Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.
In Moby-Dick, Starbuck is the first mate of the Pequod and operates as the voice of reason aboard the ship. He is a Quaker and periodically brings up a religious perspective in some of the arguments that take place on the Pequod's journey. As far as his personality goes, Starbuck is reasonable, thoughtful, and has a healthy respect for the dangers of whaling and the dangers posed by whales themselves. This casts him as a nearly polar opposite to Captain Ahab, who rarely shows much sign of reason, and wants only to seek revenge against the White Whale, who cost him his leg so many years ago.
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Starbuck and Ahab
Because of their very different personalities, Starbuck and Ahab often find themselves on opposite sides of arguments on their journey. For example, when Ahab is shouting about his desire for revenge, Starbuck counters with, ''Vengeance on a dumb brute!...Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.'' Starbuck finds Ahab's longing for revenge to be both insane and against the order of nature. In Starbuck's view, God did not create animals to be capable of the thought and evil intent that Ahab ascribes to Moby-Dick.
Starbuck's Temptation & Goodness
Towards the end of Moby-Dick, as the Pequod gets closer and closer to the White Whale, the relationship between Ahab and Starbuck becomes quite tense. Ahab has demonstrated that he will not listen to reason, and it has become clear to Starbuck, if not to everyone else yet, that Ahab's madness is likely to lead to the deaths of many of the crew. In Chapter 123, Starbuck considers killing Ahab in an attempt to save everyone else:
''A touch, and Starbuck may survive to hug his wife and child again. -Oh Mary! Mary! -boy! boy! boy! -But if I wake thee not to death, old man, who can tell to what unsounded deeps Starbuck's body this day week may sink, with all the crew! Great God, where are Thou? Shall I? shall I?''
Perhaps it's ironic that Starbuck's basic decency will not allow him to kill Captain Ahab, who is permitted to continue on his mission which will ultimately kill everyone on board except Ishmael. As tempted as Starbuck is to see his family again, he is able to rein in his temptation in a way that Ahab is not.
Given their different personalities and levels of self-control, Ahab and Starbuck symbolize different levels of the human psyche. Ahab represents man's emotional side, and Starbuck represents man's reasonable side.
Two Warring Sides
Everyone has had some experience with feeling torn between the rational part of the brain and the emotional part. This can happen in mundane experiences like trying to resist a second piece of cake, which is very tempting but may not be a good decision; or perhaps when someone is furious and wants to lash out in violence but knows that it would be a better idea to calm down first and then have a conversation. In Moby-Dick, Ahab can be understood as representing humanity's emotional side, and Starbuck as representing humanity's rational side; we can see this in their arguments, when Starbuck appeals to reason and logic, and Ahab refers only to emotion. Unfortunately for the crew of the Pequod, it is the emotional side that wins, and Ahab leads most of the crew to their deaths.
In Moby-Dick, Starbuck is the first mate of the Pequod and operates as the voice of reason aboard the ship. Starbuck's character is nearly the polar opposite of Ahab's character—where Ahab is driven by emotion, Starbuck is very reasonable. Because they have such different personalities, these two characters occasionally debate the wisdom of chasing the White Whale. In these arguments, we can see that Starbuck symbolizes the rational side of the human psyche, and Ahab symbolizes the emotional side. Starbuck even briefly considers killing Ahab to save the crew from his madness but decides against it.
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Symbolism of Starbuck in Moby-Dick
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