Ishmael - “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

The Psychology of Great Characters: A Comprehensive Analysis of Literary Icons - Sykalo Evgen 2023

Ishmael - “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

Background and Motivations


Melville purposefully leaves Ishmael's past unclear to heighten his air of mystery and intrigue. Still, his own comments and thoughts provide us with some insight into his background. He is an intelligent, inquisitive individual who is fascinated by the natural world and has a deep interest in philosophy. In addition, he reads widely and is familiar with mythology and history.

Ishmael characterizes himself as a "restless" soul that is constantly looking for excitement and novel encounters. He finds solace and metamorphosis in the sea, where he can let go of the limitations of his terrestrial existence. His choice to set out on a whaling expedition stems from a mix of his curiosity in the world's waters, his need for adventure, and his need to escape.

Reasons for

The reasons behind Ishmael's decision to join the Pequod are intricate and varied. He appears to be looking for excitement and a change of pace from his routine. But there are more subtle reasons involved. Ishmael is a man in search of meaning and purpose, and he thinks the sea can provide him both.

The whale fishery also appeals to Ishmael because it represents the might and masculinity of America. He views whaling as an opportunity to put his manhood to the test. But as the journey goes on, he starts to have doubts about the ethics of whaling and the destructive potential of human industry.

The deepest drive driving Ishmael is his curiosity about the world and how he fits into it. As a philosopher and truth-seeker, he feels that the sea may bring him understanding of the essence of life. He is conscious of the expanse of the unknown as well as the boundaries of human knowledge.

To sum up, Ishmael has a complicated and multidimensional past and set of motivations. He is an intelligent, inquisitive man who is looking for adventure, solace, and purpose in life. His voyage on the Pequod is a voyage of self-discovery as well as a challenge to the immensity of the sea and the secrets of the cosmos.

Personality Traits and Development

Aspects of Personality

Ishmael is a nuanced and multidimensional figure who is always learning about himself and experiencing duality. He is isolated and gregarious, thoughtful and daring, and open-minded but skeptical.

Introspective and Perceptive: Ishmael has an excellent sense of observation, a strong eye for detail, and a talent for encapsulating the personalities and happenings around him. He is thoughtful and introverted, frequently considering the philosophical ramifications of his experiences.

Curious and Adventuresome: Ishmael is naturally contemplative, yet he also enjoys thrill and adventure. He has a great desire to explore and learn since he is captivated by the natural world. His choice to set out on a whale expedition is evidence of his spirit of adventure.

Ishmael is a gregarious and solitary person who frequently takes solace in his own reflections and observations. But he can also build strong relationships with people, as shown by his friendship with Queequeg.

Ishmael is a critical thinker who frequently challenges the accepted ideas and presumptions of his day. He is sceptical and open-minded. Regarding Ahab's passion and the perils of unbridled ambition, he is dubious. He is, nevertheless, receptive to fresh viewpoints and experiences, as seen by his eagerness to absorb Queequeg customs and beliefs.


Ishmael experiences a process of personal development throughout the book. He sets out on his adventure as a somewhat unsophisticated and unskilled observer, keen to take in the wonders of the globe. But the dark side of human nature, the destructive force of obsession, and the immensity of the unknown confront him as a result of his experiences onboard the Pequod.

The bond that Ishmael has with Queequeg is essential to his growth. Ishmael's preconceptions are challenged and his perspective on the world is expanded by Queequeg's acceptance and understanding. Their relationship serves as an example of how human connection can overcome racial and cultural divides.

Ahab's fixation on Moby Dick has a significant effect on Ishmael as well. As Ishmael observes how damaging Ahab's manic desire is, he learns the value of moderation and balance as well as the risks associated with unbridled ambition.

Ishmael grows increasingly contemplative and pensive as the story goes on. He debates issues of human nature, good and evil, and the interaction between nature and humanity. His philosophical reflections give the story more depth and texture and encourage readers to think about the bigger picture implications of the happenings around him.

Ishmael grows into a smarter, more mature person in the end as a result of his increased understanding of the intricacies of human life, the world around him, and himself. His survival as the only person to survive the sinking of the Pequod is evidence of his adaptability and endurance.

In summary

Ishmael's character development and personality qualities are crucial to the story of "Moby-Dick." His quest for self-awareness is reflected in the novel's examination of human nature, the size of the sea, and the secrets of the cosmos. The nuanced and dynamic nature of Ishmael serves as a reminder of the ability for personal development and evolution as well as the never-ending search for purpose in the face of uncertainty.

Relationships and Interactions


The most noteworthy bond between Ishmael and Queequeg is that of a Polynesian harpooner who becomes to be his closest companion while traveling on the Pequod. Their relationship surpasses racial and cultural divides, proving the strength of human connection even in the middle of the ocean.

Queequeg's first appearance is characterized as "savage" and "heathen," a reflection of the time's prevalent biases. But Ishmael discovers Queequeg's wisdom, compassion, and spiritual depth right away. Ishmael receives a much-needed sense of camaraderie and belonging from their connection, which is founded on respect and understanding for one another.

