Summary and Analysis Chapters 21-23



The Pequod is scheduled to sail on Christmas Day. In the gray pre-dawn mist, Queequeg and Ishmael approach the ship and think they see some figures boarding ahead of them. Elijah suddenly appears close behind and asks whether they have seen anyone going aboard. Ishmael says he thinks he saw four or five men, and Elijah challenges him to find them on the ship. Ishmael cannot. Nor is Ahab to be seen, though Ishmael is told by a sailor that the captain entered the vessel during the night. Peleg and Bildad help set the ship to sail and reluctantly return to land.


The aura of mystery surrounding the Pequod is enhanced by Ahab's absence and the unidentifiable figures who seem to be boarding the ship before dawn. Elijah toys with Ishmael through his cryptic statements, first insisting on a conversation and then offering only hints of his meaning. Typical is his farewell: "I was going to warn ye against — but never mind, never mind . . . . Shan't see ye again very soon, I guess; unless it's before the Grand Jury," an apparent suggestion of possible murder or mutiny during the voyage. Like the biblical Elijah, a prophet of the truth, Moby-Dick's Elijah also speaks the truth, but in such a cryptic way that Ishmael, and the reader, is left to wonder at his meaning. Ishmael's uncertainty increases the more he knows, or doesn't know, about the trip. As a sensitive observer, he is aware of the unusual circumstances but still determined to have his whaling adventure.

The mood is lightened by the appearance of Peleg and Bildad, two old salts who act as if they would love to stay with the ship but have other responsibilities, most likely profitable ones, on land. Starbuck, the first mate, is briefly introduced and seems a steadying influence as he competently takes charge of the voyage in Ahab's absence.


scuttle here, a small, covered opening or hatchway in the outer hull or deck of a ship.

aft near or toward the stern (rear) of a ship.

mainyard the lowest rod or spar on the mainmast, from which the mainsail is set.

intrepid bold, fearless.

apotheosis deification or glorification of a person or thing.

Lee Shore the leeward, downwind, sheltered, or protected shore.