moby dick

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^^^^^^^^^^ HERMAN MELVILLE: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES On a January morning in 1841, a twenty-one-year-old man stood on the docks of the New Bedford, Massachusetts, harbor. Poverty had forced him to abandon his schooling to help support his family, but he had not found happiness as a farmer, schoolteacher, or bank clerk. Two years before, he had shipped out as a sailor on a merchant ship, and that job hadn't pleased him any better than the others. Still, something about the sea must have called him back, for here he was about to board another ship, the whaler Acushnet, bound from New Bedford round Cape Horn to the South Pacific. It was a voyage that would change the young man's life, and change American literature as well. The man standing on the New Bedford docks was Herman Melville, and his four years at sea provided him with the raw material for a career's worth of books, one of them a masterpiece: Moby-Dick. Melville was an unlikely candidate to become a sailor. He was born on August 1, 1819, into a well-off, religious New York family whose sons by rights should have found careers in business or in law offices rather than aboard ships. But Melville's comfortable childhood ended all too soon. When he was ten his father's import business failed, and that failure drove his father to madness and, two years later, to death. The Melvilles sank into genteel poverty, dependent on money doled out by richer relatives and on the earnings of Herman and his brothers. These were the pressures that helped drive Melville, like Moby-Dick's narrator, Ishmael, to sea. The history of Melville's time at sea reads very much like an adventure story. In fact, it reads very much like Melville's own early books, and for good reason, since they are largely autobiographical. His first year on the Acushnet seemed happy enough, but by July of 1842 he had grown sick of his captain's bad temper. With a companion he jumped ship at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, hoping to find refuge with a tribe known to be friendly to sailors. The pair got lost; they wound up not with the friendly tribe but with the Typees, reputed to be cannibals. While the Typees treated their American guests well enough, their reputation made Melville's stay a nervous one, and after four weeks he escaped with the help of the crew of an Australian whaling ship, the Lucy Ann. The Lucy Ann was little improvement over the Acushnet, however--her captain was incompetent, her first mate alcoholic--and when she reached Tahiti, Melville and other crew members plotted a revolt. Found out, they were thrown in jail. Eventually Melville escaped, made his way to Honolulu, and there enlisted in the United States Navy, serving on the frigate United States, which brought him back to Boston in October, 1844. Melville was now twenty-five and seemed no closer to finding a career than four years before. Except for letters published in a local newspaper, he had shown few signs of a gift for writing. As he recounted his adventures for his family, however, they urged him to write the tales down. In this way, it is said, he discovered his calling. Later he told his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, "From my twenty-fifth year I date my life." Melville's account of his time in the Marquesas, the novel Typee, was published in the spring of 1846. Advertisements promised readers "personal adventure, cannibal banquets... carved canoes dancing on the flashing blue waters, savage woodlands guarded by horrible idols, heathenish rites and human sacrifices." And the book was a great popular success. Today, Melville probably would have won a place on best-seller lists and an article in People magazine as "the man who lived with the cannibals." Melville continued to draw on his sea adventures in the novels Omoo (1847), Redburn (1849), and White-Jacket (1850). Another novel, Mardi, published in 1849, was an unsuccessful attempt to add fantasy and philosophy to sea stories. Melville had become a popular writer, but he wasn't fully satisfied with his popularity. On the one hand, with a wife and children to support, he needed the money that success brought him. But on the other, writing simple adventure stories was, he said, no more creative than sawing wood. He had greater ambitions. At the same time, while most popular writers of the day tended to be optimistic about America and about mankind, Melville was--perhaps because of his riches-to-rags childhood--in many ways a deeply pessimistic and insecure figure, doubtful about his nation, doubtful about man, doubtful about the universe. Moby-Dick is the result of both Melville's ambitions and his doubts. When he began the book, he intended to call it The Whale and promised his publishers that it would be another popular sea adventure. But midway through his writing something changed. Melville had moved to the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and met Nathaniel Hawthorne, already famous as the author of The Scarlet Letter. In Hawthorne, Melville seemed to find a kindred spirit, a man who had fulfilled himself writing the kind of dark, complex books that Melville wanted to write. Perhaps the older author's example gave Melville the courage to achieve his ambitions. Whatever the reason, soon after he met Hawthorne, Melville began furiously to rewrite The Whale. The finished product reached his publisher a full year after it had been promised; it bore a new title, Moby-Dick, and it was a far greater book than anything Melville had written before. You can see the influence of many other works of literature in Moby-Dick--the Bible, the plays of Shakespeare, Homer's Odyssey. But perhaps the book's real power comes from the doubts and fears of Melville's own life. Though not as literally autobiographical as Typee or Omoo, in many ways Moby-Dick more truly reflects its author. While other popular American writers saluted the nation's free-enterprise system, Melville had seen how cut-throat competition could destroy men like his father. And so in the memorable sermon of Fleece, the cook, men are compared to savage sharks. While other writers promoted the ideal of the self-reliant, strong-willed American hero, Melville saw how easily those qualities might make a man a dictator. And so he shows us, in Captain Ahab, how strong will and self-reliance become madness. And while other writers imagined a benign God smiling down upon mankind, Melville saw the universe as at best indifferent, at worst cruel--as indifferent and cruel as the great whale, Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is a book crowded with doubts and short on reassurance, the fitting product of a man who, in Hawthorne's words, could neither believe in anything "nor be comfortable in his disbelief." Moby-Dick is the greatest work of Melville's career and one of the finest--perhaps "the" finest--works of American literature. Tradition has it that this masterpiece was unjustly attacked by critics and readers of its day. In fact, many reviews were favorable, and sales were respectable, though nowhere near the level of Typee. But Moby-Dick did not sell well enough for Melville to support his wife and children, and he came under increasing financial pressure. Though his wife's family was wealthy, Melville hated taking money from richer relatives, as his widowed mother had been forced to do. "Dollars damn me," he told Hawthorne angrily. "What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,--it will not pay. Yet altogether write the other way, I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches." The rest of Melville's career seemed to prove the truth of his complaint. His next novel, Pierre (1852)--his only novel set on land, not water--was a failure. Some critics openly doubted his sanity in writing it. None of the books that followed--Israel Potter (1855), The Piazza Tales (1856) and The Confidence-Man (1857)--though valued highly today, achieved anything like the success of his first efforts. Worn out by writing ten books in eleven years, disappointed in his hopes of finding financial security through his work, Melville seemed to be near a nervous breakdown. He tried, as other authors of the day did, to make a living as a public speaker but failed. Finally, in 1866, he did what his family had long been urging him to do--he took his first steady job, a secure government post as the Deputy Inspector of Customs of the Port of New York. Melville held the post until retirement, sinking into near total obscurity. He continued to write, though at a slow pace. Most of his time was spent composing poetry. And then, in the last years of his life, Melville wrote the novel Billy Budd, a gripping tale of good and evil aboard ship, that today is ranked second only to Moby-Dick among his works. But it was not published until 1924, more than 30 years after his death. When Melville died, on September 28, 1891, the obituary in the New York Post probably spoke for most when it said, "even his own generation has long thought him dead, so quiet have been the later years of his life." Only in the 1920s, with the publication of the first biography of Melville and the discovery of the manuscript of Billy Budd, was Melville's greatness appreciated. Today he is regarded not only as a skilled spinner of sea tales but as a brilliant, tormented seeker of truth--and nowhere more brilliant, or tormented, than in Moby-Dick. About this book, the Nobel Prize-winning American author William Faulkner said, "Moby-Dick is the book which I put down with the unqualified thought, 'I wish I had written that.'" And the distinguished English author D. H. Lawrence wrote, "It is a great book, a very great book, the greatest book of the sea ever written. It moves awe in the soul." ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: THE PLOT "Call me Ishmael." With these words the narrator of Moby-Dick begins the tale of how, some years before, he abandoned his stale life in Manhattan for the excitement of a whaling ship. It's a cold December night when Ishmael arrives in the whaling port of New Bedford. He takes a room at the Spouter-Inn, where he must share a bed with a Polynesian harpooner, Queequeg--a frightening figure with tattoos and a reputation as a cannibal, but, Ishmael soon learns, a man of great dignity and good nature. The next morning Ishmael visits the Whaleman's Chapel to hear the famed Father Mapple, once a sailor himself, preach a moving sermon on Jonah and the Whale and man's need to obey God. Ishmael and Queequeg, now fast friends, decide to sail together and cross to Nantucket Island to find a suitable ship. At the Nantucket wharf, Ishmael sees the Pequod, small, weather-beaten and wildly decorated with whalebones. Her Quaker owners, Peleg and Bildad, agree to let the inexperienced Ishmael sign on (for low wages) then tell him that the Pequod's captain, Ahab, has lost his leg to an enormous white whale. For that reason Ahab can be moody and grim, though he is still a skilled commander. On a Nantucket street Queequeg and Ishmael are confronted by the crazed, pock-marked Elijah, who shouts dark warnings about their new captain. Another strange occurrence takes place as the Pequod is being readied to set sail: Ishmael sees shadowy figures board the ship ahead of him, then mysteriously vanish. The Pequod leaves Nantucket on an icy Christmas Day. Ishmael soon gets to know the ship's mates--cautious Starbuck, easy-going Stubb, hot-tempered Flask--and the rest of the crew, gathered from the four corners of the globe. But Captain Ahab remains isolated in his cabin. When at last Ahab appears, his ivory leg and the white scar blazing down his face and neck make him look to Ishmael like a man who was burned at the stake and survived. Something is disturbing Ahab deeply, and in a dramatic scene on the quarterdeck, the captain gathers the crew and discloses the true purpose of the voyage--the destruction of Moby-Dick, the enormous white sperm whale that cost him his leg. He nails a gold doubloon to the mainmast, a reward for the first man who spots the great whale. The sensible Starbuck protests that the Pequod is not in business to satisfy Ahab's desire for revenge, but the captain's strong will, and the liquor he supplies, win the rest of the crew to his side. As fond of knowledge as Ahab is of power, Ishmael acquires stories about Moby-Dick to add to the already enormous amount of information he has gathered about whales and whaling. Moby-Dick's intelligence, and his apparent pleasure in harming people make him the most feared of his kind, but what most terrifies Ishmael is the whale's empty, deathly whiteness. Ahab sits in his cabin, charting the Pequod's course, all his great intelligence focused on the whale that to him represents every evil in the universe. And the crew soon learns that Ahab has acquired special help for his hunt. When the boats are lowered to chase the first whale, Ahab's boat is manned by strange dark men never before seen on the voyage. Ishmael realizes these are the "shadows" he saw weeks earlier. Their leader is the sinister-looking, turbaned Fedallah. The Pequod sails round the stormy Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. To Ishmael the voyage seems as varied and unpredictable as life itself. He is appalled by the brutality of whaling, and amused by its humor. He is frightened at life's dangers, and awed by its beauties. At moments he feels very close to the crew. Ahab, however, has cut himself off from almost all such human feelings. "Gams"--visits with other whaling ships--are a friendly tradition at sea, but Ahab uses them only to seek information about Moby-Dick. That information becomes more and more ominous. The Jeroboam lost its first mate to the whale, and a fanatic crewman warns Ahab that his hunt will lead to disaster for him as well. The captain of the Samuel Enderby lost his arm to Moby-Dick, and he is determined to avoid the whale in the future. But the news only whets Ahab's appetite for revenge. Other warnings come from the young black cabin boy, Pip. After falling from Stubb's boat, Pip was abandoned in the ocean for hours. The experience drove him mad, but it is a madness mixed with wisdom--and with messages for Ahab. While Ahab feels sympathy for the boy, he refuses to alter his course. As the Pequod sails into the Pacific, Ahab's obsession grows. He sees the entire universe as an enemy that must be battled before it destroys him. The quadrant that establishes the ship's position will not locate Moby-Dick, and so he smashes it. The Pequod moves into a typhoon, and Ahab stands on the storm-lashed deck, daring the lightning to strike him. There is heroism in his acts, but there is also madness, and he frightens Starbuck so much that the first mate sneaks into the captain's cabin contemplating--then rejecting--the idea of murder. It's clear to everyone on the Pequod that each day is bring them closer to Ahab's goal. They meet the Rachel, searching for a whaleboat lost in an earlier chase for Moby-Dick. Ahab is so feverishly intent on his own search that he ignores the Rachel's pleas for help, even when he learns that the missing boat carried the captain's 12-year-old son. They meet the sadly misnamed Delight, which just lost five men to the whale. That night Ahab sniffs the air, sensing the enemy is near, and in the morning he's lifted to the tallest mast of the ship to see a round, white hump in the ocean--Moby-Dick. The chase begins. On the first day the great whale snaps Ahab's boat in two. On the second day the whale's flukes (parts of the tail) smash three whaleboats. As the rescued whalers regroup on the Pequod they notice that Ahab's harpooner, Fedallah, is missing--grim news for Ahab, because Fedallah had predicted that the captain would die only if Fedallah met death first. Yet when Starbuck pleads for him to stop the chase, Ahab answers that he was fated to fight Moby-Dick. The third day dawns fine and fair. Again three boats are lowered. As Moby-Dick rises, Ahab sees Fedallah's body lashed to the whale--the fulfillment of another condition for Ahab's death. The whale's churning tail smashes Stubb's and Flask's boats so they must return to the Pequod, it sends one man in Ahab's boat overboard. Still Ahab steers toward the whale. But Moby-Dick turns away. And as the men on the Pequod watch in horror, the whale swims mightily toward them, ramming its massive head against the bow. The ship is ripped open, and the sea rushes in. Flask, Stubb, and Starbuck shout helplessly as they are pulled into the water. Deprived even of a captain's privilege of going down with his ship, Ahab hurls a last harpoon at Moby-Dick. In fulfillment of Fedallah's prophecy, the line wraps round Ahab's neck and yanks him, strangled, from his whaleboat into the sea. The sinking Pequod becomes the center of a whirlpool that pulls every plank, oar, and man into the depths with Ahab. Every man, that is, but one--Ishmael, the narrator, who was the man earlier thrown from Ahab's boat. He survives by clinging to a coffin made for (but never used by) his friend Queequeg. For two days Ishmael floats, lost, in the ocean, until he is rescued by the Rachel. And so he survives to tell his tale. A number of Moby-Dick's characters are flat, one-dimensional: Fedallah sometimes seems to have come not from a realistic sea adventure but from a horror story; Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask are more representatives of three different philosophies of life than living human beings with all the complexities human beings possess. Even Ahab, though complex, is exaggerated, hardly a man you might meet walking down the street. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: AHAB "A grand, ungodly, god-like man," Peleg, a co-owner of the Pequod, aptly calls Ahab, the ship's captain. Ahab is grand because of his enormous intelligence and ability, ungodly because of his refusal to worship anything except his own will; and he's godlike because his doomed fight against the universe is in some way a nobly defiant one that lifts him above mortal men and places him closer to the great forces of nature: lightning, fire, the whale, even the universe itself. When Moby-Dick begins, Ahab has been whaling for nearly 40 years. Whaling has become his entire life; though married (to a woman much younger than himself) and a father, he seldom sees his family. Not long before the book opens, Ahab had returned from a voyage on which he suffered a terrible injury--the great whale, Moby-Dick, had sliced off his leg. This injury brings on the fierce desire for revenge that underlies Moby-Dick's basic plot. To Ahab, the loss of his leg is not just a single crime against him, but stands for all the evils sent down upon mankind by a cruel God. Ahab is a complex figure. One part of his character is symbolized by his name: Ahab, in I Kings, was a wicked king of Israel punished for his disobedience. Throughout the book Ahab disobeys the rules of religion, of business, of common sense; he ignores omens, pleas, experience. And like the biblical Ahab, he is punished. Yet there is a happier side to Ahab as well. As Peleg says, Ahab "has his humanities." In the chapter "The Symphony" you will see that even when caught up by his obsession, Ahab can be moved, though briefly, by the world's beauty. Even more importantly, Ahab is moved by the innocence and madness of Pip, the ship-keeper abandoned on the ocean, recognizing in the boy the love and humility that Ahab refuses to permit in himself. For it is part of Ahab's tragedy that he knows better than anyone else what his obsession is costing him. At times he revels in his bitterness and hatred, claiming sorrow more noble than joy. But he's always aware of simple contentments--his pipe, a sunlit ocean--that he can seldom enjoy. His self-awareness, along with his intelligence and will-power, makes Ahab in many ways a genuine tragic hero. Indeed, Melville links him directly to Greek heroes like Prometheus and Perseus, and indirectly to Shakespearean heroes like King Lear and Macbeth. There is something noble in Ahab's proud defiance, something about it that most of us can sympathize with. What human being doesn't want to fight back against a universe that causes pain? And who doesn't want to be in control of his or her fate? There is some Ahab in all of us, isn't there? And so, as the Pequod is sinking and Ahab faces death, about to be destroyed but still unbowed, we may feel the same sense of awe before him that Ishmael felt when he first saw the captain on the quarterdeck, the kind of awe we feel only before nature's greatest works. