The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.
In this chapter, Ishmael points out how unusual it was for Ahab, the captain of the ship, to have his own small boat, harpooneer, and crew. In most cases, the captain’s life was seen as too valuable to risk in such direct contact with whales. This was even more true in Ahab’s case because he was handicapped, having a false leg. This is why Ahab secretly conscripted Fedallah and the other mysterious crewmen, because the owners of the ship would never have approved it. It was simply too risky for a captain to be commanding a harpoon boat. What if he were killed?
Ishmael describes Fedallah, Ahab’s harpooneer, in this way: “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, that that but dimly.”