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A man named Ishmael has the urge to go on a whaling
boat. He has had experience at sea in merchant ships, and the sea is where he
goes when he is feeling melancholy, but this time he wants to go whaling. He
travels to New Bedford, where the only inn he can afford is full, meaning he
will have to share a bed with Queequeg, a harpooner from the Polynesian
Islands. Ishmael is unsettled by the fact that Queequeg worships an idol, the
fact that he sells human heads on the street, and the fact that he is
apparently a cannibal. However, Queequeg’s friendly disposition calms Ishmael’s
nerves and the two become good friends. Queequeg travels with Ishmael to
Nantucket, even allowing Ishmael to choose the whaling boat the two are to
travel on together. Ishmael comes across the Pequod and although its owners
offer him a pitiful salary, his desire to go whaling pushed him to accept. Days
into the trip, Ishmael is bothered by the fact that he has still not seen the
captain of the Pequod, Ahab, about whom Ishmael had been warned by a mysterious
man, Elijah. Ahab finally comes out of his cabin, standing on a false leg to
Ishmael’s surprise. Ahab announces the Pequod’s true intentions: to find and
kill Moby Dick, the whale that took his leg, offering a valuable doubloon to
whoever sights him. Ahab has even snuck a harpooning crew for himself onto the
ship because of his powerful desire to kill Moby Dick himself. During the
Pequod’s journey around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Indian Ocean, and
towards the equator, several ships the Pequod comes across give varying
accounts of Moby Dick’s location. However, they all seem to respond negatively
to Ahab’s quest to destroy the whale. The final ship the Pequod encounters
before it finds Moby Dick is the Rachel, whose captain has lost his son after
and attack by Moby Dick. Ahab is more enthralled by the fact that Moby Dick is
nearby than he is sympathetic towards the captain of the Rachel. When the
Pequod finally comes across Moby Dick, Ahab begins to realize how meaningless
his life of chasing the whale has been. Nonetheless, the Pequod pursues Moby
Dick for three entire days, with several failed attempts at catching him. Moby
Dick destroys the Pequod in one blow and its crew begins to sink. In one final
act of defiance, Ahab stabs the whale with his specially-prepared harpoon and
gets dragged down into the water to his death. The only survivor of Moby Dick’s
rampage is Ishmael, who floats along until he is picked up by the Rachel.

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