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: ISHMAEL You don't really learn much about the everyday life of Ishmael, the man who tells the story of Moby-Dick. Apparently he's young, but you don't find out his exact age. He was a schoolteacher once. He served aboard a merchant ship, but has no whaling experience before signing on with the Pequod. But you learn a lot about Ishmael's mind and soul, and it is filtered through them that you hear the story of the Pequod's search for the great whale. His name tells you something important about Ishmael. In the Bible Ishmael was an outcast "with every man's hand against him." And at the start of Moby-Dick Ishmael does seem alone, going to sea to escape the "hypos" (depressions) that have plagued him. As you follow him through the New Bedford streets, you see that he's a sensitive young man, perhaps too ready to see signs of death in an innkeeper's name (Peter Coffin). But that's partly balanced by a youthful curiosity about the world, and a sense of humor that delights especially in bad puns. Once Ishmael boards the Pequod, other facets of his personality become evident. One is a love for the dreamy philosophizing he practices at the masthead. Ishmael is aware of the dangers of such dreaming, yet is incapable of not indulging and it is his desire to give meaning to an ocean or a whale that lends Moby-Dick much of its power. Closely linked to Ishmael's love of philosophizing is his love of knowledge for its own sake. Ahab wants to control the universe; Ishmael wants to know all about it. Whereas for Ahab whales represent all that is hateful, for Ishmael they stand for all that is mysterious. Ishmael's extended essays on whales and whaling are in part attempts to make sense of a confusing world. For some readers, Ishmael's obsession with knowing the world is similar to Ahab's obsession with controlling it. Other readers, however, believe Ishmael, unlike Ahab, has a sense of balance and is able to appreciate both the world's horrors and its beauties. This sense of balance, perhaps, enables Ishmael to survive the voyage and tell his story. As you read Moby-Dick you'll want to follow Ishmael closely and figure out his personality for yourself. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: MOBY-DICK In some ways the most important figure in Moby-Dick isn't a human character at all but the mighty whale for whom the book is named. How you interpret the novel depends greatly on how you interpret this whale. It isn't easy to understand Moby-Dick. What do you learn about him? He's a white, wrinkled sperm whale, the largest, most valuable, and most feared of all creatures of the sea. Fairly or not, he's been blamed for whaling disasters around the world. Beyond those facts, many of you, like the men aboard the Pequod, will see Moby-Dick differently. To Ahab, who lost a leg to the whale, he's an evil part of an evil universe. To Starbuck, who maintains faith in a world ruled by a just God, Moby-Dick is simply a dumb animal who injured Ahab out of instinct. To Ishmael, whales represent the unknown, and Moby-Dick is the greatest mystery of all, his whiteness suggesting that beneath the colorful surfaces of the universe lies emptiness and chaos. Melville's varied descriptions of the whale won't make it easy for you to understand the animal. At times he seems beautiful, like "a snow hill in the air." At other times, with his gaping mouth crowded with teeth, he seems utterly evil. Perhaps Melville is suggesting that Moby-Dick lies beyond our judgment, beyond our notions of good and evil, beyond our understanding. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: QUEEQUEG The harpooner, Queequeg, is a prince of Kokovoko, a Polynesian island. Like Ishmael, he wants to see the world from a whaling ship, specifically to learn about Christianity (which he soon decides is sadly corrupt). At the Spouter-Inn, Ishmael at first is terrified at sharing a bed with this tattooed savage, but he soon sees that even though Queequeg shaves with a harpoon and worships a small pagan idol, he is more noble than most of Ishmael's Christian friends. "We cannibals must help these Christians," Queequeg says after he rescues from drowning the very man who had been rude to him moments before. And Queequeg as helper and rescuer is a theme that continues up to the end of the book, when the coffin made for him allows Ishmael alone to survive when the Pequod sinks. If Moby-Dick presents any evidence that the universe is not evil, that man is not necessarily greedy and sharkish, such evidence can be seen most strongly in the figure of Queequeg. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: STARBUCK Starbuck, the 30-year-old chief mate, is sober, patient, cautious, religious. Throughout the book he speaks out against Captain Ahab's madness. His practical side makes him understand that the ship's true job is to make a profit for owners and crew; his religious side makes him understand that Ahab's fight against God and nature is blasphemous and doomed. Despite his strengths, Starbuck is helpless in face of the captain. Indeed, Starbuck's very morality prevents him from avoiding death--though he clearly sees that Ahab is leading the Pequod's crew to certain disaster, he is unable to murder the captain. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: STUBB The second mate, Stubb, contrasts sharply with Starbuck. Good-humored and easy-going, he tries to see everything in a favorable light. He's capable of cleverness and practical jokes, notably when he swindles a French ship, The Rose-Bud, out of its precious cargo of ambergris. Stubb's good humor, however, can be mixed with cruelty and bullying. This side of his personality is evident when he goads Fleece, the cook, into preaching a sermon to the sharks and when he callously abandons Pip, the cabin boy, to the ocean. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FLASK Flask, the third mate, is a short, sturdy man, prone to fighting and lacking even a trace of imagination. His nickname, King Post (a wooden block), fully suggests his personality. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FEDALLAH Fedallah, Ahab's harpooner, was hidden with his crew for weeks in the Pequod's hold. Fedallah is a Parsee (Parsi), a believer in Zoroastrianism. Melville links this Persian religion to fire-worship. His turbaned figure seems to represent the dark side of Ahab's character, though the crew can't determine whether he controls Ahab or Ahab controls him. It is Fedallah who prophesies the conditions for Ahab's death: that Ahab will see two hearses on the water, one not made by man, the other made of American-grown wood; that Ahab will see Fedallah dead first; and that hemp alone will be the instrument of Ahab's death. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: PIP Pip is the young black cabin boy who occasionally entertains the crew with his tambourine. Clever and happy, he is not a good whale hunter, and when circumstances force him to take a position in Stubb's boat, he is so frightened by the whale that he leaps into the sea. The second time he does this Stubb callously abandons him. The inhuman isolation of the ocean drives Pip mad. But you'll see that it is a madness mixed with wisdom. In his isolation, Pip saw God, though he can't communicate that knowledge to anyone else. Strangely, the person most affected by him is Captain Ahab, who takes pity on the boy, calls him "holiness," and allows him to stay in the captain's cabin. In return, Pip repeatedly warns Ahab not to pursue his course of revenge against the whale. But Ahab ignores the warnings. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CAPTAIN BOOMER AND SURGEON BUNGER The humorous captain and surgeon of the British whaler Samuel Enderby represent a common-sense view of the universe completely alien to Ahab's. Captain Boomer lost an arm to Moby-Dick and has decided to avoid the whale in the future; Surgeon Bunger sees the whale's apparent malice as mere clumsiness. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: BULKINGTON Bulkington is the tall, sober sailor Ishmael sees at the Spouter-Inn and then at the helm of the Pequod as it first sets sail. He is never mentioned again, however. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CARPENTER The carpenter is a skilled but dull man who considers all other men blocks of wood. He earns Ahab's anger for his lack of wit and imagination. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: DAGGOO Daggoo, Flask's harpooner, is a black African who voluntarily signed aboard a whaler when a young boy. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: ELIJAH One of the mad prophets in Moby-Dick, Elijah accosts Ishmael and Queequeg in New Bedford, delivering dark warnings about Captain Ahab. His name is that of the biblical prophet who opposed Ahab in I Kings. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: GABRIEL Another of the mad prophets in Moby-Dick, Gabriel is a member of the Jeroboam's crew and warns Ahab that his quest for the whale will lead to his death. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FLEECE The Pequod's black cook, Fleece, is forced by Stubb to preach a sermon to the sharks. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CAPTAIN GARDINER The captain of the ship Rachel, Gardiner placed his twelve-year-old son aboard a whaleboat that was lost during a hunt for Moby-Dick. He begs Ahab to help search for the missing boat, but Ahab rejects his pleas. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FATHER MAPPLE Father Mapple is a robust though elderly former harpooner who now serves as minister of the Whaleman's Chapel in New Bedford. Early in Moby-Dick, he preaches a sermon on Jonah and the Whale. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: PELEG AND BILDAD Peleg and Bildad, the principal owners of the Pequod, are both Quakers and former whalers. Peleg is loud, excitable, and the more generous of the two, Bildad is solemn, formally religious, and stingy. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: PERTH Perth, the Pequod's blacksmith, lost his former livelihood and his family through an obsession with alcohol. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: RADNEY Radney, first mate aboard the Town-Ho, was on the verge of being murdered by Steelkilt, but was killed by Moby-Dick instead. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: STEELKILT A hot-tempered seaman aboard the Town-Ho, Steelkilt led a mutiny after being angered by Radney. For him Moby-Dick was a blessing, as the whale relieved him of the job of killing Radney. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: TASHTEGO Tashtego, Stubb's harpooner, is an Indian from Martha's Vineyard, an island near Nantucket. He is saved from drowning by Queequeg. He is the last of the crew Ishmael sees before the Pequod sinks. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: SETTING The major setting of Moby-Dick is Ahab's ship, the Pequod, and it is as vividly described a ship as there is anywhere in literature. You'll probably find Ishmael's first description of the Pequod unforgettable--the ship is old-fashioned, weather-beaten, strangely decked out with whale bones. It is noble and, in Ishmael's romantic view, a little melancholy. But just as Moby-Dick is both a sea adventure and, on a deeper level, a story of man's relationship with the universe, the Pequod is both a simple ship and a symbol of something much greater. "The world's a ship on its passage out," says Ishmael as he listens to Father Mapple's sermon. Melville is asking you to consider the Pequod as a microcosm (Greek for little universe), a small world that stands for the world at large. This is one reason the Pequod has such a varied crew--Africans, Polynesians, French, Chinese. Melville wants these sailors to stand for all humanity. The Pequod represents the entire world, but on another level it is also a symbol for one particular area of the world, the United States. Metaphors linking countries to ships ("ship of state," for example) were even more common in Melville's day than in ours, and Melville wants you to remember that the Pequod is undeniably American. Its business, whaling, is an American business; its officers are Americans. The ship carries a crew of 30--the number of states in the union when Melville was writing. Perhaps the most powerful reminder of the Pequod's origins comes at the book's very end, when Ahab, about to die, realizes the Pequod is the hearse made of American wood mentioned in Fedallah's prophecy. Melville dwelled at length on the ship's American links because he wanted Moby-Dick to communicate his mixed feelings about the United States. Americans of his day placed great faith in territorial expansion, in democracy, in the self-reliance of the individual American. But Melville uses his story in part to show the dark side of these strengths. One people's expansion can mean the destruction of another people, such as the Massachusetts Indians for whom the Pequod is named. Individualism can be warped by a man like Captain Ahab. Too much faith in self-reliance can lead to the belief that one is the equal of God and of nature. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: THEMES Here are major themes of Moby-Dick. We'll look at them again in the chapter-by-chapter discussion of the novel. Some of these themes may be contradictory--as you read, you'll have to decide which best apply to the book. And as you gather evidence, you may come up with other important themes. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: WHALING AS A METAPHOR FOR LIFE Central to Moby-Dick is the idea that the Pequod's passage through the world's seas is in many ways like mankind's passage through life. "The world's a ship on its passage out," Melville says. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: ALIENATION Ishmael, whose name links him with a biblical outcast, begins the book alienated from the society of man. Most whalemen (and by implication most people) are cut-off, lonely, isolated. Ishmael finds friendship with Queequeg and occasionally feels brotherhood with the other crew members. But the book's final word is "orphan," suggesting that Ishmael may be just as alone at the book's end as he was at its beginning. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FRIENDSHIP Ishmael's friendship with Queequeg gives warmth and meaning to Ishmael's life; in fact Queequeg (through his coffin) quite literally saves Ishmael from the fate suffered by the rest of the crew. This is balanced against the theme of alienation. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: MAN'S SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE Ishmael wants to know things; for him the hunt for whales becomes a hunt for knowledge, and the lengthy discussions of whales and whaling an attempt to know a confusing universe. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: MAN'S SEARCH FOR CONTROL OVER NATURE Ahab represents the human desire to control the universe. It's a desire that has been around since people built the first fire or speared the first animal, but in Melville's view it is a particularly American desire, as Americans seek to tame a continent, the oceans, and even Fate. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: THE NATURE OF THE UNIVERSE There is evidence in Moby-Dick for several interpretations of the nature of the universe. 1. THE UNIVERSE AS UNFRIENDLY In Ahab's view, noble, intelligent people must do all they can to fight against the universe's cruelty, even if they know the fight will be futile. Just as God plagued the biblical job with illness and destruction, so god plagues Ahab with Moby-Dick: the whale is the greatest but not the only symbol of the evil God sends down on people. 2. THE UNIVERSE AS INDIFFERENT Moby-Dick represents the power of nature, a great blind force that dwarfs man and his aspirations. 3. THE UNIVERSE AS FRIENDLY Moby-Dick represents God's power, not God's hatred of mankind. Only Ahab's madness makes him see malice in the whale; the ultimate destruction of the Pequod and its crew is the punishment for Ahab's pride, arrogance, and disobedience. In chapters like "The Grand Armada," we see nature's profound beauty; it's a sign of nature's goodness that at the book's end, as Ishmael floats on Queequeg's coffin, the sharks swim by without attacking him. 4. THE UNIVERSE AS UNKNOWABLE People will never know if the universe is good or bad; it is beyond their understanding. Ishmael's search for complete knowledge is as doomed as Ahab's search for complete control. Moby-Dick is a symbol of all that people can never grasp. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: STYLE "A bold, nervous and lofty language," is the way Melville describes a Nantucket whaling captain's speech, and many critics think it's a good description of Melville's own style of writing--powerful, beautiful, and sometimes strange and uncomfortable. Some of this strangeness may result from Melville's belief that his great subject required a new and different style. He often plays with the English language, as if the world of Moby-Dick could not be adequately described by the words already in existence. Some of the verbal nouns he uses--"leewardings," "domineerings"--didn't exist until he created them. He creates adjectives and adverbs out of past participles--"last cindered apple," for example. Many of his sentences are loping and long, moving along like a ship on the sea. The heightened language has echoes of the Bible and of Shakespeare. In addition, many critics have noted echoes of the Greek epic poet, Homer, in the descriptions of the sea, and echoes of Shakespeare in the dialogue, particularly that of Captain Ahab. While most modern authors attempt to write dialogue as it would actually be spoken, Melville was not concerned with that. He wanted Ahab and the other members of the Pequod to speak with as much drama and impact as possible. And so they speak a language that can be far from every-day speech but that contains an enormous poetic power. Shakespeare's influence can also be seen in some of the comic scenes in Moby-Dick. Like Shakespeare, Melville knew that a tragic story can benefit from moments of wit and humor. And so we hear Ahab's frustrated conversations with the thick-witted carpenter, and meet the wonderfully funny characters of Captain Boomer and Surgeon Bunger. Finally, metaphors are very important to Melville, as they were to Homer and Shakespeare. He uses them to proclaim the importance of his story, to link Ahab to human heroes and great works of nature, to link whales to the unknown and the eternal. Indeed, all of Moby-Dick is built around a central metaphor: that this voyage of a 19th-century Nantucket whaler is the voyage of every human being through life. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: POINT OF VIEW With its opening sentence, "Call me Ishmael," Moby-Dick begins as a straightforward, first-person narrative. Ishmael is telling his story; you follow him to New Bedford and The Spouter-Inn, are with him when he meets Queequeg and when he attends services at the Whaleman's Chapel. You see only what he sees, hear only what he hears. Yet about one fourth of the way into the book, the point of view begins to shift subtly. In the chapter, "Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb," you hear Ahab and his second mate argue. You're then with Stubb below-decks as he thinks about the argument, and back on deck with Ahab as he tosses his pipe into the ocean. Clearly, Ishmael could not have been in all these places at the same time. The book's point of view is moving from a first-person to a third-person, omniscient narrator who is not directly involved in the action, and who is able to go anywhere to tell the story. From now on, while some chapters will still obviously be told by Ishmael, others will equally obviously describe events--like Starbuck's near-murder of Ahab--which Ishmael could not possibly have witnessed. This switch in point of view has advantages for Melville. Ishmael leads us into the world of Moby-Dick and gives us a friendly soul to identify with. But as the cast of characters grows larger, and the story more complex, Melville needs the freedom that a third-person, omniscient narrator can provide. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: FORM AND STRUCTURE Moby-Dick's structure is in a sense one of the simplest of all literary structures--the story of a journey. Its 135 chapters and epilogue describe how Ishmael leaves Manhattan for Captain Ahab's whaling ship, the Pequod, how Ahab pilots the Pequod from Nantucket to the Pacific in search of Moby-Dick, and how in the end Ishmael alone survives the journey. This simple but powerful structure is what keeps us reading, as we ask ourselves, "Where will Ahab seek out his enemy next? What will happen when he gets there?" Some critics have divided the book into sections, like acts in a play. The first, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 22, describes Ishmael, portrays his growing friendship with Queequeg, and serves as a kind of dry-land introduction to themes--whaling, brotherhood, and man's relationship with God--explored in greater detail at sea. The next section begins as the Pequod sails and continues to Chapter 46. Here you meet both Captain Ahab and, in description if not yet in the flesh, his great enemy, Moby-Dick. A long middle section, from Chapter 47 to Chapter 105, shows the Pequod at work as whales are hunted and killed and other whaling ships met. It also shows Ishmael pondering the meaning of these activities. The plot slows as Melville takes time to gather and display proof of the importance of the Pequod's voyage. Then, from Chapter 106 to the book's end, we're caught up in the excitement as Ahab steers his ship nearer and nearer to Moby-Dick and final disaster. Although Moby-Dick's basic structure is simple, the book is anything but simple, in part because Melville writes in several literary forms. As a whole, Moby-Dick is of course a novel, but some of its chapters are written as if they were scenes in a play. The chapters involving Father Mapple and Fleece contain sermons. Other chapters, notably Ishmael's discussion of whales and whaling, resemble essays. Indeed, some readers have compared Moby-Dick not to novels but to other kinds of literary works. Some have noted its similarity to epic poems, such as Homer's Odyssey. Like this epic, Moby-Dick tells of a sea journey and a battle between men and gods. Other critics see resemblances to Greek or Elizabethan tragedy. Still others have abandoned literature altogether to liken Moby-Dick to a musical symphony or even to the ocean itself. It's the richness contained within Moby-Dick's simple structure that accounts for such differences of opinion. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: ETYMOLOGY AND EXTRACTS Before the story Moby-Dick begins, you're introduced to the subject of whales and whaling in a section called "Etymology" (the study of word origins) and a section of "Extracts" (selections from longer works). "Etymology" lists the word for whale in thirteen languages. "Extracts" provides 80 discussions of whales from sources that range from the Bible to Roman historians like Pliny, great English authors like Shakespeare and Milton, and statesmen like Thomas Jefferson, plus letters and newspaper accounts. Why such an enormous accumulation of information? Melville is anxious to make his story of a whale hunt seem as important as possible, an epic like The Odyssey, a great tragedy like Shakespeare's King Lear. Perhaps by showing you the long history of whales and whaling he hopes to convince you of his subject's importance. You'll see, too, that this love for gathering knowledge is a trait also possessed by the character who narrates Moby-Dick. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 1: LOOMINGS "Call me Ishmael." This is probably the most famous opening sentence in American literature. It begins Ishmael's account of a past adventure that started when, burdened by "hypos" (depression), he decided to escape his stale life in Manhattan for the sea. Why the sea? It is, he says, a longing every one of us shares. Notice, for instance, how in Manhattan people crowd around the docks, and how in the country people flock to ponds; how Persians and Greeks worshipped sea-gods. NOTE: ISHMAEL Already in these opening pages you've learned some important facts about the man who is telling the story and about the way Melville intends you to understand him. The first thing to notice about the narrator is his name. Ishmael, in the Bible, was the outcast son of Abraham, who had "every man's hand against him." Melville fills Moby-Dick with names, objects, and actions that are symbolic--that carry a meaning greater than might first appear. In this case, Ishmael's name indicates that the depression he feels is profound, and that, like the biblical character, he is lost, and alone. A second character trait is readily visible, too--Ishmael's love for gathering (and showing off) knowledge. You soon learn that he's a former schoolteacher. Ishmael has no intention of going to sea as a passenger: he doesn't have the money. He has no desire to be a commander either, because he wants nothing to do with responsibility. No, he won't go as anything but a common sailor. So what if he's ordered around? "Who ain't a slave?" And unlike passengers, he gets money for his trouble. After giving us all these reasons for going to sea, Ishmael throws up his hands and says he can't really explain his behavior. Fate, he says, guided him on this journey, just as fate determines who wins elections, and sends men to fight bloody battles in Afghanistan. If he had one chief motive for taking a whaling voyage, it was his eagerness to know the whale. Ishmael likes the wild, the exotic, the barbaric, the horrible. The whale, who is all these things, attracts him. NOTE: In his question, "Who ain't a slave?" and in his jokes about the fates sending him on his journey, Ishmael brings up a theme you should follow closely as you read the book. How much choice do we have in the things we do? Can we choose our destiny, or are we predestined to meet a certain end? At the end of this chapter, you also get an early hint of how much importance Ishmael gives to the subject of whales and whaling. These mysterious, mighty creatures drive Ishmael to explore. They represent all that he doesn't know about the world. They're contradictory: barbaric and horrible, yet "a snow hill in the air." Perhaps you have had a similar experience, finding yourself both fascinated and repelled by something. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 2: THE CARPET-BAG Ishmael leaves New York and arrives in New Bedford. Though New Bedford is the major American whaling port, Ishmael wants to begin his voyage from nearby Nantucket Island because that was where American whaling began. NOTE: Whaling, as Melville tells you, has a history that goes back thousands of years. By the mid-19th century it was overwhelmingly an American business, centered in New England and especially in New Bedford and Nantucket. In 1846 (five years before Moby-Dick was published), the American whaling fleet numbered more than 700 vessels. Most of these ships sailed the Pacific, which held the largest concentration of the most valuable prey, the sperm whale. A lucky ship might return from a three--or four-year voyage with $80,000 worth of oil. It's a bitter cold December night as Ishmael walks through New Bedford seeking a place to stay. The first inn he comes to, The Crossed Harpoons, is too expensive for him, and the second, The Sword-Fish Inn, too jolly--Ishmael is still in a bad mood and doesn't want to be around cheerful people. At last he sees The Spouter-Inn, whose proprietor is Peter Coffin--a disturbing name, but (in historical fact as well as in this novel) a common one in Nantucket. The Spouter-Inn is rundown and windblown--though on the subject of wind, Ishmael quotes an old writer (himself) that it makes a difference where you are when the wind is bitterly blowing. Lazarus, the beggar, chatters his teeth while the rich man, Dives, observes the cold night from the comfort of his coal-warmed room. (In the Bible, Lazarus is the poor man rewarded in Heaven while Dives is damned to the fires of hell--which is why Ishmael says Dives will wear that redder silken wrapper later.) Ishmael has once again lost himself in knowledge, philosophy, and in a little self-pity. But he shakes himself out of it with a bad pun: "...no more of this blubbering now, we are going a-whaling and there is plenty of that yet to come." ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 3: THE SPOUTER-INN Ishmael enters The Spouter-Inn and sees an oil painting so grimy he can't make out its subject. Does that black blob in the center of the picture represent the universe? King Lear's blasted heath? At last, Ishmael decides it depicts a whale. NOTE: Observe, once again, how Melville takes a common object--in this case a bad painting--and uses it to serve a deeper symbolic purpose. The painting, Ishmael knows, represents something, but what? What do objects, events mean? That's a question Melville will be asking over and over again. Even when Ishmael decides the artist has painted a whale, his question isn't really answered--for we know that to him whales themselves stand for the unknown. Directly across from the strange painting is a group of clubs, spears, lances, and harpoons, reminders of how violent an occupation whaling is. Ishmael enters the inn's public room (bar), where the landlord tells him he'll have to share a bed with a harpooner. Ishmael has little choice but to agree. After dinner, the crew from the whaling ship Grampus invades the public room. Ishmael is curious about one of the crew, a tall, brawny man who is sober and quiet while the others are noisily drunk. The man is Bulkington, and he will later be Ishmael's shipmate, also silent on board ship. Ishmael, less and less enthusiastic about sharing a bed with a harpooner, tells the landlord he prefers to sleep on a bar bench. He can't make himself comfortable, however, and goes back to his room. The landlord, who enjoys seeing his guest's nervousness, increases it by announcing that the harpooner is out peddling his head. Ishmael's amazement grows when the landlord adds that the harpooner won't have any luck because New Bedford is overstocked with heads. At last comes the explanation--the harpooner has been selling embalmed heads from New Zealand, and still has one left. The landlord now tries to calm Ishmael. That bed, he says, is large enough for four harpooners. Ishmael studies the bed, studies the room, and even tries on a mysterious object that looks like a large door mat, before going to sleep. The roommate enters. He holds a light in one hand and his embalmed head in the other. His face is covered with purple, yellow, and black markings that Ishmael takes for brawl injuries before realizing that they're tattoos. When the dark-skinned man undresses, Ishmael sees that the tattoos cover him from head to toe. He is a South Sea islander, Ishmael decides, perhaps a cannibal. Terror and curiosity fighting within him, Ishmael watches as the islander reaches into a heavy coat, pulls out a small black wooden idol, and sets it in the fireplace. Soon he has lit a fire, and is offering the idol burnt biscuits, all the time singing a strange prayer. Ishmael is ready to flee. But before he can the harpooner takes his tomahawk and leaps into bed. "Landlord, for God's sake," Ishmael cries. The landlord runs in, grinning, and says that the harpooner, Queequeg, would never harm him. All at once Queequeg acts comfortably and civilly, and Ishmael realizes his fears are exaggerated. They sleep soundly. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 6: THE STREET Ishmael wakes the next morning to find Queequeg's arms thrown around him affectionately, a sensation that makes him remember an unpleasant childhood experience, when he awoke to feel what he thought was a detached hand pressing down on him. As Ishmael watches Queequeg dress, he is both amused and impressed by the harpooner's mix of strange customs and politeness. Queequeg dresses backwards, first putting on his beaver hat, then, while hiding under the bed, wrestling on his boots. Only later does he step into his trousers and shave--with his harpoon. Ishmael goes down to breakfast with an assorted group of sailors who look strangely out of place on dry land--a reminder that the world Ishmael is about to join is in some ways very different from the one he's about to leave. You see another indication of the importance of whaling when Ishmael goes outside to explore New Bedford. The streets are jammed with people from every corner of the globe, all drawn here by whaling. The parks, mansions, even the beautiful women testify to the wealth that the industry has brought to New Bedford. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 8: THE PULPIT Wrapped in bearskin against a day that has grown sleety, Ishmael enters the small Whaleman's Chapel, a traditional stop for men about to embark on a long whaling voyage. Silent men and women eye the tablets that memorialize those killed while hunting whales. At least the survivors of men who die on land have the comfort of knowing where their loved ones lie buried; these mourners are denied even that. Ishmael broods on death, asking himself does it cause sorrow when religion teaches that the dead live on in immortal joy? Yet somehow he cheers up. There is death in whaling, he admits, but the life we live on earth may be unimportant compared to what comes later. NOTE: DEATH IN MOBY-DICK From the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, with its mention of funerals and coffin warehouses, death is a strong presence in the novel. Here you're reminded how close death is to sailors on board a whaling ship. Ishmael now accepts the possibility with equanimity, but then he hasn't really come face to face with the danger yet. A robust, elderly man enters the church. He is Father Mapple, once a harpooner, and now the famous minister of the chapel. With his white hair and red cheeks, he gives the impression of enormous vigor despite his age. The pulpit of the church is so high off the ground that a regular staircase would take up too much room, so Father Mapple climbs a rope-and-wood ship's ladder, hauling it after him so that he finally stands alone and unreachable above the congregation. NOTE: Ishmael wonders why Father Mapple has used what seems like a cheap, theatrical trick to impress his audience. The climb up the ladder, he decides, must "symbolize something unseen." Melville wants you to remember that many objects and actions in the book have a symbolic meaning beyond the one you see at first. For now, Ishmael decides that Mapple's lofty perch symbolizes his withdrawal from the day to day concerns of the world. Do you agree? Melville will have further comments later in the novel. As Ishmael continues to study the pulpit, he gives us another clue in understanding his story. "Yes," he says, "the world's a ship on its passage out." We may not be whalers; we may never set foot on the deck of a boat. But we are human beings who journey through life, and the story will have meaning for us as well. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 9: THE SERMON Father Mapple begins the service as if giving orders to sailor's on a ship. "Starboard gangway, there!" he says. Solemnly, then joyfully, he reads a hymn dealing with the subject of his sermon, Jonah and the Whale. With resounding eloquence, Mapple tells the congregation that the lesson of Jonah has meaning for all of them, and particularly for himself. God ordered Jonah to journey to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness. But like all sinful men, Jonah found God's commands difficult to obey. He fled and boarded a ship for Tarshish. The Lord sent a fierce storm down on the ship, and Jonah was thrown into the ocean and swallowed by a great fish. He remained inside the fish for three days and three nights, until his prayers to a merciful Lord earned his release. NOTE: THE STORY OF JONAH With its lesson of obedience to God (and of course its seagoing setting), the story of Jonah is one of the most telling of the biblical stories Melville refers to in Moby-Dick. (Another is the story of Job.) Later on, you'll see the experiences of Ishmael, and his captain, Ahab, compared to Jonah's. But as often happens in Moby-Dick, the lesson can be read in more than one way. On the one hand you can take it at face value, as Ishmael seems to here: disobedience to God results in horror and death; obedience brings happiness and salvation. On the other hand, you can argue that, as Ishmael first suspected, Father Mapple is playing an actor's trick on his audience. You'll have to decide whether the lessons that sound so inspiring inside this false ship make sense aboard a real one. Father Mapple says that God is merciful, yet that He is chiefly known to man by His rod--by His punishments. Don't these punishments sometimes seem unjust? Isn't there something within most of us that makes us want to defy them? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 12: BIOGRAPHICAL When Ishmael returns from the chapel, he finds Queequeg practicing his own form of worship, with the help of his wooden idol, a jackknife, and a book. Ishmael is puzzled, but not disturbed, for it's become clear to him that, despite his strange customs, Queequeg is at heart a noble man. Ishmael in fact now prefers this pagan friend to his Christian ones. Queequeg returns the friendship, sealing the bond between them by pressing his forehead against Ishmael's. They are "married" now, as Queequeg's people would say; Queequeg would die for Ishmael if necessary. (This promise foreshadows events at the end of the book.) Ishmael joins Queequeg in worship, knowing that he would want Queequeg to do the same for him. NOTE: FRIENDSHIP You'll remember that at the start of the book, Ishmael was alone, an outcast. Now he has found a friend. Throughout Moby-Dick Melville indicates that possibilities for friendship and brotherhood exist, if only occasionally. These possibilities provide an alternative to the extreme self-reliance practiced by many of the book's characters. Perhaps the kind of friendship Queequeg and Ishmael promise here is necessary to avoid the doomed, arrogant isolation of Ahab. (A few critics see a homosexual undertone in Ishmael's friendship with Queequeg.) As the two friends smoke Queequeg's tomahawk pipe, the harpooner tells Ishmael his life story. He stems from an island, Kokovoko, and is of royal lineage. Like Ishmael, Queequeg had a strong desire to see the world, specifically to learn about Christianity. But he has found Christians more prone to evil than his own people, and he's afraid Christians have corrupted him. NOTE: CHRISTIANITY You'll notice throughout this section and elsewhere in the book that Melville is uneasy with traditional Christianity. Queequeg has made Christianity seem less honorable than pagan religion, and Ishmael, though a good Presbyterian, finds it easy to worship Yojo. When Ishmael and Queequeg discover they both intend to go whaling, they decide to sail together. Ishmael has a practical reason for wanting Queequeg's company: it will be helpful to have someone more experienced sailing with him. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 13: WHEELBARROW Ishmael and Queequeg take their goods by wheelbarrow to the packet schooner that will take them to Nantucket. Once aboard, Ishmael feels excitement at being back at sea. When two bumpkins from rural New England rudely make fun of Queequeg, he becomes so annoyed that he somersaults one of them high into the air. While the captain is warning the harpooner not to pull any further stunts, the ship's wooden boom sweeps the rude passenger into the sea. Having already proved his strength, Queequeg now proves his tolerance and bravery by rescuing the man. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 14: NANTUCKET Ishmael begins to describe Nantucket, the island that was whaling's first American home. Living on land bare of trees, grass, even of weeds, inhabitants from Indian days to Ishmael's had turned to the sea for a livelihood. Other empires may expand on land; Nantucket owns the waves. NOTE: WHALING AND AMERICAN EXPANSION Here you can see Melville linking whaling with other examples of America's rapid growth. On land, the frontier is being pushed rapidly westward--the United States has just annexed Texas. And thanks to Nantucket whalemen, the nation's power is growing at sea as well. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 15: CHOWDER Ishmael and Queequeg find a room at the Try Pots, "fishiest of all fishy places," where the innkeeper serves chowder for breakfast, chowder for dinner, chowder for supper, and where even the milk tastes of fish. Queequeg wants to sleep with his harpoon, but the landlady won't let him. She remembers how one young whaleman, disappointed in his hopes for a profitable voyage, killed himself with a harpoon. This is another reminder that the perils of whaling can take many forms. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 16: THE SHIP Queequeg tells Ishmael that the idol, Yojo, has chosen Ishmael to select their ship. Ishmael had been hoping the more-experienced Queequeg would make the selection, but he gives in. As Ishmael leaves for the docks, he notices that Queequeg is shut in with Yojo, apparently performing a ceremony of fasting like during the Christian Lent or the Muslim Ramadan. Three whaling ships, the Devil-Dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod, are tied at the docks. NOTE: THE PEQUOD The ship Ishmael sees, and eventually selects to sail on, is named for Massachusetts Indians brutally exterminated by the Puritans in the 17th century. It's a reminder of the dark side of the American experience--that Christianity can breed killing, that American expansion was sometimes achieved at the expense of others. The Pequod is a strange-looking ship, small, weather-beaten, its masts as stiff as "the spines of the three old kings of Cologne" (the three Magi), its decks as wrinkled as the stone floors of Canterbury Cathedral. Moby-Dick contains numerous references to religion, including references to the three Magi, ancient seekers after God. Is the Pequod sailing to seek God too? The ancient wood has been further decorated with whalebones so that the ship becomes "a cannibal of her craft"--a whale that hunts other whales. Inside a wigwam pitched on the deck Ishmael finds a cranky old man named Peleg, who, from his clothing, appears to be a Quaker. Ishmael assumes that Peleg is the Pequod's captain, but in fact he is one of the ship's owners. Peleg tells Ishmael that Captain Ahab will command the ship on this voyage, and that Ishmael can find him by looking for a man with only one leg. The other was "crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty [sperm whale] that ever clipped a boat!" And so we learn about the existence of Moby-Dick. Peleg takes Ishmael to meet another of the Pequod's owners, Bildad. The two men are comic opposites: Peleg loud and cranky and not at all religious; Bildad grave and pious. Though the two men still use the "thee" and "thou" of good, peaceful Quakers, they are, says Ishmael, "fighting Quakers." Such men are strange mixtures indeed, Ishmael believes, and if their mixture should unite in a man of greatly superior force it would produce a creature formed for noble tragedies." (You'll shortly meet a man who fits that description very well.) The two captains agree to hire Ishmael but immediately begin to argue about how much to pay him. Each crewman on a whaling voyage receives a percentage of the voyage's profits, called a lay. Because of his inexperience, Ishmael has decided that the most he should ask for is the 275th lay, or 1/275th of the profits. He's all the more distressed when Bildad offers only a 1/777th share. Peleg argues for 1/300th and the difference between the two owners almost boils over into a fistfight. When it is over, Ishmael ends up grateful to accept 1/300th. Ishmael leaves, but he begins to worry about what the Pequod's captain is like, and returns to ask about Ahab. The captain is not really sick, but not really well, Peleg answers. He's a strange man, one who has traveled much, seen much, fought much. His name is that of a very evil biblical king, but Peleg reassures Ishmael that the name was only the crazy whim of Ahab's mad mother. Yet he also recalls that an old Indian woman said the name would prove prophetic. Still, Peleg thinks Ahab's a good man, moody because he lost his leg, but a man with a wife and child, a man who "has his humanities." As Ishmael leaves the two Quakers, he thinks of Captain Ahab and feels sympathy, almost awe. NOTE: AHAB In this scene you can see how Melville masterfully builds interest in a character before the character appears by having others talk about him. It will be many pages before Ahab appears, yet he's already a vivid figure. There are a number of things to remember about him. One is his biblical name, that of a wicked king who disobeyed God. A second is Ishmael's earlier comment that a Quaker whaler might make a noble and tragic figure. Others are Peleg's descriptions of him as "a grand ungodly God-like man," and a man who still "has his humanities." After such a build-up you may feel the same kind of sympathetic curiosity that Ishmael feels toward this mysterious figure. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 17: THE RAMADAN Ishmael avoids his room, not wanting to disturb Queequeg's Ramadan. Good Presbyterians, he says, dare not be smug about other people's religions, for they need Heaven's mercy as much as pagans. But when by evening Queequeg still doesn't answer the door, Ishmael assumes that his friend is seriously ill, and the landlady jumps to the conclusion that Queequeg has, like another of her roomers, killed himself with his harpoon. When they break down the door, however, they find Queequeg sitting silently and still as a rock, with Yojo on top of his head. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 18: HIS MARK When Ishmael takes Queequeg to sign on with the Pequod, Peleg says at first that he won't permit cannibals aboard his ship. But his opinion of Queequeg--or Quohog, as he mispronounces the name (a quahog is a New England clam)--rapidly improves when Queequeg shows his skill by hurling his harpoon from the dock and hitting a small drop of tar. The harpooner is hired at much better wages than Ishmael was offered. Nothing can impress Bildad, though; he presses into Queequeg's hand a Quaker pamphlet, warning him to change his pagan ways. Peleg disagrees. "Pious harpooners never make good voyagers," he says. "It takes the shark out of them." You'll encounter that image--man as shark--again later in the book. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 19: THE PROPHET The instant Ishmael and Queequeg leave the ship, they're accosted by a pockmarked man who asks if they've signed aboard the Pequod. When Ishmael says they have, the man issues a seemingly crazed warning. Captain Ahab--Old Thunder, as the man calls him--is not recovering from his illness; nor will Ahab ever recover. The leg lost to the whale is only the latest and most terrible occurrence in a lifetime of sinister occurrences. Ishmael asks the man his name. "Elijah," is the answer. Again Melville uses a biblical reference to underline his meaning--in I Kings it was Elijah who quarreled with King Ahab and then prophesied that dogs would drink Ahab's blood. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 21: GOING ABROAD Queequeg and Ishmael watch as the Pequod is readied for a three-year voyage. Whalers must carry more items than merchant ships, for accidents are more frequent, and duplicate boats, lines, and harpoons must be stored. Overseeing the preparations is Bildad's sister, Charity. Strangely, Captain Ahab is still nowhere in sight. Word is sent out that the ship is ready to sail, and at six on Christmas morning Ishmael and Queequeg make their way to the docks. NOTE: Here is more Christian symbolism. Christmas is the day Christ was born, and the beginning of the Christian liturgical year leading to the redemption of Easter, when Christ rises from the dead. Some critics have seen the book as the story of Ishmael's voyage of salvation, ending when he rises from the Pequod's watery grave. Ishmael sees sailors running ahead, but before he can determine who they are Elijah calls to him. "Did ye see anything looking like men going towards the ship awhile ago?" Elijah asks. "See if you can find 'em now, will ye?" When Ishmael searches the boat, he can't find a trace of the shadowy men--but you'll see them reappear many chapters from now. In the meantime, Queequeg has made himself comfortable sitting on a sleeping rigger's rear end--a common custom on his island, he says, where peasants are fatted up to be used as sofas. Queequeg's pipe wakes the rigger, who announces the ship will sail today. Ahab remains secluded in his cabin. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 22: MERRY CHRISTMAS By noon the chief mate and other men are gathering aboard ship. The Pequod then sails out of Nantucket harbor, piloted by Bildad, who sings hymns to drown the sailors' bawdy songs. Ishmael is dreamily contemplating the voyage when he feels a sharp poke in his rear as Peleg kicks him and warns him to get busy. The boat moves into the Atlantic proper. Peleg and Bildad, no longer needed as harbor pilots, return to Nantucket, at last showing emotion in leaving men who have a long, difficult journey ahead of them. But Bildad's final words show the conflict between his religion and his business sense--the men shouldn't work on Sunday, he piously advises, but if on a Sunday there is a fair chance of catching a whale they had better not reject heaven's gifts. The conflict between leading a Godly life and a profitable one is also apparent in the holiday on which the Pequod sails--Christmas Day. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 23: THE LEE SHORE Ishmael discovers that Bulkington, the tall, silent man he had seen at the Spouter-Inn, is now at the helm of the Pequod. Yet this brief chapter is this intriguing figure's "stoneless grave"--we never hear anything more about him. Some critics have suggested that Bulkington may have played a more important role in an earlier version of the novel. Here Melville uses the helmsman as a way of contrasting land and sea. The land means safety, yet, paradoxically, during a storm a ship is safer in the open sea than near shore. The sea is the home of independence and truth; it is--and this is an important clue to Melville's view of the universe--"indefinite as God." ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 25: POSTSCRIPT You've had glimpses of Ishmael's fondness for knowledge. Now we get the first of many essaylike chapters that display his knowledge of whales and whaling and their importance to human society. Whalers, he says, have been treated unjustly. They're considered butchers, even though generals who are greater butchers are awarded medals. In the past, kings and countries have valued whalers highly, and in the mid-19th century the industry produces millions of dollars for the United States. Whalers have explored the world from South America to Japan. In reply to the charge that whaling is an unfit subject for great literature, Ishmael points out that the first account of the Leviathan--a biblical name for a great beast often thought to be a whale--was written by none other than Job. (The biblical story of Job will become even more important later in Moby-Dick.) And Ishmael feels that if he learns anything in life, it will be a result of whaling. A whaling ship, he says, is "My Yale College and my Harvard." NOTE: WHALING AND THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE You've already seen that for Ishmael whales represent the mysterious and unknown. He obsessively gathers facts about the creatures in an attempt to understand not just whales but the entire universe. As the story unfolds, you'll see whether Ishmael gains that understanding. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 27: KNIGHTS AND SQUIRES Ishmael introduces the officers and men of the Pequod. The chief mate is Starbuck, a Nantucket Quaker, a courageous but cautious man. If he has a weakness it is that his courage allows him to confront natural but not man-made horrors. (This flaw becomes important toward the end of the book.) Ishmael's thoughts about Starbuck lead him to think about people in general: Though particular individuals or groups sometimes seem evil or stupid, people "in the ideal" remain noble. In a democracy a common sailor has as much dignity as a king. It is for this reason, Ishmael says, that God gives his sailors tragic graces and illuminates them with a heavenly light. God is democratic; he allowed John Bunyan, a convict, to write the great Christian allegory, Pilgrim's Progress; He allowed Andrew Jackson to rise from humble origins to the presidency. NOTE: TRAGEDY Greek and Elizabethan tragedies had as heroes noble figures--common folk were relegated to lesser roles and to comedy. But in a democratic society like America's, Melville says, tragedy can involve common people. Many critics have noted the similarities between Moby-Dick and tragedies like Shakespeare's King Lear. The second mate, Stubb, a happy-go-lucky, Cape Cod man, is completely undisturbed by the more profound thoughts that might disturb Starbuck or Ishmael. The third mate, Flask, comes from Martha's Vineyard. He's always ready to battle whales, but far from regarding them as the majestic beasts they are to Ishmael, he treats them as "a species of magnified mouse." NOTE: THE MATES Melville presents three very different types of men: Starbuck, sober and cautious; Stubb, matter-of-fact and easy-going; Flask, hot-tempered and unimaginative. Melville, it seems, wants to test how three very different approaches to life stand up to the obstacles met on the voyage. Each mate selects a harpooner to sit in his boat. Starbuck chooses Queequeg; Stubb, the Indian, Tashtego; and Flask, an African, Daggoo. And the rest of the Pequod's crew? Though the ship is American and led by an American, its crew is as international as the U.S. Army or the gangs of workers who built the nation's railroads and canals. The Pequod's men stem from many nations, but Ishmael says nearly all of them share a common trait--they're from islands and therefore Isolatoes--solitary. NOTE: THE PEQUOD'S CREW In describing the Pequod's crew, Melville makes three important points. First, he again links whaling to other types of American expansion. Second, he emphasizes the isolation of the men. Ishmael began the book as an islander and Isolato himself. He's found brotherhood with Queequeg, but will the other isolated men find brotherhood? Melville makes his third point by manning the Pequod with sailors from many corners of the world. The ship is a microcosm--a little world that symbolizes the world at large. The voyage is one of self-discovery--for the crew and for you, too, as you think over the events of the journey. Ishmael ends Chapter 27 on an ominous note, hinting that few of the crew will survive the journey. Certainly Little Pip won't survive; called a coward on the boat, he will be hailed as a hero in heaven. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 28: AHAB The Pequod has been sailing for days, but Ishmael still has not seen Captain Ahab. He's worried about Elijah's warnings,--despite the obvious sanity and skill of the mates who have taken over for the missing captain. Then, on a gray gloomy morning, Ishmael sees the man he has heard so much about (standing on the quarterdeck). Whatever Ahab's illness, it was nothing common--he looks like a man who has survived being burned at the stake. The scar blazing on his cheek makes him appear like a great tree struck by lightning. Strangely, Ishmael says, that scar is seldom mentioned, though one of the Indians on board whispers that Ahab received it not in a fight with men but in a fight with nature during a storm at sea. NOTE: FIRE AND LIGHTNING IMAGERY Almost as soon as he steps on the quarterdeck, Ahab (who, we remember, was called "Old Thunder" by Elijah) is associated with lightning. We'll see Melville repeatedly linking thunder, lightning, and fire imagery with the Pequod's captain, as if to lift him above common men and rank him with great forces of nature. Ahab soon returns to his cabin, but from then on he becomes regularly visible, standing with his ivory leg planted in a hole specially drilled in the deck for him or sitting on his special ivory stool. Within a few months the warm spring weather has helped improve his temper enough so that he occasionally shows what might be called a faint smile--a reminder that, as Peleg said, he does have his humanities. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 30: THE PIPE Although his temper has improved, something is bothering Ahab very deeply. Unable to sleep, he spends his nights on deck, trying not to pace out of consideration for the men sleeping below. One night, however, he can't help himself, he begins pacing, and the noise from his ivory leg wakes Stubb. When Stubb mildly suggests that Ahab muffle his steps, Ahab answers with scorn and hatred, and seems about to strike the second mate. Stubb flees below deck, surprised at his own reaction. He doesn't know whether to turn around and fight Ahab, or to kneel and pray for him. It's an indication of how unusual Ahab is that even a matter-of-fact man like Stubb reacts with this kind of awe. The problem, Stubb thinks, is that Ahab has a conscience, an affliction as painful as tic douloureux (a nerve condition). Stubb hopes he's never bothered with a conscience. One other strange thing about Ahab--every night he disappears into the ship's afterhold, as if he had an appointment there. (Melville hasn't forgotten the shadowy men whom Ishmael saw running toward the ship.) As Stubb goes below deck, Ahab calls for his ivory stool and his pipe. Already we've seen that the pipe is a symbol of human kindness--Queequeg and Ishmael sealed their friendship by smoking the harpooner's tomahawk pipe, and Ishmael has suggested that Stubb's good temper comes from the pipe he constantly smokes. But when Ahab lights his pipe he gets no pleasure from it. "Oh my pipe," he says, "hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone." And so it is hurled into the ocean--and with it a little bit of Ahab's humanity. NOTE: POINT OF VIEW Up until now Moby-Dick has been a conventional first-person narrative--we've been dependent on Ishmael's eyes and ears, and have seen and heard only what he could logically see and hear. But now the point of view shifts. The narration moves closer to being omniscient, with a narrator able, for instance, to report Stubb's thoughts below deck and to describe Ahab at the same time throwing his pipe into the ocean. Some of you may object to altering the point of view well into the book, but there are advantages for the author. Naive, youthful Ishmael has entertainingly led us into the world of Moby-Dick, but Melville now needs greater freedom to develop his complex and wide-ranging story. You'll note that the point of view will switch back and forth in the coming chapters. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 31: QUEEN MAB The title of this chapter refers to the fairy queen who in English folk tales governs people's dreams. It's an appropriate title for Stubb has had a very peculiar dream, in which Ahab kicks him and an old man claims it's an honor to be kicked with such a fine ivory leg. The unimaginative Flask can see no meaning in the dream; Stubb takes it as a warning not to speak angrily to Ahab. Captain Ahab interrupts with a shout to be on the lookout for a white whale--your first hint of Ahab's actual goal in this voyage. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 32: CETOLOGY In this chapter, whose title means the study of whales, Ishmael tries to make sense out of nature. Cetology is a difficult science, he says; some people classify the whale as a fish, but others, noting its lungs, warm blood, and reproductive organs, declare it to be a mammal. Ishmael sides with the first group--wrongly, of course, and perhaps Melville is making fun of sailors who know about whaling but not about science. Ishmael divides whales into three groups, based on size, and named after different sizes of book pages--Folios, Octavos, and Duodecimos. Once again Ishmael is linking the whale to learning; the whale is in one sense the book that Ishmael wants to study, the book of life. Chapter I of Book I is about the Sperm Whale, the largest, most formidable, and most valuable whale. Its value derives from its spermaceti, oil used for lighting and many other purposes and once mistakenly thought to contain the whale's semen. NOTE: THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE Ishmael ends the discussion of cetology by saying that his classification system can't easily be perfected, like all great works, it will remain unfinished. The chapter ends on a note of near-desperation: "This whole book is but a draught [draft]--nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" We've seen that whales represent to Ishmael the mystery of the universe; if he can't fully understand whales, how can he--or anyone--fully understand other mysteries? Perhaps Melville's point is that we cannot. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 34: THE CABIN-TABLE Ishmael now turns his attention from whales to the routine of the Pequod. A specksynder is a harpooner, whose position of responsibility earns him separate sleeping quarters near the captain's cabin. As for the whaling captain, he commands as much power as any navy skipper. Though Ahab doesn't at first seem to demand all the rights of his position, he still uses his authority to advantage. That immense authority, Ishmael suggests, may have helped corrupt him. The meal routine, too, is a reminder of Ahab's power, and of the ship's hierarchy. Ahab calls Starbuck to supper; Starbuck calls Stubb; and Stubb calls Flask. Such is Ahab's somber personality that even the boisterous Flask is cowed by the captain's presence. Though mates and harpooners use the cabin for meals, they seldom spend much time in it otherwise--it belongs to Ahab. And he remains inaccessible. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 35: THE MASTHEAD A crucial job on whale ships is searching the sea for whales from the mast-head. Once again Ishmael links a whaling practice with great historic endeavors. What were the builders of the tower of Babel doing if not constructing a mast-head? Ishmael finds the job of standing watch pleasant, especially in fine, warm weather. Can't you practically hear him sliding off into sleep as he describes the drowsy trade winds. Ishmael likes standing watch, but is terrible at it, tending to lapse into deep thought when he should be scanning the horizon for whales. Watch out, he warns shipowners, for men like him--men who are more concerned with philosophy than with work. Too many young men who go to sea have read Byron (the 19th-century romantic poet) rather than navigation manuals; they're Platonists (students of the Greek philosopher, Plato) rather than sailors. In fact, Ishmael seems to be saying, not only can deep thought be costly to a ship, it can be fatal to the man engaged in it. It's easy to think that the ocean represents the soul of the universe and that the fins of swimming fish are that soul's elusive thoughts. But if you slip back an inch you'll find that these objects aren't merely symbols, they're real, as you fall through the air into the ocean, never to be seen again. Ishmael is parodying his own desire to see importance in every natural object. But in particular he's parodying writers, like many in mid-19th-century America, who found a too-easy, too-happy meaning in the universe. Pantheists believe that every part of nature reflects an essentially benevolent God. This is a cheerful belief, Ishmael says, until you fall into the sea--and drown. NOTE: What do you think Melville means by these criticisms of thinking and philosophy? Is he suggesting that speculating about the universe is very difficult and can't be practiced while engaged in another job? Is he saying that such speculation is futile, and that philosophic systems are likely to be silly in some ways? Do you find it odd to read such criticisms in a book that is a profound exercise in deep thinking and philosophy? Isn't Melville somewhat like Ishmael at the mast-head--concerned with whaling, but really focused on greater things? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 36: THE QUARTER-DECK Melville begins chapters 36 to 40 with stage directions, as if to emphasize the building drama. In this chapter, as Ahab gathers his men on the quarterdeck, his face looks like the horizon when a storm is developing. He paces, shouting at his men questions like "What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?" Then he stomps toward the mainmast, a sixteen dollar Spanish doubloon in his hand. The doubloon, he promises as he nails it to the mast, will be paid to the first man who spies a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and crooked jaw. Tashtego, the harpooner, asks if the whale is the one called Moby-Dick. Queequeg and Daggoo are familiar with the beast as well. "Was it not Moby-Dick that took off thy leg?" Starbuck asks the captain. With a "terrific, loud, animal sob," Ahab answers that it was. He vows to chase the whale around Africa, South America, into the fires of hell, before he gives up. And the men will chase as well. "Aye," shout the men. But the cautious Starbuck is not convinced. He'll gladly kill Moby-Dick if he sees him, but the Pequod is sailing to make a profit for its owners, not to satisfy Ahab's desire for revenge. That revenge seems all the more wasteful because Moby-Dick is a dumb brute who bit off Ahab's leg out of animal instinct. Now comes one of the most famous speeches in Moby-Dick. Read it closely. "Hark ye yet again," Ahab begins, then says: All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me.... He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. Ahab reveals a number of things here, both about the book and about himself. Objects and actions are only masks; true meaning lies beyond them. But what is that meaning? Ahab seems to believe it can only be malicious. (Do you think Melville agrees?) Ahab compares himself to a prisoner trying to escape. The whale is either the source of evil or the agent of evil; in either case it must be battled. Don't tell Ahab he's being blasphemous towards God and his creations; Ahab considers himself God's equal. NOTE: Do you think Ahab is overstepping the proper bounds of human conduct? Should he battle Moby-Dick, the great force of nature, or should he accept the workings of God's universe and not seek revenge? Starbuck is no match for Ahab's iron will nor for the excitement Ahab has stirred in the crew (excitement that grows after he gives the sailors a pewter flagon of liquor). With the crew on his side, Ahab orders Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask to cross their lances before him in a show of obedience. He orders the harpooners to present their barbed harpoons to him and, to continue what has become a blasphemous parody of a religious service, he baptizes the harpoons with liquor, shouting, "Death to Moby-Dick!" ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 39: FIRST NIGHT-WATCH Now you hear what in the theater would be three soliloquies. The first is Ahab's. He compares himself to a ship leaving a wake through the envious waves; his head feels as heavy as if it were burdened by a crown made with nails from Christ's cross. Once he had been encouraged by sunrise and soothed by sunset; now, in the middle of Paradise, he can't enjoy anything--this is his damnation. NOTE: Is Melville comparing this driven man with Christ? Is Ahab battling evil to save mankind? Or is he Lucifer, rebelling against God out of pride? Ahab knows he's convinced everyone but Starbuck to join his quest; they may think he's mad, but it is madness of a high order. It was prophesied that he would lose a leg; now he declares himself a prophet and says the whale that cost him a leg will be dismembered. He will be the prophet and the fulfiller of the prophesy. Nothing will stop Ahab; his will is like a railroad running on iron rails to its goal. "Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!" Next we hear Starbuck. He knows that he's sane, and that Ahab is mad, yet he knows as well that Ahab has defeated him. Ahab has placed himself above all other men and equal to God. Yet Starbuck can't bring himself to revolt (a hint that Ishmael's suspicion about Starbuck's fatal flaw may be correct). Starbuck feels like a rundown clock; the noisy cries of the crew are only signs of life's horrors. Stubb has an entirely different outlook, fatalistic, unconcerned. Ahab may be odd, but "a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer." For in any case, it's all predestined. NOTE: Do you think Melville is saying that one of these views is true? That all are partly true? That none is true? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 40: MIDNIGHT, FORECASTLE The rest of the crew has erupted in a riot of singing, drinking, and dancing. You'll notice something desperate about the celebration, though; Pip doesn't want to share in it; Tashtego doesn't want to join in; Daggoo takes offense at the Old Manx Sailor, and a Spanish crewman tries to start a fight. Earlier Ahab had united the men behind his quest, but it seems now a false unity: The men are still, in Ishmael's words, isolatoes. It is not a unity based on love, like the unity of Ishmael and Queequeg. The atmosphere of tension increases with the winds and waves of an approaching squall. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 41: MOBY-DICK Now, at last, you're given a full introduction to the creature that gives the book its name. Ishmael uses all his skills as a researcher to uncover facts about Ahab's great enemy. This chapter and the next are very important sections of the novel. NOTE: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO MOBY-DICK The whale, Moby-Dick, has at least some basis in fact. Newspapers and magazines of Melville's day thrilled readers with accounts of ferocious whales battling whaling ships. One of the most famous was an enormous sperm whale Mocha Dick, named for Mocha Island, the Pacific island near where his first attack took place. One expert credits Mocha Dick with as many as 30 deaths. The whale's legend grew over the years; he became, among other things, white as wool. And so with only a slight change of name--and with the addition of an enormous amount of philosophical importance--he became a major character in Melville's novel. Not all whalers know of Moby-Dick, Ishmael says, and not all consider him particularly ferocious. Still, as the number of mishaps credited to him has increased, he has taken on mythic proportions and acquired supernatural traits. Some mariners say he is ubiquitous, able to appear in two places at one time; some say he is immortal; many believe he possesses an enormous but evil intelligence. No sinister killer could have removed Captain Ahab's leg with greater skill. Ahab has come to believe all the legends about Moby-Dick, blaming the whale not only for his lost leg but for all the evils that afflict him, for all the evils that afflict mankind. Ahab's is a strange madness, Ishmael says, because it hasn't destroyed Ahab's own genuine brilliance. If you could probe deeper into his mind (which is compared to Roman ruins) you would see that he knows he is mad and that he does his best to disguise that fact, having others attribute his moods to physical pain rather than something deeper. Peleg and Bildad back in Nantucket will never know the real goal of this voyage. They want profit; he wants revenge. And who can stop Ahab? It seems as if Fate has given him a crew perfectly suited to his purposes. Starbuck is virtuous but somehow weak; Stubb is laughingly indifferent; Flask is mediocre. Even Ishmael has admitted taking Ahab's oath with the rest of the crew. Ahab towers over them all. He has made his hate their hate. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 42: THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE In this chapter Ishmael and Melville work to convince you of the universal significance of the great whale. You've seen what the whale was to Ahab, but what was it to Ishmael? Ishmael tells us that the whale has many frightening features, and none is more frightening than its whiteness. Whiteness can enhance the beauty of marble and pearls. Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians regarded it as a symbol of holiness. But there is something about whiteness that terrifies. The terror we feel at Polar wastes or white sharks results not just from the danger they represent but from their bleak whiteness. Perhaps, Ishmael suggests, whiteness is so frightening because it isn't a color at all, merely the absence of color. All other shades--the tones of a sunset, the "gilded velvets" of butterflies, even the "butterfly cheeks" of young girls--are just a thin, false layer covering that absence. Whiteness seems to suggest that beneath the surfaces of the universe lies nothing at all. NOTE: You may agree or disagree with Ishmael's analysis of whiteness. Some critics have called it illogical, even hysterical. But Melville's technique of piling on symbol after symbol has power. You won't easily forget that for Ishmael the universe can be chaotic and empty, and that Moby-Dick can be a mighty symbol of chaos and emptiness. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 43: HARK! Melville uses a common literary tactic to maintain suspense. Two crew members hear noises, indicating that someone may be hiding in the ship. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 44: THE CHART As a squall strikes and the crew drunkenly celebrates the hunt for Moby-Dick, Ahab retreats to his cabin to study ocean charts, a practice he continues night after night. Someone unfamiliar with whales might think it impossible to find Moby-Dick among all the whales in all the seas. But Ahab studies, knowing that sperm whales tend to migrate in set patterns at set times and congregate in set feeding grounds. They gather especially at one time in one part of the Pacific--a pattern that is called the Season-on-the-Line. For these reasons Ahab's search isn't impossible. But the search is taking its toll. As he pencils the charts it seems as if a matching "invisible pencil" were tracing lines on his forehead. He sleeps with clenched hands and wakes with his bloody nails digging in his palms; his dreams seem to create a chasm in him filled with the fire and lightning of hell. (Notice the hellish fire images again.) Ahab's mind and soul are given over to his obsession, which has a will of its own. The obsession eats away within him, like the vulture that in Greek mythology ate the liver of Prometheus. NOTE: PROMETHEUS Melville uses a classical allusion to show us the complexity of Ahab. Prometheus angered Zeus by stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man; it was an act of disobedience but also a noble act. By comparing Ahab to Prometheus, Melville wants to show that at least in some ways Ahab is a hero, and provides us with one interpretation of Ahab's behavior. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 45: THE AFFIDAVIT Ishmael uses a legal term (an affidavit is a sworn statement) to signify that he is telling the truth when he says that whales possess enough strength to survive harpoonings and to sink ships. Ishmael knows of three instances where a whale has been shot with a harpoon, escaped, and survived for years before being killed. And many sperm whales have become known individually not for their physical markings but for their ferocity. Timor Tom and New Zealand Jack are among the most famous of such ferocious whales. (Here again Melville uses his knowledge of whaling facts in his fiction: New Zealand Jack was indeed a famously destructive whale.) As for whales sinking ships, Melville can cite various actual incidents, the most famous being the sinking of the Essex in 1820. Melville is trying to convince you about the nature of whales. If you think that whales aren't bad-tempered, and aren't strong enough to sink a boat, you'll have difficulty believing the rest of his story. He's eager to give you proof. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 46: SURMISES Ahab, Ishmael says, is ready to sacrifice everything in his hunt for Moby-Dick. But he must keep up the appearance of leading a normal whaling voyage. He doesn't want Starbuck to rebel against him; he doesn't want his men's minds as obsessed with the whale as his is. Nor can he afford to deny the crew their chance to make money by catching other whales. In fact, because he's employed by Peleg and Bildad, Ahab has an obligation to make the voyage profitable for them. By turning the voyage to his own purposes, he's given the crew every right to revolt on the grounds of "usurpation." For all these reasons, Ahab must hunt other whales besides Moby-Dick. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 47: THE MAT-MAKER On a sultry afternoon, Queequeg and Ishmael weave a mat to serve as additional lashing for their whaleboat. As usual, Ishmael indulges in philosophical day-dreaming. The mat, he thinks, represents the forces that make up life: necessity, free will, and chance. (You'll see the image of life as something woven developed in a later chapter.) Ishmael's thoughts are interrupted by a shout from Tashtego: "There she blows!" The first sperm whale of the trip has been spotted, and the whaleboats are readied for the chase. The boat crews gather, and Ahab is suddenly "surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air"--the shadows Ishmael saw board the ship, the voices in the hold. NOTE: Throughout the book, Melville refers to these men as "phantoms" or "shadows." Are we intended to think of them as spirits? If so, are they good or evil? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 48: THE FIRST LOWERING The five phantoms are the subject of much talk among the crew. Their appearance seems undeniably sinister--their leader wears a "glistening white" turban with his dark hair braided through it, and his followers resemble an island people said by some to be in league with the devil. The boats are lowered. You'll notice how Melville moves from boat to boat contrasting the characters of each of the Pequod's mates. Stubb shouts angrily at his men, but the anger seems all in fun. Starbuck is serious and profit-minded. Flask stands recklessly up on the shoulders of his harpooner, Daggoo. But Ahab's boat remains a mystery. All the boats are manned by skilled whalers. A non-whaler would not be able to tell a whale was swimming nearby, but these men can, from the troubled green water and the puffs of vapor that float in the air. Melville's writing about the hunt is particularly powerful: A short rushing sound leaped out of the boat; it was the darted iron of Queequeg. Then all in one welded commotion came an invisible push from astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on a ledge; the sail collapsed and exploded; a gush of scalding vapor shot up near by; something rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us. The whole crew were half suffocated as they were tossed helter- skelter into the white curdling cream of the squall. Squall, whale, and harpoon had all blended together, and the whale, merely grazed by the iron, escaped. Thanks to Melville's vigorous prose, you probably feel like you're in the boat with Ishmael as the whale surfaces, a harpoon is thrown, the boat is swamped, and Ishmael jumps into the sea. It's hard to imagine any writer giving you a greater sense of the thrills and perils of whaling than Melville does in this scene. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 49: THE HYENA As an inexperienced whaler, Ishmael has been frightened by the near sinking of his boat and the hours spent in the cold, dark ocean. After an experience like that, life itself seems a cruel and humorless practical joke. (The title of the chapter probably refers to the similarly humorless laugh of a hyena.) Ishmael is sufficiently afraid to make out a will (he's apparently had similar fears before--this is the fourth will he's made at sea). You'll notice that Queequeg is the beneficiary of Ishmael's will. It's another indication of their friendship. It also suggests that Ishmael is cut of from the rest of the world--that the Pequod is his home. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 51: THE SPIRIT-SPOUT Certainly the Pequod's owners never intended the one-legged Ahab to face the dangers of going out regularly in a whaleboat, much less have his own secret crew. But he does go out, and not just after Moby-Dick. And as the ship sails around the stormy Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa, Ahab stands day after day on the gale-swept deck of the Pequod. Along with this bravery is a darker side, represented best by Fedallah, who seems to have some evil influence over Ahab. The comments of his mates indicate what a complicated man this captain is. "I never yet saw him kneel," says Stubb, meaning that Ahab is both brave and blasphemous, never kneeling in humble obedience or in prayer. "Terrible old man!" thinks Starbuck. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 53: THE GAM Southeast of the Cape of Good Hope the Pequod for the first time encounters another ship, a bleached-looking vessel with pitifully torn sails. Ahab shouts out, "Ship Ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?" This is the first "gam" of Moby-Dick. As you'll learn, a gam is a meeting of two ships to exchange mail and news. The Pequod will meet nine ships during its voyage, and each of the meetings will throw some light on the quest for the great whale. Ahab waits anxiously for the captain of the Goney, or Albatross, to answer his question. But the captain's speaking trumpet falls into the sea, and his unamplified voice doesn't carry in the wind. To the Pequod's sailors, the accident is a symbol of Moby-Dick's evil power. To some readers, it's Melville's way of saying that there are mysteries that can't be communicated to others, and that the future is unknowable. Melville gives another clue to Ahab's personality when he describes the captain's reaction as the wakes of the two ships intermingle and schools of fish that had been swimming alongside the Pequod go over to the Goney. Such movements by fish are common at sea, but Ahab reacts with shock. "'Swim away from me, do ye?'" the captain murmurs with "deep helpless sadness." Why do you think Ahab reacts in this way? Does he realize that his quest for Moby-Dick is unreasonable, even abhorrent, a judgment confirmed by the departure of the fish? Or, perhaps, does he want help--spiritual or physical--in his quest, and is saddened when the fish won't accompany him? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 54: THE TOWN-HO'S STORY The Pequod encounters another ship, the Town-Ho. This time Ahab does get information about the white whale--but not the complete truth, because the truth wasn't even known by the Town-Ho's captain. Ishmael tells the story as he later told it to three friends in Peru. Two years before, the Town-Ho was sailing the Pacific when she began to leak. On board was a brutal mate, Radney, and a swaggering seaman, Steelkilt. As the ship was being pumped out, Steelkilt and Radney began a quarrel that lead to Radney's threatening the seaman with a hammer. Soon Steelkilt was leading a mutiny that ended with his being locked in the forecastle and flogged within an inch of his life by Radney. Still leaking, the Town-Ho made for land. Steelkilt was about to kill Radney, but fate made murder unnecessary. Moby-Dick was spotted; boats went out to hunt the whale, and Radney fell from his boat to be killed by Moby-Dick. NOTE: Many readers have puzzled over the meaning of the Town-Ho's story. Perhaps Melville is trying to show how difficult it is to interpret an event--or a symbol--in any one way. For in this episode Moby-Dick is an instrument of justice, not just destruction. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: SHEET-IRON; IN STONE; IN MOUNTAINS; IN STARS In these chapters Ishmael describes centuries of whale-inspired art to remind you of the species' importance to mankind. Egyptians and Greeks sculpted the whale; the noted English artist, Hogarth, painted him, as did more scientifically inclined artists. But all such portraits are inaccurate, Ishmael says. Accurate depictions of the whale can't come from studying a dead whale cast up on a beach, or from studying its skeleton. The only way to know the whale is to go whaling, and risk your life. The search for complete knowledge, Melville is saying, can be both futile and fatal. Ishmael does admit, however, that a few adequate portraits of whales do exist, especially those painted by the French. Other good representations have been carved by whalemen on whale teeth and bones. The outline of a whale can be glimpsed on mountain ridges and in star constellations. Whales--to Ishmael and to Melville (and, they hope, to you too)--are to be seen in the entire universe. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 58: BRIT The Pequod moves through a large "meadow" of brit, a yellow substance (probably tiny crustaceans) on which right whales feed. The right whales Ishmael sees look more like lifeless masses of rock than living animals. In fact, according to Ishmael, few sea animals resemble those living on land. The sea is an unknown; it is a foe, not just to man but to its own offspring; and it is treacherous--its most dreaded creatures swim invisible just under its lovely blue surface. Ishmael then asks you to think of the land. Isn't the division between land and sea like the division within our own souls? Just as the appalling ocean surrounds a peaceful island like Tahiti, terrible fears surround the peaceful center of man's soul. Don't try to leave that peace, Ishmael warns; you can never return to it. NOTE: IMAGES OF THE SEA Once again the ocean is a symbol for Ishmael. When he stood on the masthead the sea looked dreamily peaceful, though he knew it could kill him if he fell. Now he has a much bleaker view of it--an indication, perhaps, that his time aboard the Pequod is making him lose some of his optimism. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 59: SQUID On a morning so quiet the waves seem to wear slippers (notice the lovely rhythms of Melville's descriptions here), Daggoo sights a strange white object and shouts out, "The White Whale!" But when the boats reach their goal they discover the object is an enormous long-armed squid. Starbuck looks on the squid as a grim warning; many sailors, Ishmael says, hold similar views of the animal, because so little is known about it. Once again the mysteries of nature seem to be beyond man's understanding. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 60: THE LINE One of the most important pieces of equipment in whaling is the line attached to the whaleman's harpoon. The line is just two-thirds of an inch thick, and is more than 200 fathoms (or 1200 feet) long. It must be coiled very carefully because in the frenzy of a whale hunt a tangle or kink could slice off a person's arm. Or a person could be dragged into the ocean by the whizzing rope. NOTE: WHALING AS A METAPHOR FOR LIFE Melville points out that the voyage of the Pequod is not so different from your daily life. All people "live enveloped in whale lines"--any could meet death at any moment. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 61: STUBB KILLS A WHALE Though to Starbuck the squid was an evil omen, to Queequeg it "was quite a different object": a signal that a sperm whale was nearby. (Once again you see the difficulty of interpreting things.) Queequeg is right. The next day Ishmael spots the broad glossy black back of a sperm whale. In describing the hunt, Melville seems determined to show how brutal a profession whaling can be. The whale hardly seems like a fiend; Melville compares him to a plump businessman smoking a pipe. As the boats are lowered he grows alarmed enough to swim slowly away, then "sounds"--dives deep into the water. He returns for air, now fully aware of the danger. Stubb, all the time smoking a pipe, leads his men in the chase. The boat churns through the water. Tashtego hurls his harpoon, and Stubb throws dart after dart into the fleeing creature, who is now spouting so much blood the ocean runs red. Stubb twists his lance inside the disabled whale until it convulses. "His heart had burst!" "Yes; both pipes smoked out!" says Stubb, scattering the ashes from his pipe on the water. The image of twin pipes makes the whale seem fully as human as Stubb, and makes his death seem all the sadder. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 63: THE CROTCH In killing a whale, the mate and the harpooner must help row the boat until it is time to shoot at the prey, all the while shouting encouragement to the crew. It's an exhausting task--no wonder so few harpoons find their mark, so many harpooners suffer burst blood vessels, and so many whaling voyages lose money. Ishmael now describes the crotch, a notched stick inserted into the gunwhale to serve as a rest for the two harpoons (the first and second iron). Once the first iron is thrown the second must be thrown immediately after, or else, still attached to the line, it will fly dangerously around the boat. The danger is multiplied, too, because in a whale hunt there are four boats, each with its own lines and harpoons. Ishmael goes into detail about these dangers now, and they'll become important later in the story. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 64: STUBB'S SUPPER The three boats slowly tow the immense whale back to the Pequod so it can be butchered. Ahab seems depressed, as if the sight of this dead whale is a reminder that Moby-Dick still lives. But Stubb is excited, in large part because he has a chance to enjoy his favorite food, whale steak. Nor is he the only one enjoying the whale--beneath the waves, thousands of sharks are scooping out huge pieces of flesh. Sharks always haunt ships, Ishmael says. In time of war they wait for slain men to fall to them, there being little difference between men killing each other above water and sharks killing men below. Stubb calls for the cook, old Fleece, to complain about the whale steak. It's overdone, Stubb says. Fleece should know that sharks like whale rare: so does he. Also, Stubb says, the sharks are making too much noise. In his jolly but vaguely threatening way, he orders Fleece to tell the sharks to be quiet. The cook limps over to the sharks, and with Stubb's goading, the talk becomes a sermon. "Well, den, belubed fellow-critters," he begins; he says he knows that sharks are by nature voracious, but that their natural greed must be governed. In that way they can become angels, "for all angel is noting more dan de shark well goberned." But Fleece gives up. It's no use, he realizes, the villainous sharks will keep fighting each other. He offers a final curse: "fill you dam' bellies 'till dey bust--and den die." NOTE: SHARKS AND MAN Many critics consider Fleece's sermon one of the most important scenes in Moby-Dick. In some ways you might see it as a bitter parody of Father Mapple's sermon. Mapple said that by obeying God, man could find heavenly joy. Fleece says that if the sharks obey God by governing themselves, they can be angels. But Fleece realizes he's asking the impossible. Does this mean Mapple is asking the impossible, too? Perhaps, because Melville frequently compares sharks to man. Chapters before, Peleg told his partner Bildad, "Pious harpooners never make good voyagers--it takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooner is worth a straw who ain't pretty sharkish." Some critics take a less bleak view, though. They suggest that there are characters in Moby-Dick who represent "the shark well-governed"--the noble savage Queequeg being one example. You decide as you read which stand you think is more correct. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 65: THE WHALE AS A DISH Ishmael turns his attention to the whale as food, giving examples of cultures that considered whales a delicacy. But today's landsmen don't like the whale, partly because it is too fatty and partly because it seems terrible for "man to eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light" (whale oil is burned for illumination). But Ishmael won't let those of us who live on land off so easily. We eat land animals, and come Judgment Day a cannibal may be judged less harshly than "...thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras." ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 66: THE SHARK MASSACRE Normally, when a whale like Stubb's is tied to the ship late at night the tired crew waits until dawn to start the butchering--the "cutting in." But thousands of sharks are tearing at the carcass; when Queequeg and another seaman stab at them with whaling spades the sharks only grow more vicious. Even after death they're nasty, one of them almost biting off Queequeg's hand. "Queequeg no care what god made him shark," the harpooner says, "wedder Feejee God or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin." Now it's Queequeg bringing up the nature of God and the universe. And with his hand hurting as much as it does, the answer is: God is a savage. Do you think Melville intended this to be the true answer, or just a human reaction to pain? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 69: THE FUNERAL The butchering of the great whale begins in an atmosphere that is distinctly un-Christian. The bloody work is being done on the Sabbath, and the whalers might as well be offering up oxen to pagan sea gods. Melville uses great skill in describing the butchering process; these chapters are marvels of clear, journalistic description. Cutting tackles are lashed to the masthead; with a great tilting of the ship, blubber hooks are attached to the whale, and the whale is stripped of its blubber in the way you might peel an orange. The blubber, Ishmael says, is the whale's skin, and on an average sperm whale it will weigh eight tons. The whale wears its blubber like a blanket that keeps him warm in cold seas, cool in warm ones. The whale possesses the "rare virtues" of thick walls, strong individual vitality, and interior spaciousness: man should model himself after the whale. But Ishmael knows that's not likely to happen. Once the whale has been stripped of its blubber and been beheaded, it's cut loose from the ship to float away. still enormous, the carcass is a terrible sight, and its funeral mourners are terrible, too: vultures and sharks. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 70: THE SPHYNX While the whale was being stripped of blubber, it was also beheaded--a difficult task as a whale lacks a neck to chop and the operation must be performed on a sea-tossed ship; little wonder Stubb takes pride in being able to behead a whale in ten minutes. Once removed, the head is hung off the side of the ship, heavy enough that the Pequod tilts with it. Ahab goes up on deck, takes Stubb's spade and sticks it into the whale's head. To him the head resembles the Sphynx of Egypt, the enormous monument with a human head and a lion's body that symbolizes eternal mysteries. It knows the secrets of the universe; it has dived deeper than any other creature, seen sunken navies, drowned lovers, beheld sights that would cause even the biblical patriarch Abraham to lose his faith. NOTE: AHAB AND THE SPHYNX In his speech to the whale head, you see Ahab trying to break through the "pasteboard mask" to find true meaning. But notice how he assumes that the meaning behind the mask must necessarily be evil. He can imagine only that the whale has seen countless horrors. A shout from the mast-head announces that another boat has been seen, and Ahab hopes it will cheer him with news of Moby-Dick. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 71: THE JEROBOAM'S STORY The ship that approaches is the Jeroboam of Nantucket, but it won't let the Pequod "gam" with her. There is an epidemic on board, the first sign that this meeting will be an ominous one for Ahab. The Jeroboam's Captain Mayhew and Ahab communicate by shouts, but soon they're interrupted by a small man in a strangely cut coat. Stubb immediately recognizes the man from a story about the Jeroboam the Town-Ho had earlier passed along. The man, an insane, self-styled prophet, managed to fool the Jeroboam into taking him on as a whaleman; once on board he announced that he was the archangel Gabriel bringing news of the Last Judgment and was terrifying enough that the crew began to believe him, all the more after the start of the epidemic. "Think of thy whale-boat stoven and sunk," Gabriel says in answer to Ahab's question about Moby-Dick. And Captain Mayhew tells Ahab that the Jeroboam, too, had been hunting the great whale when its first mate, Macey, was killed. Ahab remembers that the Pequod carries a letter to one of the Jeroboam's crew--a letter, it turns out, addressed to the late Harry Macey. Ahab throws the letter to Captain Mayhew, but magically it lands in Gabriel's hands. Gabriel tosses it back. Ahab should keep it, for he will soon be going Macey's way--that is, to a watery death. NOTE: AHAB AND THE JEROBOAM In every way the Jeroboam is a warning to Ahab. Its name, like Ahab's, is that of a wicked king of Israel mentioned in I Kings; the ship has been punished for disobedience by the death of its first mate. Gabriel is one of a series of prophets (like Elijah earlier, and Pip later in the novel) able to speak a mad truth about the dangers of Ahab's quest. To Gabriel, as to Ahab, the whale is a symbol of God's wrath. But where Gabriel madly flees the whale, Ahab, perhaps more madly, pursues it. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 72: THE MONKEY-ROPE Ishmael backtracks to tell us part of the cutting-in procedure he neglected to describe earlier. How is the blubber hook first attached to the whale? It's the duty of the harpooner to climb onto the whale's back to attach it, then remain there as the mostly submerged beast rotates like a slippery treadmill beneath him. Queequeg was the harpooner who performed this task on Stubb's whale, and Ishmael the man assigned to assist him. They stood like an organ grinder and his ape, joined together by a rope on a sliding whale, while sharks hungrily swam a few inches from their feet. NOTE: BROTHERHOOD Ishmael again makes whaling a metaphor for life. As he stands out on the whale, he has lost some of his individuality and some of his free will, for his fate is tied to Queequeg's as surely as Queequeg's is tied to his. But in a perilous world, Melville seems to be saying, such brotherly dependence is far preferable to complete independence--the kind of independence shown by Ahab. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: AND THEN HAVE A TALK OVER HIM The Pequod has drifted into a yellow sea of brit, favored food of the right whale. Ordinarily, the ship would not bother with these whales, but for some reason Captain Ahab gives the order that if one is spotted the boats will go after it. It isn't long before Flask and Stubb are towing a dead right whale back to ship. The two mates discuss what Ahab might want with the beast. Flask says he overheard Fedallah telling Ahab that any ship carrying a sperm whale's head on its starboard side and a right whale's head on its larboard will never capsize. Neither mate likes the look of Fedallah; Stubb half-seriously suggests that the turbaned harpooner is the devil, to whom Ahab has offered his soul in exchange for Moby-Dick. Flask's prediction that the right whale's head would be used to balance the sperm whale's proves to be true. The Pequod regains her even keel, though the weight strains it. Ishmael takes this opportunity to attack philosophy while at the same time indulging in it, warning that following John Locke (a famous 17th-century English empiricist philosopher) will tilt you to one side, while following Immanuel Kant (a famous 18th-century German idealist philosopher) as well will weigh you down; better throw them both overboard. In the meantime, Melville underlines the devilish aspects of Fedallah. As he stands next to Ahab his shadow merges with the captain's. Or perhaps it's that, like the devil, Fedallah doesn't cast any shadow at all. NOTE: AHAB AND FEDALLAH Even unimaginative men like Stubb and Flask are becoming disturbed by the influence Fedallah seems to have over Ahab. A Parsee (a follower of Zoroastrianism, likened by Melville to fire-worship), Fedallah is so closely linked to Ahab that their shadows merge. It's as if he represents in some way Ahab's darkest side, Ahab without any of the humanities that Peleg said he possessed. Fedallah is certainly the least realistically portrayed of the Pequod's crew; a number of critics have noted that he seems to come from a gothic romance rather than from a sea tale. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 75: THE RIGHT WHALE'S HEAD--CONTRASTED VIEW Ishmael now takes you on a tour of the two great heads hanging from the Pequod. Both the head of the sperm whale and that of the right whale are enormous; to Ishmael the sperm whale's head is the more dignified. Both have eyes on either side of the head, making them unable to see anything directly in front of them. Both have ears so tiny they can barely be found. Ishmael imagines entering the two heads to show the differences between them: the right whale contains no valuable spermaceti, no ivory teeth; the sperm whale has no bone blinds (used by the whale to strain food and by humans in women's clothing) and no tongue. Becoming jokingly philosophical, Ishmael says the sperm whale is a calm, indifferent animal, a platonian; the right whale is marked by suffering endured, a stoic. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 78: CISTERN AND BUCKETS Ishmael returns to the sperm whale's head to speak about its power as a battering ram--an important point, for if readers don't believe in that power, they will never believe a whale can sink a ship. The mighty head is like an enormous wall, cushioned with a spongy, blubber-like material that can repel any harpoon. Pushed forward with all the whale's strength this head could dig a passage through Panama, and could certainly sink a ship. One portion of the sperm whale's head is the junk, a great store of oil. Another portion, the case, Ishmael renames "the Heidelburgh Tun," after a huge wine cask in Heidelberg, Germany. It contains the spermaceti, the valuable oil that gives the whale its name. When the whale is alive, this oil is liquid; after the whale's death it crystallizes. To get at the spermaceti, you have to tilt the whale's head on its side and cut into it. Tashtego, the harpooner, takes on this job, climbing out on the yardarm then jumping down to land on the top of the head that hangs half in the ocean. Using his spade, he cuts into the whale and with a bucket he draws out the oil, which is then transferred into large tubs. After several tubs have been filled, an accident happens. Ishmael doesn't know whether to blame it on Tashtego's clumsiness, on the whale's motion, or (a brief echo of Fedallah's devilish influence) on Satan himself. But for whatever reason, Tashtego slips head first into the hole he cut in the whale, and with a terrible roar the entire head drops into the sea. Dimly Ishmael sees a sword-wielding figure dive into the water. Seconds later Queequeg reemerges, carrying Tashtego. He had used his sword to carve holes in the sinking head, removing the harpooner as a midwife might deliver a baby. NOTE: QUEEQUEG'S HEROISM Queequeg has saved a man from drowning twice now, and this will not be the last time. His selfless bravery provides an alternative to the narrow selfishness practiced by others of the crew. Note the unusual symbolism. Does Melville mean a person is born again when his or her life is saved? Bear this in mind when you interpret Ishmael's rescue at the end of the novel. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 80: THE NUT Ishmael studies the head of the whale hoping to figure out its secrets, something no physiognomist (one who studies character as revealed in the contours of the face) or phrenologist (a student of the bumps of the skull) has ever done. The sperm whale's nose is as great as Shakespeare's, his eyes as clear as mountain lakes; if you look at his face you'll sense God and Satan more strongly than if you look at any other object in nature. But in the end Ishmael decides the whale's head is like a series of Egyptian hieroglyphs, something he will never be able to understand. NOTE: ISHMAEL'S EXAMINATION OF THE WHALE Like Ahab a few chapters before, Ishmael is trying to decipher the meaning of the whale by looking at its head. But where the embittered Ahab automatically assumed the secrets seen by the whale to be dreadful, Ishmael's view is very different. To him the whale isn't just a symbol of evil, for some things about it are beautiful. Instead, it's an enigma, something that can't be understood. Ahab would like to command the whale to give up its secrets; Ishmael knows he can never do that. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 81: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE VIRGIN The Pequod encounters the Jungfrau (German for virgin), a German whaler captained by one Derick De Deer and so incompetent at whaling that even its own whale-oil lamps are empty. De Deer has never heard of Moby-Dick, a further sign that he knows little of the sea. (Do you think the ship's name has any significance?) Soon after the meeting, a group, or "pod," of whales is sighted, and the American and German ships both give chase. Swimming behind the rest of the group is an old bull whale. The German whaleboats are slow, enabling the Pequod's crew to reach the ancient creature first. Once again you're shown the brutality of whaling. The hunted whale is old, sick, missing a fin, and blind. But he is shown no pity. Flask deliberately plants his harpoon in an ulcerated spot where he knows it will cause the beast the greatest pain. But Ishmael reminds us that we can't feel superior to the whalemen: this whale is being murdered so that we can light weddings and church services. The whale's painful death benefits no one, for he begins to sink after being attached to the Pequod, threatening to capsize the ship. He must be cut loose. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 83: JONAH HISTORICALLY REGARDED "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method," Ishmael says to begin this chapter, and more than one critic has felt this statement to apply to all of Moby-Dick, with its apparently disorganized combination of essays on whaling, philosophical speculation, and high adventure. Ishmael takes us through human history to prove his point that whaling is an ancient and honorable pastime. The Greek hero Perseus was the first whaleman, especially admirable because he killed his whale with only one dart. Ishmael claims that St. George's famous dragon was in fact a whale. And what about Jonah? Ishmael ignores the moral of Jonah's story and comically focuses on petty details. Among other things, he's heard a Sag Harbor whaleman say that Jonah couldn't have been lodged in the whale's stomach because a right whale doesn't have a stomach. NOTE: JONAH Here we're returning to the story on which Father Mapple preached early in the novel. This time, though, Ishmael's (and Melville's) approval of Jonah's story seems less certain. On the one hand, Ishmael calls the objections of the Sag Harbor man "foolish." On the other hand, Ishmael doesn't seem to take the story very seriously either. He mentions that Jonah is honored by "the highly enlightened Turks" (who are Muslim and therefore in traditional Christian eyes not enlightened at all). The chapter seems to be at least undermining Father Mapple's sermon if not rejecting it completely. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 84: PITCHPOLING Soon after the Pequod's meeting with the Jungfrau, more whales are spotted, and Tashtego plants a harpoon in one that attempts to flee. To restrain a whale in a case like this, whalemen use a technique called pitchpoling, in which a lance lighter than a harpoon is hurled "in a superb lofty arch" at the whale. Stubb is an expert at the craft; the whale Tashtego harpooned is soon dead. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 85: THE FOUNTAIN Though the spouting of whales has been studied for centuries, like so much else about whales it remains in part a mystery. Most fish, Ishmael reminds us, use gills to take oxygen from the sea. But whales have lungs like human beings and must occasionally surface to breathe through the spiracles on the top of their heads. If this breathing period is disturbed, the whale won't be able to remain under water for as long as he normally would--making him more vulnerable to the whale hunter. Are the spoutings of the sperm whale water or air? Ishmael prefers to think of them as a mist; he likes to imagine the whale swimming in a tropical sea, "glorified by a rainbow." Notice what a beautiful final paragraph this is: the whale is rainbow-covered, and God is credited for supplying such beauty. And we come closer here to learning Ishmael's own philosophy: he has "doubts of all things earthly, and intuition of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye." Ishmael is not as pious as Starbuck, but neither is he as bitter as Ahab; he sees the cruelties of life on earth but still holds out some faint hope in a heaven. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 86: THE TAIL Other poets may sing about delicate objects like birds' plumage, but Ishmael wants to celebrate something more solid: the whale's tail. On its upper surface alone it measures fifty feet square, and it's built like the old Roman walls in three layers for added strength. The tail is powerful, yet graceful; it never wriggles foolishly, and is the whale's main weapon against man as well as a plaything. When the whale is about to submerge, the tail stands straight up to provide one of the grandest sights in nature. NOTE: THE TAIL Ishmael continues to build a view of the whale far more complex than Ahab's. You might want to take a closer look at his description of the submerging tail: So in dreams, have I seen majestic Satan thrusting forth his tormented colossal claw from the flame Baltic of Hell. But in gazing at such scenes, it is all in all what mood you are in; in the Dantean, the devils will occur to you; in that of Isaiah, the archangels. To Ishmael, the whale can seem what it seems to Ahab, devilish, something out of Dante (the 14th-century author of The Divine Comedy). But if you are in a different mood, the whale can seem heavenly. After all his research, all his thought, Ishmael is unable to make a final judgment--and that may be Melville's point. "I know him not and never will," says Ishmael, and his statement holds true not just for whales but for much else. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 87: THE GRAND ARMADA The Pequod sails into the straits of Sunda, home to Malay pirates but also known to be a major cruising ground for sperm whales. On a sparkling day the Pequod's sailors see a two or three mile semicircle of whale spouts hurrying through the straits ahead of them. The harpooners cheer as their ship begins its chase. But when Ahab turns around he sees they are being followed by a Malay pirate ship. Ahab angrily paces the deck, one enemy behind him, his greatest enemy somewhere ahead. But the Pequod outruns the pirates and soon catches up with the whale herd. The whaleboats are launched. The great herd of whales seems like a flock of sheep, some swimming aimlessly, others staying timidly still despite the danger. When Queequeg harpoons one of the creatures, it pulls the boat with it through crowds of whales so thick Queequeg can only poke at them in hopes of moving them out of the way. Then, after so much hurry, so much violence, the lone whaleboat finds itself in the very center of the herd. NOTE: THE ENCHANTED CALM OF THE GRAND ARMADA This section is, many critics agree, one of the loveliest in all of Moby-Dick. As the boat sails into "that enchanted calm that lurks at the heart of every commotion," whales swim around them in concentric circles, filling the horizon. Nature here seems both beautiful and orderly, the complete opposite of the view taken by Ahab. And, says Ishmael, the scene has a counterpart in all of us. Earlier in the book, he spoke of each man containing a peaceful Tahiti within him; now he says that each man possesses a center as calm as the center of this great herd. But the calm doesn't last. A whale pushes into the herd; he's been harpooned, and, worse, he still carries a cutting spade attached to him so that with each flailing he stabs his fellow whales. The herd begins to panic, and Ishmael's boat barely escapes being crushed. And after all this effort, only one whale is killed by the Pequod. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 88: SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS Though great herds of whales aren't uncommon, smaller groups, called schools, are more frequently seen. As he discusses the schools, Ishmael has fun anthropomorphizing them--giving them the characteristics of human beings. The schools are of two kinds: all male, or all female (with one male in charge). The all-female schools are like members of high society, traveling around the world in search of good climate. The male schools are as rowdy and dangerous as a group of college students. Notice that Melville adds that lone whales are almost invariably ancient. As Moby-Dick is a lone whale, he's likely to be very old--another sign of his uniqueness. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 90: HEADS OR TAILS What happens if a whale is harpooned by one ship, only to escape and be captured by another ship? From this question comes the law of fast-fish and loose-fish. Among American whalemen, a fast-fish belongs to the boat that is held fast to it by a whaleline or other connection. A loose-fish belongs to anyone who can catch it. And people belong in both categories. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 92: AMBERGRIS The Pequod meets a French ship enveloped in a smell so terrible its sailors hold their noses and its surgeon prefers to hide in the captain's outhouse rather than stand on deck. The reasons for the smell float alongside the ironically named Bouton de Rose (Rose-Bud): two dead whales, one of them especially foul. Ahab doesn't care about the Rose-Bud once he learns it knows nothing of Moby-Dick. Stubb, though, spies a chance both to have fun and to make money, for as he looks at the second whale he realizes there's a good chance it contains ambergris, the soft, waxy material valued for its use as a perfume ingredient. There's no sense in keeping these whales because they don't have any oil in them, Stubb tells an English-speaking crew member. Then he promises to help convince the French captain to cut the whales free. In one of the funniest passages in the book, Stubb insults the captain in English while the crewman mistranslates his words into French warnings about the disease-carrying whale. The trick works; the whale is cut loose, and Stubb happily removes the precious ambergris. NOTE: AHAB AND THE AMBERGRIS We see another sign that Ahab is losing connection with the real business of whaling. He's so anxious to continue the pursuit of Moby-Dick that he won't let Stubb remove all the ambergris, though it would make an enormous profit for the Pequod's owners and crew. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 93: THE CASTAWAY Not everyone on board a whaling ship goes out in a boat when a whale is sighted. Some, called ship-keepers, remain. On the Pequod, the ship-keeper is Pip, the black youth we saw playing the tambourine during the drunken party on the quarterdeck. Pip is bright and tender-hearted, but not a good sailor. When he has to take a crewman's place on Stubb's boat, he leaps into the water when the whale raps the hull, so that Stubb must choose between catching the whale and rescuing Pip. Stubb rescues the boy, but warns that in the future his decision will be different. "A whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama," Stubb says callously. (Once again Melville is emphasizing man's sharkish nature.) But Pip doesn't heed the warning: he jumps again. And this time he's abandoned as Stubb's boat flies after the fleeing whale. When, hours later, Pip is finally rescued, he has gone mad. NOTE: PIP As Melville describes Pip's madness, it is a peculiar kind of madness. In fact, it may even be a kind of wisdom. Pip's soul was drowned, Ishmael says--or rather, not drowned but carried to the depths of the sea where it viewed "God's foot upon the treadle of the loom." (Remember how the universe was compared to a loom in the chapter, "The Mat-Maker.") The description of Pip's descent into the ocean resembles Ahab's description of the Sphynx-like whale's head. Like the whale, Pip has seen the secrets of the universe; like the whale he can't communicate those secrets. Pip will have a special role to play as the book continues. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 94: A SQUEEZE OF THE HAND The whale killed when the boat sailed into the "Grand Armada" of whales is brought back to the Pequod for butchering. As Ishmael has already mentioned, the sperm oil crystallizes when exposed to air and must be squeezed back into liquid. He and several other crewman sit and push their hands into the violet-scented oil, sometimes mistaking one another's hands for the lumps of oil they're squeezing. NOTE: BROTHERHOOD Melville is showing an alternative to the bitter sense of isolation that Ahab and others (sometimes including Ishmael) feel. As he sits squeezing the oil, Ishmael enjoys the same sense of brotherhood he felt with Queequeg. The crewmen are united, no longer isolatoes. So powerful is this feeling of goodwill that it temporarily defeats even Ahab: Ishmael forgets about the oath he took to destroy Moby-Dick, and declares that he now knows he won't find happiness in large things, in theories or dreams, but only in simple day-to-day living--in "the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fireside, the country": all the things that Ahab rejects. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 95: THE CASSOCK You now get some of the bawdy humor Melville includes in spots. As the whale is cut up, a strange, conical object is separated, turned inside-out, then stretched and dried so a crewman can wear it for protection as he minces blubber. The object is the whale's penis, and Melville uses religious imagery (the skin becoming an archbishop's robes) to double his joke's impact. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 96: THE TRY-WORKS The Pequod leaves the sunlit peace described in "A Squeeze of the Hand," and moves into a world of such darkness and fire that it seems to belong to Ahab, although he is not visibly present. American whalers contain try-works, brick ovens used to melt whale blubber into oil. At nine o'clock at night the work begins. By midnight the ship is licked by flames, and the atmosphere is like that of some pagan ceremony; the Pequod's crew have been turned into laughing savages. Ishmael, standing at the helm to steer the ship, is almost hypnotized by the fire. He has the feeling not of fleeing towards safety, but of fleeing from it. He feels near death. Suddenly he realizes that he has fallen into a nightmare-filled sleep and that he has almost capsized the ship. NOTE: FIRE AND SUNLIGHT Ishmael sums up his near-accident by warning, "Look not too long in the face of the fire." And because fire is associated with Ahab, Melville seems to be showing us that Ishmael has turned his back on Ahab's dangerous and unnatural obsession. You saw a clue to this earlier, when Ishmael said he would abandon dreams and theories for the simple pleasure of daily life. Melville seldom allows you to settle for easy answers to life's problems; indeed, he seems driven to explore life's contradictions. Sunlight is preferable, Ishmael says, but he knows that the sun can't hide what is bad in life. Any fully alive man will feel more woe than joy--though to concentrate too much on that woe will lead to madness. And there's a final contradiction: the Catskill eagle who can plunge into darkness then soar into sunlight; the eagle who even if he never returns from the dark gorge, flies higher than other birds. If, as it seems, that eagle represents Captain Ahab, are Ishmael and Melville saying that despite his doomed, damned quest, Ahab is in many ways a greater man than most of us? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 98: STOWING DOWN AND CLEARING UP One of the pleasures of a whaleman's life is that, unlike a merchant seaman, he can enjoy constant light, thanks to the plentiful supply of oil on board ship. After the whale has been boiled down, his oil--the profit of the voyage--is put into six-barrel casks, which must be securely stored in sea water deep in the ship's hold. (You'll see later that Ahab attempts to ignore even this important rule.) Then the blood--and blubber-stained ship is thoroughly cleaned, only to be dirtied again when the next whale is slaughtered. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 99: THE DOUBLOON It has been Ahab's habit to moodily pace the deck, eyeing the compass on the binnacle and the doubloon nailed to the mainmast, as if hoping that one or the other will lead him to Moby-Dick. One morning he halts in front of the doubloon. Minted in Ecuador, it shows three peaks of the Andes. From one shoots a flame, on another stands a tower, and on the third a rooster crows. In the sky are the signs of the zodiac, with the sun entering Libra, the scales. Ahab tries to understand the doubloon's symbolism. To him the peaks are as proud as Lucifer (the archangel who became Satan), as proud as Ahab. (Notice how Ahab compares himself to the greatest rebel against God.) They stand for courage and victory. Starbuck wanders up when Ahab is through. To him the three peaks represent the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with the sun a symbol of God's righteousness. Next, Stubb sees a jolly prediction of a happy life. Flask sees only a coin worth nine hundred and sixty cigars. The fire-worshipping Fedallah sees something to which he must bow. NOTE: THE DOUBLOON Melville expects you to look closely at the objects on board the Pequod, for as Ishmael says here, "some certain significance lurks in all things." But the question is, what is that significance? Each man aboard the Pequod sees something different when he looks at the doubloon. Once again you're reminded of the difficulty of interpreting the world. Here, too, we see for the first time that Pip's madness does contain wisdom. His reaction--"I look, you look, he looks"--is a description of the way each man sees something different in the doubloon. His final mutterings are more ominous: "Ha ha old Ahab! The White Whale; he'll nail ye." Pip has become another of Moby-Dick's prophets of doom. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: MEETS THE SAMUEL ENDERBY, OF LONDON "Ship ahoy," cries Captain Ahab. "Hast seen the White Whale?" In answer the captain of the approaching British ship unfolds his jacket to reveal a false arm. Ahab hurries to meet a fellow victim of Moby-Dick, though his own bone leg requires that he be hoisted to the British ship on a blubber-hook. So excited is Ahab that he continually interrupts Captain Boomer's account of the milky-white whale that dragged him into the sea where he sliced his arm on his own harpoon. With humorous politeness, Captain Boomer now turns his story over to Bunger, the Samuel Enderby's surgeon, who, with many interruptions, describes how he amputated the arm. The conversation, with its drily witty accusations of drinking and bad temper, is very funny: these are two good friends. But Ahab is incapable of appreciating either humor or friendship. Captain Boomer tells Ahab that he glimpsed Moby-Dick twice more, but didn't chase him. Losing one arm is enough. But what Captain Boomer thinks is best left alone is the very thing that most draws Ahab. When Dr. Bunger jokingly checks Ahab to see if he's feverish, the Pequod's captain roars into a rage so great Captain Boomer asks if he's crazy. But the man Boomer asks is Fedallah, fully a part of the mad quest. Ahab and his dark companion leave the Enderby, ignoring the British captain's shouts. NOTE: Aside from being two of the funniest characters in Moby-Dick, Captain Boomer and Surgeon Bunger are representatives of a common-sense attitude toward the dangers of the world--if something has injured you once, it should be avoided in the future. And Bunger, in his dry, witty way, gives the common sense view that the whale is not evil, merely clumsy. But Ahab is incapable of such sense about the creature that maimed him. Do you think Bunger is right, or is he merely superficial? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 101: THE DECANTER The Samuel Enderby, Ishmael tells us, is named for the founder of a great English whaling house, Enderby and Sons. The ship is a jolly one, loaded with liquor, beef and beer--the rewards of concentrating on business and forgetting about Moby-Dick, perhaps. At any rate, a far cry, you might say, from the Pequod. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 102: A BOWER IN THE ARSACIDES So far, in describing the whale Ishmael has talked mostly about his exterior. Now he wants to discuss the interior--but how? Unlike Jonah, he has never been inside a living whale. He did, however, dissect a cub sperm whale once. And his knowledge of the skeleton comes from a visit to the (fictional) island of Tranquo, in the Arsacides. There a great sperm whale was beached and its bones turned into a temple for the island religion. NOTE: IMAGERY OF THE WHALE'S SKELETON As Ishmael describes the skeleton, you can see connections with other parts of the book. As in the chapter the Mat-Maker, life is compared to a carpet woven on a great loom by an unseen hand--God, or perhaps fate. The noise of the loom is so loud that God can't hear man's voice, and man can't hear God's: another example of man's inability to influence the universe, and of his inability to understand it. Only when man escapes the loom--that is, only when he escapes life to meet death--will he hear. You'll notice, too, that as Ishmael continues to study the skeleton, a trick of sunlight makes the whale himself seem the weaver--another image linking the whale to God. Out of scientific curiosity, Ishmael tries to measure the skeleton, but the village priests prevent him. We see Melville's cynical view of organized religion as the priests then begin to fight among themselves. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: WILL HE PERISH? According to Ishmael's calculations, a large sperm whale might weigh ninety tons, greater than the combined weight of 1000 people. The skeleton he saw on Tranquo measured 72 feet, but in life the whale is larger. We're reminded of the dangers of trying to understand the meaning of life: you'll never know the whale by timidly looking at its skeleton, Ishmael says, only by throwing yourself dangerously near its angry flukes. As he discusses whale fossils, Ishmael half-jokingly, half-seriously reminds us that his subject is an epic one. To do it full justice he would need a pen made from a condor quill and a volcano's crater as his inkstand. Looking at fossil whales convinces Ishmael that whales appeared on earth long before mankind, and as he looks to their future he will predict their numbers will never diminish. They are like all great forces of nature, immortal. