Chapter Analysis: Chapter 26 of Moby Dick, "Knights and Squires"

Chapter twenty-six is mainly about Starbuck, the first mate of the ship. Starbuck represents two figures throughout this chapter, Sir Lancelot of Arthurian Legend and Christ. Starbuck also has many sides to him, which can be explained through quotes within the chapter. The chapter explains about Starbuck’s character and personality, and may possibly give hints to what will happen later on in the book.

Chapter twenty-six is entitled “Knights and Squires”; this title sets the stage for the predominate theme through this chapter, and the next chapter, Arthurian Legend. Arthurian Legend was first told around five hundred AD and evolved into it’s current form around fifteen hundred AD. The legend revolves around a real King of Britain who fought the Saxons and the Romans as they invaded Britain. The legend states that Arthur was the son of King Uther Pendragon, and the Lady Igraine. Arthur was illegitimate because at the time of Igraine and Uther’s affair, Igraine was still married to King Gorlois. King Gorlois was later killed by Uther, and Uther and Igraine married. After his birth Arthur was taken by Merlin to Sir Ector for fostering, never learning who his true parents were until later on his life. Sir Ector had a son naked Kay, and trained Arthur to be Kay’s squire, once Kay became a knight. Once Uther died Britain was left without a high King because he and Igraine had not had any heirs to the throne, and Arthur was not known to be Uther’s son. In order to solve this problem Merlin created a test, this test was that of The Sword and The Stone. There was a large stone in front of a cathedral, and on that stone appeared a large anvil with a sword imbedded within it. Merlin proclaimed that whoever was able to pull the sword from the stone was the rightful heir to the throne of Britain. All of the barons and kings present tried to pull the sword from the stone, and failed. At the same time Arthur had been sent in search for a sword for Kay because Kay was to battle. Arthur could not find Kay’s sword and saw the sword embedded in the anvil and easily pulled it free. In astonishment, all those present made him try this feat over and over until they were all convinced that it had really happened. Arthur was then proclaimed the High King of Britain and took Merlin as his advisor.

Arthur began the federation of the Knights of the Round Table. The Round Table was made at Carduel for Uther Pendragon and was then given to Leodegraunce, the father of Arthur’s wife Guinevere, and was given to Arthur at the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere. The concept of the round table was that no one was higher in status than anyone else was. Arthur ruled from his castle called Camelot with his Sword Excalibur, given to him by The Lady of the Lake and his Knights. Arthur and his Knights fought many battles in the name of chivalry and protection for land of Britain. One of the most famous quests that Arthur sent his knights on was the Quest for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was the chalice that was used by Christ at the last supper and was thought to hold great powers of healing. The knight most often thought of to have completed the Grail Quest was Perceval. During his life Arthur had an affair with his aunt Morgause, but because of his fostering, he did not know that Morgause was his aunt. This affair caused a son between Arthur and Morgause named Mordred. Mordred grew up fighting his father for the throne of Britain. During a battle between Arthur and Mordred, Arthur killed Mordred, but not before Mordred was able to deal a terrible wound. Some stories say that Arthur died from this wound. Other stories say that Arthur was tacken to the hidden Isle of Avalon where the Grail was to be healed of his wounds. The stories that say that Arthur was taken to Avalon also say that he will return to Britain when he is most needed.

In the story of Moby Dick Ahab represents King Arthur and Starbuck represents Sir. Lancelot. Sir Lancelot is King Arthur’s bravest and most known knight of the Round Table. As a child, Lancelot was rescued by Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s sister, from his family’s castle as it burned down to the ground. Morgan raised Lancelot on the isle of Avalon, where she as known as The Lady of the Lake, hence Lancelot’s full tittle, Lancelot du Lac. Lancelot grew up to be the bravest and most courageous knight of Arthur’s guild of knights.

A quote that describes Starbuck’s courageous nature and thus showing his relation to Sir Lancelot is “...perhaps in this business of whaling, courage was one of the staple outfits of the ship, like her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted.” This quote describes that when it is needed, Starbuck can be the most courageous man aboard the ship. Starbuck’s courage relates him to Sir Lancelot because of Lancelot’s courage. The title of the chapter shows that there is a relation between the characters described within the two chapters titled “Knights and Squires”, and the characters of medieval legend, and this is the character of legend that Starbuck most closely relates to.

Starbuck is also a Christ figure in this book. Christ is the Son of God and after death sat at the right hand of God. Christ was born to The Virgin Mary after the Immaculate Conception in which Mary became pregnant through the Will of God. Christ spent most of his life preaching the word of God, and his followers, the apostles preached as well, and soon began the new religion of Christianity. Christ was killed around the age of thirty by crucifixion under the hand of Pontious Pilot.

