Ishmael The narrator of the novel is a keen observer, a young man with an open mind who is wary of Ahab but, like most of the crew, swept away by the captain's charisma.
Ahab The "grand, ungodly, god-like man" is a deeply complex figure, one of the most controversial in American literature. His monomaniacal hunt for Moby Dick dominates the novel's plot.
Moby Dick The giant sperm whale seems to manipulate his confrontations with mankind in a manner beyond the capacity of a leviathan. Critics debate the nature of Moby Dick: whether he is an allegorical representation of some eternal power, a representation of Ahab's obsession, or nothing more, literally, than a whale.
Queequeg The Polynesian harpooner who opens Ishmael's mind and eventually — and indirectly — saves his life. Queequeg is important to the theme of friendship and the value of diversity.
Father Mapple His sermon at the Whaleman's Chapel sets the tone for the novel. The message, through the story of Jonah, is that we must disobey our own desires if we are to learn to obey God.
Starbuck The chief mate aboard the Pequod. He is the only one who attempts to stand up to Ahab's obsessive direction of the ship's purpose. Even he eventually acquiesces.
Fedallah The ancient Asian who is Ahab's harpooner and spiritual guide. His prophecy regarding Ahab's death ominously foreshadows the end of the novel.
Pip The cabin boy, who nearly drowns when he is abandoned during a whale hunt. He discovers painful insights that allow him an unusual view of reality and temporarily endear him to Ahab.
Elijah The cryptic prophet who helps to set an early tone of dark mystery in the novel. He alerts Ishmael to possible problems with Ahab and secrets aboard the Pequod.
Stubb The second mate. He considers himself to be quite the wit, but his treatment of Fleece, the cook, is more cruel and racist than it is amusing.
Perth The ship's blacksmith. His story is an unusual departure for Melville as it is told with the excessive sentimentality and predictability of melodrama.
Gabriel The raving Shaker prophet aboard the Jeroboam. He correctly predicts Ahab's final resting-place.
Bildad A hypocritical Quaker. The co-owner's exchange regarding Ishmael's pay allows Melville an opportunity for a little caustic satire.