Queequeg has had a significant impact on Ishmael. He dispels Ishmael's misconceptions and biases, enabling him to see past cultural differences and acknowledge the humanity that unites all people. Ishmael is also profoundly impacted by Queequeg's spiritual convictions, which cause him to doubt his own religion and entertain the idea of a higher power.

There are difficulties in their connection. Sometimes miscommunications and disputes result from their disparate cultural upbringings and worldviews. But in the end, these difficulties deepen their relationship as they discover common ground in their shared humanity and learn to value one another's distinctive viewpoints.

One of the most poignant scenes in the book is the untimely death of Queequeg. Ishmael is inconsolable by his friend's passing and is in deep mourning. The passing of Queequeg also serves as a reminder of how fleeting life is and how important it is to value our relationships with others.

Ahab, Captain

Ishmael's function as a counterbalance to commander Ahab's insane pursuit of Moby Dick is made clear by his meetings with the spiteful and obsessed Pequod commander. Ahab's own warped viewpoint is countered by Ishmael's observations of his worsening mental state.

Ahab is completely consumed by his infatuation with Moby Dick, and he will stop at nothing to exact retribution. However, Ishmael is able to keep his impartiality and sense of perspective. He alerts Ahab to the perils of his mission after realizing how damaging Ahab's devotion is.

Ahab becomes estranged from the rest of the crew, especially Ishmael, due to his increasingly oppressive actions and spiral into insanity. Ishmael understands the terrible results of Ahab's infatuation, yet he nonetheless continues to feel pity for him.

The disparity between Ahab and Moby Dick's two characters is brought to light in their pivotal encounter. Ishmael's capacity to adapt and survive shows the value of balance, moderation, and an acceptance of the unknown, whereas Ahab's fixation leads to his own demise.

Additional Crew Members

Ishmael also engages in conversation with a wide range of individuals on board the Pequod, all of whom have distinct personalities and viewpoints. These exchanges shed light on the difficulties of coexisting in a tight-knit society as well as the complexity of human nature.

Ishmael sees the range of human emotions and behaviors via his interactions with the crew, from comedy and friendship to dread and violence. He learns more about the human condition as he observes the effects of protracted sea travel on the soldiers.

Ishmael gets the chance to consider his own role in the world and his relationships with other people as a result of these encounters. He gains insight into the value of understanding, empathy, and the capacity to build relationships with individuals from all backgrounds.

In summary, Ishmael's encounters and connections are crucial in forming his personality and offering understanding of the novel's themes. His observations, disagreements, and friendships offer as a microcosm of the human condition, illuminating the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, the difficulties of communal life, and the enduring strength of friendship.

Role in the Narrative

Principal storyteller

As the main narrator of "Moby-Dick," Ishmael gives a first-hand account of the epic encounter with Moby Dick and the Pequod's unfortunate voyage. He interacts with the reader, allowing them inside his thoughts and experiences, therefore his role goes beyond simple narration.

Ishmael has multiple functions in his role as storyteller. He immerses the reader in the midst of the whaling experience by giving the events a sense of authenticity and immediacy. His philosophical observations, which address themes of good and evil, human nature, and the interaction between man and nature, give the story more depth and complexity.

Ishmael's narrative is notable for its unique blending of personal tales, philosophical reflections, and factual accuracy. Being observant of his surroundings, he paints a clear picture of the sights, sounds, and scents of the water. His philosophical observations offer a somber diversion from the action-packed whaling scenes, encouraging readers to consider the larger ramifications of what is happening in front of them.

Ishmael's personal tales give the story a human touch by illuminating his own desires, emotions, and ideas. He talks about his worries and fears, his experiences of amazement and wonder, and how his perspective on the world and his place in it is changing. Ishmael's quest of self-discovery becomes more accessible and captivating for readers due to his sensitivity.

Both participant and observer

Ishmael's dual function as both an observer and a participant in the novel's events further strengthens his narrator position. In addition to being an active participant in the whaling cruise, he is a witness to the remarkable occurrences taking place all around him.

Ishmael describes the natural environment, the whaling industry, and the various personalities on board the Pequod in great detail as an observer. He portrays the harshness of whaling operations, the majesty and beauty of the ocean, and the nuanced characters of his fellow seamen. Readers are given a deep and comprehensive understanding of the whaling world through his observations.

Ishmael contributes as a participant, offering his own insights and experiences that give the story a more intimate touch. He talks about his feelings of expectation and joy at first, his mounting uneasiness, and his eventual disappointment with the whaling industry. His involvement in the book's events gives readers a firsthand look at the voyage from his point of view, giving the story more depth and realism.

A Sign of Humankind

Beyond his roles as participant and narrator, Ishmael has a larger role in the story. He also represents the human ability for wonder, curiosity, and resiliency, making him a symbol of humanity.

Ishmael's enthusiasm for the natural world and his readiness to take on a perilous journey are reflections of his curiosity and spirit of adventure. His propensity for love and friendship is demonstrated by the close relationships he has developed with people, including Queequeg. Being the only person to survive the sinking of the Pequod represents his fortitude and flexibility in the face of difficulty.

