Ishmael begins this chapter by detailing the careful preparations that Ahab has made to ensure that he can command his own whale-boat. He has smuggled aboard his own boat crew and fitted out the bow of his whale-boat to accommodate his prosthetic leg. The appearance of the shadowy crew is a shock, but the shock doesn’t last for long, for (as Ishmael notes)
in a whaler wonders soon wane … such unaccountable odds and ends of strange nations come up from the unknown nooks and ash-holes of the earth to man these floating outlaws of whalers; and the ships themselves often pick up such queer castaway creatures found tossing about the open sea on planks, bits of wreck, oars, whale-boats, canoes, blown-off Japanese junks, and what not; that Beelzebub himself might climb up the side and step down into the cabin to chat with the captain, and it would not create any unsubduable excitement in the forecastle.
An exception to the rule, however, seems to be Fedallah, Ahab’s harpooneer:
But one cannot sustain an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent — those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness of earth’s primal generations, when the memory of the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants, unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of the sun and the moon why they were created and to what end; when though, according to genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.
Early critics of the novel followed Ishmael’s lead in associating Fedallah with the devil, seeing in the relationship of Ahab and Fedallah a retelling of the story of Faust