Ishmael introduces some of the crew, beginning, in descending order under Ahab, with those in command. Chief mate is Starbuck, a thirty-year-old Quaker whose father and brother were killed in whaling accidents. Second mate is Stubb, "[g]ood-humored, easy, and careless," rarely seen awake without a pipe in his mouth. Third mate is Flask — short, stumpy, and pugnacious. Each will command an open boat when in pursuit of whales and have his own harpooner. The rest of the crew is a widely varied mix representing many parts of the world.
One of Melville's consistent literary devices is the use of contrast. Here he employs it to distinguish character. The first mate is a devout Quaker, no hypocrite like the Pequod's co-owner Bildad. He is calm, prudent, steady, and courageous, but he tempers his courage with a healthy respect for danger and an allowance for fear. As the novel progresses, Starbuck will contrast strikingly with Ahab, who is volatile, obsessed, wildly mad at times, and irreverent. Having first choice of harpooners, Starbuck takes Queequeg.
In a different light, Stubb and Flask also contrast with Starbuck and each other. Second mate Stubb is carefree, even careless. He loves a good joke and can be insensitive or deceitful, but he is a reliable seaman and whaler. Tashtego, an American Indian, will be his harpooner. Third mate Flask is stumpy and unattractive (while Starbuck is tall and handsome); more importantly, Flask lacks Starbuck's intelligence and elevation of character. The third mate is an adequate seaman but possesses none of Stubb's imagination or humor. Flask thinks whales are his personal enemies, contrasting with Starbuck who simply sees them as a means to a livelihood, but anticipating Ahab's more complicated hatred of Moby Dick. Flask's harpooner will be Daggoo, a huge (six feet, five inches tall) native of Africa. All the harpooners are especially proud men, understandably so because of their prestigious positions aboard ship.
Isolated as it is, and carrying a crew representing many parts of the globe, the Pequod serves as a microcosm of our planet. Ishmael observes that many of the crew are ignorant or even evil men, but he recognizes that each also has the capacity for exceptional valor, dignity, or democratic nobility. Most are not stereotypes; their virtues contrast with their vices just as they do in real people in the real world.
squire an attendant, especially to a medieval knight; here a reference to a harpooner.
staid sober, sedate, settled.
steadfast firm, fixed, established.
pugnacious combative, quarrelsome, ready for a fight.
momentous very important.
august here, imposing, magnificent, inspiring awe.