Moby Dick Study Guide

Moby Dick Study Guide


Herman Melville was a writer of the Romantic period of American literature.  He published Moby Dick in 1851, at a time when the American whaling fleet numbered over 700 ships and exemplified the country’s confidence to expand its influence throughout the world.  Moby Dick is a story told on two levels:  a great sea adventure and a story about man’s relationship to the universe.  In particular, America’s enthusiasm to expand its control and influence in the world. 

The ship featured in the novel had 30 crewmembers, the exact number of states in the United States of America at the time Melville wrote the book.  The varied crew members (African, Polynesian, French, Chinese, and Americans) stand for all humanity in general and for the melting pot of America in particular.  A whaling ship often went on hunts lasting 3-4 years in length, bringing home about $80,000 of whale oil, if the hunting was successful.


1.      Write down the first words spoken in the film (and the book).


2.      Why does Ishmael decide to travel?  What are the biblical allusions of his name?


3.      What concerns Ishmael about spending the night at the inn in Nantucket?


4.      Who is the frightening man with tattoos?


5.      What is the season of the year in which the story begins?


6.      What does Queequeg share with Ishmael (name at least three things)?


7.      What did Ishmael formerly do?


8.      Who owns the Pequod?


9.      Why is Queequeg hired as a shipmate on the Pequod?


10.  How is Ishmael hired as a shipmate on the Pequod?


11.  What is unusual about the pastor’s pulpit when Queequeg and Ishmael visit a church?


12.  What is the topic of the preacher’s sermon?


13.  The men eating dinner on board the Pequod are very diverse.  How is the ship a microcosm of the world, or America?


14.  To “christen” Ishmael as a new sailor, he is forced to drink what?


15.  The ship’s captain wears a wooden peg leg.  What happened to his natural leg?


16.  What is the Pequod captain’s name?


17.   What is the first mate’s name?


18.   What does Ahab offer the men when he calls them together that first day at sail?


19.  What is the name of the whale that Ahab wishes to pursue?  Why does he want to find that particular whale?


20.  What type of whale is it?


21.  Starbuck is concerned that Ahab seems determined to hunt a particular whale instead of just going whale hunting and collecting profitable whale oil for the ship owners.  What does Starbuck say to Ahab about this hunt?


22.  What are the “irons”?


23.  How is the ceremony savage and ritualistic?


24.  What is the motto that Ahab spouts to the crew?


25.  What is the tentative plan for the hunt?  Where will the ship travel?


26.  Starbuck seems to be the voice of balance and reason.  What is his ultimate goal?


27.  How does Starbuck view Moby Dick?


28.  How does Ahab see Moby Dick?


29.  Why don’t Ahab’s “personal harpooners,” who look Mongolian, have to work like the other sailors?


30.  Is the first whale hunt episode successful?  How do you know?


31.  Who is the captain of the first ship the Pequod meets?  What kind of encounter has this captain had with Moby Dick?


32.  What is the philosophy of this ship’s captain about Moby Dick?


33.  What does Boomer warn Ahab about?


34.  Boomer helps set the idea that Ahab is suffering from a mental condition.  Explain.


35.  Why can’t Ahab read from the Bible at the sailor’s funeral (sailor who was the masthead observer waiting for an appearance of Moby Dick)?


36.  “Life holds us.  We do not hold it.”  Who says this, and what does it mean?


37.  Starbuck says that the sailor’s death is an omen.  Explain


38.  The young African-American boy is named Pip.  He steals away on one of the harpooning boats.  What happens to him?


39.  How do you know the whale is harpooned?


40.  What disables Ahab further as he works in the harpooning boats?


41.  Pip is abandoned in the sea for a long time while the whale chase goes on.  What happens to him?


42.  While Ahab chases Moby Dick unsuccessfully, Starbuck does what?  What does this indicate?


43.  Is Pip “okay” after his experience in the water?


44.  To reach the Pacific Ocean, the ship must sail around a continent.  Explain.


45.  How does Ahab endanger the men’s lives?


46.  How is the ship finally freed from the ice?


47.  When the oil casks start leaking from age, Starbuck and Ahab disagree on what to do.  Explain.


48.  The ship Rachel pulls up alongside the Pequod and asks for what kind of help?  What is Ahab’s answer?


49.  Rachel’s captain exclaims that  “ ________________ will not forgive” Ahab for what?


50.  Queequeg loses faith in Ahab and decides that it is time to ________________.  He asks the ship’s carpenter to build a floating ____________________ for him.


51.  Ahab threatens Starbuck when Starbuck hesitates to follow orders. How does he threaten Starbuck?


52.  What keeps Starbuck from killing Ahab during the typhoon?


53.  Even during the typhoon, Ahab insists that the ship does what?


54.  Who is “riding the storm” with the Pequod?


55.  How does St. Elmos’ Fire help Ahab trick the crew later that night?


56.  Starbuck cautions Ishmael to not do what?


57.  Ahab explains how long he has dedicated his life to the sea. How long?


58.  Ahab’s harpooners hit Moby Dick for the _____________ time when Moby Dick surfaces very close to the harpoon boat.


59.  Moby Dick pulls the harpoon boat along on a wild ride and then does what?


60.  Moby Dick jumps out of the water in an almost vertical yet majestic leap and does what?


61.  Ahab controls the harpoon in his own harpoon boat and does what, next?


62.  What happens to Ahab after that?


63.  In his last moments of consciousness, what do Ahab and Moby Dick do?


64.  When Moby Dick next surfaces, the crews see what attached to Moby Dick?


65.  Moby Dick cracks each of the harpoon boats like matchstick toys.  In what condition does Ishmael find Queequeg?


66.  What happens to the Pequod ?


67.  What is symbolic about the ship’s last moments?


68.  How does the ship disappear from sight?


69.  Who is the lone survivor?  How does he survive?


70.  The last line in the film is, “She found another orphan.”  How do the opening and closing lines of the film connect to each other?


These questions were developed by Cindy Adams for classroom instructional use.  Copyrights reserved, 2002.

Moby Dick Notes


Setting: ____________________________________________________________________



  • Ishmael:


  • Queequeg


  • Ahab


  • Starbuck


  • Moby Dick


  • Pip


  • Peleg and Bildad
  • Captain Boomer
  • Captain Gardiner


Romantic Literary Period Characteristics Found in Story:

  • story told on _________ levels
    • surface level:  _____________ adventure
    • philosophical level: _________________________________________________
  • imagination and intuition over reason
  • individual’s inner ________________________ emphasized
  • nature stirs powerful _____________________ in people



  • Too much faith in _________________________ can lead to the belief that a _______________ is the equal of _______________ and nature.
  • Alienation
  • Friendship:  Although the world can be a ______________ place, in the friendship of one or two __________________, we can find ________________________.
  • Man’s search for ______________________ and control over ________________
  • Man’s need for _________________ and meaning often conflicts with _____________________ and disorder.

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