Entering his boat after the gam on the Samuel Enderby, Ahab splintered his artificial leg and needs to summon the carpenter aboard the Pequod to make him a new one. The carpenter is a man of many skills but little personality. Ahab is frustrated by his physical dependence on others, especially this carpenter.
Through the splintering of Ahab's artificial leg, Ishmael allows us to see more of the captain's character. The captain of the Samuel Enderby had lowered a hook to help the one-legged Ahab come aboard. When leaving the English ship, Ahab descended too quickly and broke his artificial leg as he hit his open boat. Problems with the leg annoy Ahab. He wants to feel completely independent and mentions ways in which he is — financially, for example — but his physical self carries limitations that he cannot overcome. He feels frustrated and angry.
Chapter 108 is another of the miniature dramas in the novel, complete with setting, stage directions, dialogue, and asides. The characters involved are the carpenter and Ahab. The carpenter on ship has many duties. He is a general handyman whose skills are not limited to working with wood. This one is very capable and even serves as an emergency doctor or dentist, but he seems to have no personality. His scene with Ahab is amusing because the captain soars on flights of philosophical abandon while the carpenter is stolid and mundane, his pedestrian thoughts punctuated by sporadic sneezing, which is brought on by dust from the whale bone that he shapes. Ahab finds him, and much of life, annoying: "Oh, Life! Here I am, proud as [a] Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this block-head for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness."
primogeniture the exclusive right of the eldest son to inherit his father's estate.
synod an ecclesiastical council, a high governing body.
stolid having or showing little emotion or sensitivity.
athwart at right angles to the keel of; crosswise.