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In this chapter, Starbuck meets Ahab with a request that the sperm oil which is stored in casks be removed from where it is placed as the area gets periodically flooded and the crew members had discovered that there is a leak in the casks. By having the casks removed, they could trace the source of the leak and check it.
However, Ahab who pouring over his yellowed charts, looks up and refuses. This is because the operation would take a long time, and Ahab does not want to pause even for a moment in his search for the whale. When Starbuck insists that the leak should be traced, Ahab pulls out a musket, aims it at the mate and asks him to leave his cabin immediately. Starbuck leaves. However, as he is leaving, he cries out that he (Ahab) has ‘outraged’ him. But for this, he will not ask him to beware of Starbuck. Instead "let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man."
Ahab is taken aback by Starbuck’s statement. He then goes to the deck and orders the casks to be checked so as to trace the leak.
Here, the reader sees the clash between two strong yet different personalities who clash because their purposes on the ship are diametrically opposed. Starbuck is concerned primarily with the sperm oil and its care which will ensure him financial security while Ahab is only concerned with pursuing the whale. Thus, the clash is in a way inevitable. Still, the way Starbuck is able to handle the difficult situation speaks volumes for his strong character as well as his profound understanding of people. Starbuck is right when he warns Ahab to beware of himself, as Ahab’s enemy is Ahab himself and not the white whale. It is his obsession for revenge that finally brings about his destruction as well as the ship’s.
Ahab also realizes that if Starbuck decides to oppose him, Starbuck will succeed because of his strong and solid character. This is because Ahab has been using his position as captain to make the crew support him in his blind obsession to seek revenge. Therefore, Ahab is relieved when he observes that even after the ugly incident in the cabin, Starbuck continues to obey his commands.