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In this chapter, Ishmael tells the reader of the various reactions of the crew members towards the coin or doubloon that Ahab displays to the crew members, as a prize to be won for sighting Moby Dick. This coin or doubloon is fastened to the mast. Ishmael says that as Ahab walks on the deck everyday, he pauses to look at the doubloon, staring at it for a long time. The doubloon is of pure gold. Fastened to the mast, this shining coin is surrounded by old timber, rusty nails and copper spikes that are turning green. Yet the coin does not lose its shine. It remains bright and glistens as it had on the day it was minted in Ecuador. The figuration on the coin can be seen clearly -three mountain peaks, surrounded by a circle of the globe.
As Ahab and the crewmembers pass by the coin day after day, the coin comes to represent something different for each one of them. For Ahab, the coin is a symbol of his will to control the ship and the success of his mission - to destroy Moby Dick. Starbuck, who is a religious man, sees the trinity in the coin.
For Stubb, it symbolizes wealth and he sees the various zodiac signs in it while to Flask the doubloon reminds him of the amount of fine cigars he can buy. Queequeg sees engravings on the coin, reminding him of the tattoos on his own body. For Fedallah, it is a symbol of the sun, which he worships. Pip, who like Ishmael, observes the others studying the coin, also goes up there. There, he mutters something about the others being bats and he a crow. "I look, you look, he looks, we look, ye look, they look."
Here, through the various perceptions of the gold coin, the author wants to say that no one can ever give a definite meaning to any object. Different people interpret the same object in a different light. It also reveals the varying attitudes on board the Pequod. Some people invest the coin with material value and others with spiritual value. Pip uses it to define his own existence.