Melville examines the intricacies of human nature—from the abyss of despair to the pinnacles of hope—through Ishmael's experiences. Ishmael's journey serves as a tribute to the human spirit's resilience, which enables people to endure adversity and find hope despite it.

In summary

Ishmael has a complex and crucial role in the "Moby-Dick" story. He gives an accurate first-hand account of the events taking place around him, making him a trustworthy storyteller. He is an astute observer who captures the nuances of the whaling industry and the variety of personalities on board the Pequod. Furthermore, he actively contributes by providing his own insights and experiences, giving the story a more intimate touch. In addition to his role in the story, Ishmael is a metaphor of humanity, standing for our ability to be curious, amazed, and resilient. Melville examines the intricacies of human nature and the eternal strength of the human spirit via Ishmael's trip.

Symbolism and Representation

Symbol of the Search for Meaning in Humanity

The character of Ishmael symbolizes humanity's ongoing search for purpose and insight in the vast and frequently unknown cosmos. He is a truth-seeker, attracted to the water because it is a place of mystery and perhaps revelation. His voyage on the Pequod is a metaphorical excursion into the depths of the human experience, where he encounters the dark side of the human soul, the intricacies of nature, and the never-ending quest for purpose in the face of uncertainty.

An embodiment of the average person

In addition, Ishmael represents the average person, in contrast to the legendary characters like as Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. He is a regular man looking for extraordinary events and using his own observations and reflections to try and make sense of the world. His point of view gives the story a grounded human quality that contrasts with the novel's frequently mythical and mystical components.

Symbol of Adaptability and Resilience

Being the only person to survive the sinking of the Pequod, Ishmael serves as a potent metaphor for resiliency and flexibility in the face of extreme hardship. Not only does he survive the journey's destruction, but he also experiences a spiritual metamorphosis. His resilience in the face of extreme adversity and his ability to adjust to the harsh realities of the sea and the vastness of the unknown are examples of the human spirit's enduring ability to persevere and find meaning in life.

Signifying the Storyteller in the Narrator

Ishmael's symbolic significance is further enhanced by his function as the narrator of the story. He tells the tale, tying the journey's events together and shedding light on the personalities and motivations of the protagonists. His role as narrator implies that stories can be used as a tool for investigating the intricacies of human existence and helping us make sense of the world around us, in addition to being a source of amusement.

Signification of the Human Bond

The bond between Ishmael and Queequeg, a Polynesian harpooner, is a potent representation of the human connection that cuts over racial and cultural divides. Mutual respect, comprehension, and a love of the sea's enigma and beauty form the foundation of their relationship. Their bond shows that, in spite of our differences, we are all members of the same human family and are able to build strong, meaningful bonds with one another.

Symbol of the Truth-Seeker

Ishmael debates issues of morality, human nature, and the interaction between humans and the natural world throughout the book. He is a truth-seeker who never stops challenging and questioning accepted wisdom. His philosophical reflections give the story more depth and complexity and encourage readers to interact with the book's overarching themes and reflect on their own role in the cosmos.

In summary

The representation and symbolism of Ishmael in "Moby-Dick" are complex and profound. He represents the search for meaning in human history, the understanding that the average person seeks, the human spirit's tenacity, the power of storytelling, the ability to form human connections, and the unwavering pursuit of the truth. His presence in the book serves as a reminder of the complexity of life, the size of the unknown, and the resilience of the human spirit in searching for connection and purpose in an enigmatic and amazing universe.

Additional Considerations

The Part of Ishmael as a Foil

Of particular relevance is Ishmael's function as Captain Ahab's counterpoint. Their divergent objectives and personalities serve to emphasize the perils of obsession as well as the value of moderation and balance. Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick is contrasted with Ishmael's ability to remain objective and retain perspective.

The Changing Relationship Between Ishmael and the Sea

Throughout the book, Ishmael's relationship with the water develops and becomes more intricate. He is initially lured to the sea since it seems like an exciting area to escape to. But as the journey goes on, he learns to respect the sea's strength and beauty while also realizing its immensity and destructive potential. His evolving viewpoint reflects his own evolution as a person.

The Use of Ishmael as a Literary Device

Because Ishmael serves as the narrator, Melville is able to use a number of literary techniques, including symbolism, foreshadowing, and philosophical reflections. Ishmael's observations and opinions give the story more depth and character and encourage readers to consider the bigger picture implications of what is happening in the world.

Ishmael's Undetermined Destiny

Because he is the only person who survived the sinking of the Pequod, readers are free to guess about Ishmael's destiny. A new level of symbolism is added by his escape in a coffin transformed into a lifebuoy, which stands for his rebirth and the discarding of his old self. The novel's investigation of the unknown and the eternal problems surrounding human existence is reflected in the ambiguity of his fate.

The Enduring Appeal of Ishmael

The fact that Ishmael's character is still mysterious and interpretive contributes to "Moby-Dick's" continuing allure. He is a diverse and intricate figure who represents the trials and victories of humanity and exemplifies the ability of narrative to delve into the depths of the human condition. Centuries after Melville wrote his masterwork, readers are still moved by his journey of self-discovery, his encounter with the expanse of the sea, and the secrets of the cosmos.