The first quote in the chapter that related Starbuck to Christ is “Only some thirty arid summers had he seen;” This quote shows that Starbuck is about thirty years old, the same age as Christ when Christ went on his final journey to find, and preach the word of God. This could be foreshadowing that this is Starbuck’s final journey to find the whale, the God figure in the book. The next quote relating Starbuck to Christ is ”’I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’”. Since the whale is a symbol of God, this shows that Starbuck reveres God very much. This relates him to Christ because Christ would not let anyone who did not respected God to be his disciple, because to believe in Christ, you must believe in God. One more thing that relates Starbuck to Christ is that Starbuck is the first mate, second in command, and Christ is also second in command.

Starbuck is the type of man who can adjust to any conditions, this quote proves that, “...and though born on an icy coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice backed biscuit.” The quote shows that Starbuck has been through much, and because of this he is able to easily adapt to any type of condition. This makes it easier for him to chase the whale. Whales can be found in just about any part of the world, making it hard for people who are chasing them because they have to be able to withstand the different climates, and extremes, and this shows that Starbuck was able to do that. The next quote in the chapter, “Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there the yet lingering images of those thousand fold perils he had calmly confronted through life.”. This quote shows that Starbuck has had much happen to him in his life, yet he always calmly navigated his way through it. This can relate Starbuck to Christ because Christ was often persecuted for saying he is the son of God, but he always stood bravely and calmly through everything that happened to him. This quote can also relate to the shadows seen earlier throughout the book through the “the yet lingering image of those thousand fold perils”. “For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs;” this shows that Starbuck is not the type of man to run foolishly into things. He does not lower, or go after whales at night, and does not chase a single whale all over the world. Starbuck simply wishes to hunt whales to make money, not to prove anything. In that quote, “critical” means judging because the ocean can decide the fate of a man, it can be a calm ocean, easy to navigate in, or a stormy, wavy sea, throwing men overboard and endangering their lives. The next quote, “What doom was his own father’s? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?” shows, again, what Starbuck had been through, and that he was willing to face the dangers of whaling. This can also relate Starbuck to Christ again; Christ knew the dangers that would ensue as a result of proclaiming himself the Son of God, but he still went along with it, and Starbuck knows the dangers of whaling, but he is still willing to face the dangers.

The second to last paragraph of the chapter is about courage. The first quote from this paragraph “.it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul.” describes how horrible it is to lose valor. In this sense, valor means courage. A person needs courage to do just about anything worthwhile in life. The next quote explains about a person with too much courage, “That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with the keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor ruined man.” The quote states that other people feel bad, and hurt when they see someone who is “valor ruined”. To be “valor ruined” is to have had to much courage and gone into something foolish. This could be foreshadowing for later on in the book, that someone on the ship who thinks he has a lot of courage, but is really just foolish.

The last paragraph in this chapter is about Ishamael proclaiming that he is ready to teach other people how to take a journey like this on, since he has already taken the journey on. There are many allusions in this last paragraph that relate to the journey. The first is to the “Spirit of Equality” which refers to God himself, which goes along with the philosophy of transcendentalism presented throughout this chapter. The next allusion is to John Bunyan. Bunyan was an English Minister who wrote Pilgrims Progress. The book describes the life of a Christian as a pilgrimage “From the City of Destruction to the Celestial City” or heaven. The next allusion is to Cervantes who wrote the books of Don Quixote. Don Quixote is a man who is disillusion by the Knights of Chivalry in poetry that he has read and decides to become one of these knights. He takes a man named Sancho as his squire and a common lady Dulcinae as his maiden. Throughout the book windmills are mentioned and these are an illusion to God. The last illusion is to Andrew Jackson who was a president of the United States. He was orphaned at age fourteen and later became a great general in the War of 1812.

The two allusions to Bunyan and Cervantes go along with the chapter, and the book, because they are all about the search for faith. In the book Moby Dick Ahab is searching for the whale, or God and is therefor on a search for faith. Bunyan’s book is about the search for faith because it is about a man’s life as he progresses onto heaven. And Don Quixote is about the search for faith because Don Quixote is constantly seeing and searching for windmills, the God figure in the book.

The dominant philosophy of this chapter is that of Transcendentalism. In Transcendentalism God is the center of everything and everything revolves around him, but everything is equal to him. The quote in this chapter that most shows the philosophy behind it is “The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our devine equality!” This states how God is the center of everything, yet still our equal, as the Transcendental philosophy also states. The Round Table of Arthurian Legend, even though when the legend was created Transcendentalism had not yet been thought of, the Table is Transcendental in nature.

This chapter is essential to the book because it introduces the first mate of the Pequod, Starbuck. Without this chapter we would not understand the character of Starbuck, which may ultimately lead us to understand why Starbuck does certain things later on in the book. The chapter alludes to how Starbuck relates to people of the past, such as Lencelot from Arthurian Legend, and Christ. The chapter also describes Starbuck as a calm man who has been through much. Starbuck is an essential character in the book and his actions may go against Ahab, and that may cause some interesting conflicts through out the book as Ahab searches for his faith, while searching for the whale.