the third mate, is a man of ‘Pervading mediocrity.’ He is a ‘short, stout, ruddy young fellow..." He has no awe or respect (unlike Starbuck) for the whales. For him it is a ‘sort of point of honor...to kill them whenever he meets them. In the voyage, he is nicknamed ‘King Post’ ‘because in form he could be well likened to the short, square timber known by that name..."
Ishmael further tells the reader that a harpooner accompanies each officer when the boats are chasing a whale. During this time, the harpooner is the main oarsman who steers the boat and also helps the officer with a ‘fresh lance’ when the first one slips, breaks or gets twisted on the whale’s body.
Queequeg is selected by Starbuck to be his harpooner. Since, the reader already knows about Queequeg, Ishmael proceeds to give a sketch of the other two harpooners, namely Tashtego and Daggoo.
Tashtego is the harpooner under Stubb, while Daggoo accompanies Flask. Tashtego is an American Indian who comes from a tribe, which has the tradition of supplying the most daring harpooners to the Nantucket Island. Daggoo is a "gigantic, coal black Negro savage, with a lion-like tread..." As a youth, he had ‘voluntarily shipped" on a whaling ship.
As far as the rest of the crewmembers are concerned, Ishmael says that one in two of all the men employed on the whaling ships are not American. Most of them are immigrants. According to him, just as in the army, in the merchant navies and the engineering that engaged in the construction of canals and railroads, the whaling industry was no different in its use of outside labor. "The Native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles."
In the above chapters, the author, through his description and skill, brings all the characters alive. Each individual described has positive as well as negative aspects in his nature. Like people in real life, each character however noble and brave he is has some weakness. Each of the mates on board will be shown to be no match for Ahab. Even Starbuck who is all goodness and bravery is not able to deal with such a menacing figure as the Captain.
At the end of Chapter 26, when the author says that most of the manual labor in the major American industries including the whaling industry come from outside, he is making a comment on the period he is living in. In the 1800s, American was a ‘melting pot' which attracted many people from different nationalities, races, and religions. These people contributed to the building of the young nation - the United States--although they were often underpaid and worked in physically arduous jobs. Therefore, Pequod, the ship with her mixed crew symbolizes the U.S. of the 1800s.