Cultures of Whaling

People of different economic classes, ethnicities, and nationalities went whaling. Ishmael imagines the Pequod’s crew as a diverse group of individuals—“islanders” or “isolatoes” as he calls them—who have come together to be “federated along one keel.” Ishmael also reminds his readers that this crew has a clearly defined hierarchy. Although less than half the men employed in the American whale fishery are American born, he observes, “pretty nearly all the officers are.” If the native-born American “liberally provides the brains,” he declares, “the rest of the world as generously suppl[ies] the muscles.”

Melville Virtual Exhibition Gallery