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 106: AHAB'S LEG Ahab left the Samuel Enderby so angrily that he half-splintered his ivory leg while jumping into his boat, then wrenched it again on the Pequod. The damage made him nervous, for just before sailing on this voyage, he had been discovered lying in a Nantucket street, his smashed ivory leg piercing him. Now we know the cause of the illness that Peleg mentioned and that kept Ahab in his cabin for days. The wound pained him not only physically but psychologically; it was a fresh reminder of the crime Moby-Dick had committed against him, further proof that the universe is malign. Ahab has come to take pride in his bitterness, now. To him there is something in pain and woe that is nobler, greater than happiness. Still, Ahab is practical enough to order the carpenter to make a new whale bone leg, and order the blacksmith to forge any iron attachments the leg will need. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 108: AHAB AND THE CARPENTER The Pequod's carpenter is necessarily skilled at many crafts, from carpentry to painting to dentistry. But despite his array of talents, the carpenter is a dull and unimaginative man, who considers other human beings mere blocks of wood. When Ahab goes to talk to the man who is making his leg, his brilliance shines all the more brightly against the carpenter's stupidity. Ahab's speech is crowded with wit and classical references, and displays his overwhelming desire to achieve greatness: he will order the blacksmith to make a man with a chest as large as a tunnel and a sky light in the head to illumine his interior. But the carpenter understands nothing. And that is for Ahab another insult. Here he is, "proud as a Greek god," yet needing this blockhead carpenter to give him the means of standing upright like any other man. Ahab wants to be completely self-reliant, yet can't be. And as we see all his intelligence thwarted this way, we may be hard-pressed not to feel a bit of sympathy for him. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 109: AHAB AND STARBUCK IN THE CABIN The casks of oil (which you'll remember from the chapter, "Stowing Down and Cleaning Up") have sprung a leak, and Starbuck goes to Ahab's cabin to report the bad news. He finds Ahab studying charts of the western Pacific. Starbuck recommends that the ship halt for some days so that the leak can be found, the hold pumped out, and the barrels repaired. Ahab is aghast. Nothing can be allowed to delay the search for Moby-Dick. When Starbuck reminds the captain that the Pequod's owners will not look kindly on the waste of the valuable oil, Ahab responds that he is the only true owner of the ship. Then, seizing a musket, he points it at the amazed first mate. Starbuck manages to quell his anger and offers Ahab advice: Ahab should not worry about Starbuck, but about Ahab. Ahab ponders Starbuck's warning, and admits it contains much truth. He apologizes to his first mate, agrees to repair the casks. Does this moment of honesty and humility show that Ahab even at this late date still "has his humanities"? Or is it just a trick intended to fool Starbuck? Ishmael doesn't know. What do you think? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 110: QUEEQUEG IN HIS COFFIN The crew searches deeper and deeper in the slimy depths of the Pequod for the leaking casks. The wet chill of the hold nearly proves fatal to Queequeg; he catches a fever and wastes away until there is little left but bones and tattoos, though his eyes remain bright symbols of his healthy soul. The dying Queequeg makes a strange request: he wants a canoe-shaped coffin so that like his Polynesian ancestors he can sail after death into the Pacific. The carpenter measures Queequeg then displays the finished product to the sick man for final inspection. Queequeg takes his harpoon, a paddle, his idol Yojo, and other items, and lies in the coffin while Pip delivers a mad tribute to his bravery. After all this preparation, Queequeg recovers. He remembered a minor duty ashore, he tells his amused shipmates, and so decided against dying. To his thinking, any man can save himself by deciding not to die; only some violent outside force, like a storm or a whale, can kill him against his will. Within days Queequeg is throwing his harpoon. The coffin he converts into a sea chest, carving it with replicas of the tattoos on his body. Those tattoos, we learn now, were placed on Queequeg by a prophet and represent a theory of the heavens and the earth, and a way of finding the truth. But because Queequeg himself can't understand what's written on him, they become another sign that the universe is an unsolvable riddle--no wonder that when Ahab looks at them he grows angry at the gods that placed them there. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 111: THE PACIFIC The Pequod sails through the Pacific, to Ishmael's eyes the most lovely and serene of all oceans. Notice, though, how the tone of the chapter changes as Ishmael moves from his own thoughts of the ocean to Ahab's. To Ahab, the Pacific is only the home of his enemy; even in his sleep he dreams of the moment when at last he will defeat Moby-Dick. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 112: THE BLACKSMITH After finishing work on Ahab's leg, Perth, the soot-covered old blacksmith, doesn't move his forge back into the hold but keeps it on deck in readiness for the work required as the ship moves into prime whaling grounds. Perth toils away as if "the heavy beating of his hammer [were] the heavy beating of his heart," for he has suffered much in his life. Once a skilled craftsman with a lovely young wife and three children, he saw his life destroyed by alcoholism--the evil thief Melville calls "the bottle conjurer." After the loss of his business, the resulting impoverishment, and deaths in his family, the blacksmith fled to the whaling ship, which is for him almost a death without suicide. NOTE: Melville draws many parallels between the blacksmith and the Pequod's captain. Both limp, both married women younger than themselves. Perth's fate is grim; is this a hint that Ahab's will be grim as well? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 113: THE FORGE Perth stands at the forge, and Ahab approaches him holding a small leather bag. The sparks from the forge surround the two men, making them seem like brothers in the fire. Still, Ahab says, the smith's sorrows are nothing compared to his own; for the blacksmith to know true woe he would have to go mad, as Ahab has. There's something genuinely moving and pathetic about Ahab as he asks if Perth could smooth out the brow that has been wrinkled by his obsession with Moby-Dick. But the smith answers that those seams are the one thing he can't repair. Ahab orders Perth to make a harpoon from the nailstubs of racing horses' steel shoes--the strongest material blacksmiths ever work with. Before Perth can finish, Ahab himself takes over, working in the flaming forge while the fire-worshipping, demonic Fedallah seems to give a curse or a blessing on the effort. Next come the harpoon's barbs, made from Ahab's own razors. And at last the weapon is ready to be tempered--made stronger by sudden cooling. Most metal is tempered in water, but Ahab's harpoon will be tempered in pagan blood. He orders the three harpooners to cut themselves for him. "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" howls Ahab blasphemously. "I baptize you not in the name of the father but in the name of the devil." Ahab takes the weapon and returns to his cabin, where Pip's laughter can be heard. NOTE: A RELIGIOUS RITUAL When Ahab says he baptizes the harpoon not in the name of the father but in the name of the devil, he's calling attention to the fact that the forging of the special harpoon is a hellish parody of creation itself. The weird ceremony is further evidence that Ahab is attempting to make himself into his own God, as Lucifer attempted in his rebellion. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 114: THE GILDER The Pequod sails into Japanese whale grounds, and the crew is so busy they work 20 hours at a time. During these mild days, Ishmael says, the ocean is so lovely that "one forgets the tiger's heart that pants beneath it"--forgets that underneath the serenity lie danger and death. Even Ahab feels the calm, though for him it can never last. Ishmael, too, knows that the calm is only temporary. Life is as full of storms as of good weather; we grow from infancy to old age--and then what? Where lies the final harbor? (You'll remember that Ishmael had only "intuitions" of the heavenly.) You should compare the three views of the ocean in this chapter. Ishmael is full of appreciation of its loveliness yet bothered by doubt. The religious Starbuck sees the beauty overcoming the evil. And matter-of-fact Stubb proclaims only that he is jolly. Looking at the ocean becomes a metaphor for looking at all of life. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 115: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE BACHELOR The next ship the Pequod meets seems crowded with men like Stubb, for "jolly enough were the sights and sounds," when the Bachelor appears proudly loaded with barrels of oil, flags flying from every part of its rigging, and Polynesian girls dancing on its decks. When Ahab asks, "Hast thou seen the white whale?" the Bachelor's commander answers that he doesn't believe in him. "Fools," Ahab curses, and the two ships part. NOTE: Once again a gam with another ship sheds light on Ahab and the Pequod. The Bachelor is full of happy--and, to Ahab, shallow and foolish--people. Does Melville take Ahab's view? Perhaps--at least the Bachelor's reply that "no one" died on the voyage, merely two islanders, seems extremely callous. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 116: THE DYING WHALE The Pequod begins to enjoy good fortune, for the day after its meeting with the Bachelor four whales are killed, one by Captain Ahab. As he stands in his boat watching, the dying whale does what dying sperm whales in legend always do, turn to face the sun. Ahab identifies with the great beast he's slain, for both are fire-worshippers. (In this way, Ahab is making the whale his equal, something he would never do with any man.) After it dies, the whale slowly turns away from the sunset. This, too, has meaning for Ahab--it's a reminder that the dark power of death always overcomes the power of life. Just as he thinks woe more noble than happiness, he now says his dark faith is more proud than faith in light, in life. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 117: THE WHALE WATCH The four whales killed by the Pequod lie so far apart only three of them can be towed back to the boat before nightfall. Ahab's whale must wait until morning, and he and his crew spend the night in the boat alongside it, all of them asleep except Fedallah. Ahab wakes up. "I have dreamed it again," he says--another in a series of apparently recurring dreams about hearses and coffins. Fedallah tells the captain that death will come only in a specific way. NOTE: FEDALLAH'S PROPHECY Fedallah, who all along has seemed to possess dark powers, now joins the ranks of Moby-Dick's other prophets. He tells Ahab that Ahab will die only if he sees two hearses on the ocean, one not made by man's hand, the other made of American-grown wood; only if Fedallah dies first; and only by hemp. Fedallah's prophecy seems so unlikely to be fulfilled that Ahab is reassured. Hearses do not sail the seas, and they are always man-made; death by hemp can only mean being hanged on a gallows, an unlikely fate for Ahab. Many critics have noted the similarities between Fedallah's prophecies and the equally unlikely-sounding ones given to Shakespeare's Macbeth, and suggest that this may be another way in which Melville tries to show the tragic stature of his hero. Whether you agree or not, you'll want to keep the prophecies in mind at the end of the book. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 118: THE QUADRANT Summer, the season when sperm whales congregate on the Line of the Pacific (where Ahab hopes to find Moby-Dick) is approaching. Ahab stands on the deck of the Pequod pointing his quadrant towards the sun to determine the ship's longitude and latitude. Like the fire-worshipper he is, Fedallah kneels beneath him, facing the brilliant sun. Ahab finds the ship's position, yet grows irritated. The sun can only tell him where he is now; it can't predict the future; worst of all, it can't tell him the location of Moby-Dick. In rage he turns against the quadrant "Cursed be all things that cast man's eyes aloft to heaven," he cries, and he throws the instrument down to the deck to smash it. NOTE: AHAB AND THE QUADRANT Ahab's destruction of the quadrant shows how little he cares about the commercial success of the voyage or the survival of his crew. He's being decidedly impractical in smashing a navigational device. It also shows how estranged Ahab is from God, that he can bear nothing that draws his or anyone's eyes to heaven. Ahab smashes the quadrant because, in a sense, he doesn't want to know his place--for it would be lower than God's. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 119: THE CANDLES The warm Japanese sea is the breeding ground for the deadliest storm sailors encounter, the typhoon. And now the Pequod is caught in the middle of such a storm. The sky roars with thunder and blazes with lightning; the ship's sails are torn to rags by the force of the wind. As Stubb and Starbuck look on, Ahab's boat is crushed by an enormous wave. Despite the storm, Stubb tries hard to be his usual jolly self, but Starbuck is grim, Ahab is once again courting disaster, steering straight into the storm because Moby-Dick lies in that direction. The same terrible winds that are tearing the ship apart could be used to send it safely back to Nantucket, if only Ahab would abandon his chase. "Who's there?" Starbuck cries. "Old Thunder," answers Ahab. By using his nickname, Ahab reminds us of his link with thunder and lightning, a link that will grow even stronger in this intensely dramatic chapter. Starbuck wants to order lightning rods made ready so the electricity will be conducted safely to the sea; Ahab refuses to let him. And now the masts glow with an eerie energy that terrifies even Stubb. "The corposants have mercy on us all," he cries. (Corposant is a mariner's name for the lightning more often called Saint Elmo's fire.) Fedallah kneels to worship the glow. Now you learn that Ishmael was correct when he said Ahab's scar made him look like something struck by lightning; Ahab received the mark when, like Fedallah, he was worshipping lightning. Now Ahab tempts the elements, standing with one foot on the kneeling Fedallah to shout at the storm. The lightning will not be kind to those who worship it reverently, he proclaims; it is better to die defiant than loving. Such is Ahab's Promethean attitude. NOTE: AHAB AND THE LIGHTNING Ahab's shouts to the lightning make it clear he considers himself the equal of any force in the universe--lightning, God, Fate, all of the things that the whale, Moby-Dick, represents. In this parody of a religious service, Ahab rejects the idea of obedience to anything but his own will, and defies the universe. On the crushed boat, Ahab's harpoon glows with its own strange flame. "God is against thee, old man," Starbuck says. The crew seems ready to turn against their captain. Yet Ahab, with his great power of personality, regains control. The crewmen have sworn an oath; he will keep them to it. They run from him in fear. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 122: MIDNIGHT ALOFT--THUNDER AND LIGHTNING As the typhoon continues, Starbuck warns Ahab that the sails must be taken down, but Ahab refuses. They will lash everything tight to the deck and fight the storm bravely. While Stubb and Flask follow Ahab's orders, Stubb claims that despite the fear he showed during the lightning storm, he always knew their situation wasn't that dangerous. Even though Ahab seemed to be tempting the lightning, it was never likely that the lightning would strike him. Stubb seems anxious to regain his jolly view of the world. Later that night we hear another crewman insensitive to whatever dangers Ahab and the storm represent. Tashtego wants to forget the thunder and drink a glass of rum. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 123: THE MUSKET The typhoon has lost enough of its strength for Starbuck and Stubb to replace the torn sails with new ones; the Pequod's course by the compass is east-south-east; the wind is strong and fair; and the crew sings that all the bad omens seen during the storm have proven wrong. Starbuck, though, remains disturbed. The new, fair wind will force them to continue Ahab's mad hunt. He goes to notify the captain of the change in weather, but stands in the cabin silently for a few moments. Before him is a rack of loaded muskets, one of them the weapon that Ahab threatened him with. Starbuck reaches for it. The fair wind he's come to report, he knows, will bring only death and destruction to the crew. Ahab is mad: shall he be allowed to drag thirty men to death with him? If Starbuck does not shoot him, Starbuck will never survive to see his wife and child again. "Shall I? Shall I?" he asks himself. But at last he puts the musket back in its rack. NOTE: STARBUCK For chapters now we've seen that Starbuck is, with Queequeg, perhaps the noblest member of the crew, and the man with the best chance to successfully stand up against Ahab. Yet remember what Ishmael said about him: Starbuck's courage could withstand "winds or whales or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world," but not the worse horrors which come from "an enraged and mighty man." Clearly, the first mate has met that man in Captain Ahab. He knows that Ahab's survival means doom for everyone, yet is unable to kill his captain. Is this morality or weakness? ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 124: THE NEEDLE At the height of the typhoon we saw the needle of the ship's compass spin round wildly. But afterwards the compass seemed to repair itself. The next morning Ahab notices the sun shining brightly behind them, while the steersman insists they're heading east-south-east. Ahab is enraged--if they were sailing east, the sun would be ahead of them, not behind. Yet the compass shows an easterly course. Before the ominous news can disturb the crew, Ahab makes a joke of it: the typhoon has turned the compass, an accident that can occur during an electrical storm. NOTE: THE COMPASS Ahab has received another warning. Even the compasses, symbols of order and direction, are attempting to force the Pequod to sail away from Ahab's chosen destination. Do you think the universe is seeking to thwart Ahab or to protect him from himself? Compasses once turned are forever useless, so Ahab decides to impress his crew by constructing a new compass, acting almost like a magician as he makes one out of a lance, a needle, and thread. Once again he's proven that he's master of the universe, "lord of the level lodestone." The ignorant, superstitious crew believes in him, though not happily. "In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph you saw then Ahab in all his fatal pride." ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 125: THE LOG AND LINE Some ships use a more primitive method of determining their speed and direction, the log and line. The Pequod has neglected its log and line in favor of compass and quadrant. But Ahab, remembering his vow to steer "by dead recking and log and line," orders the device to be used. Two seamen prepare to throw the line into the water behind the ship. But the Manxman warns that the wood and rope have been so neglected during the voyage they will break. And he's correct. NOTE: ANOTHER WARNING Ahab has smashed his quadrant and seen his compass made worthless. Now another means of determining location (and so of continuing the quest for Moby-Dick) has been ruined. Clearly this is a warning to Ahab--but another one that he refuses to follow. He orders a new log and line made. As the men are hauling in the broken line, Ahab sees Pip approaching. When the old Manxman pushes the boy aside, Ahab grows angry. "Hands off that holiness," Ahab says. NOTE: AHAB AND PIP Here we see that Ahab still possesses human feelings. He's genuinely touched by Pip, understanding that Pip's madness somehow connects the boy to God. He announces that Pip will stay in Ahab's cabin from now on. Many critics have compared the bond between Pip and Ahab to that between the Fool and Lear in Shakespeare's King Lear: both Pip and the Fool have a madness that contains much wisdom; both Ahab and Lear are touched by these madmen and allow them liberties they would never allow any other person; and both Ahab and Lear ignore the wise advice of these madmen till they themselves go mad. Notice, though, that even in this generous moment, Ahab takes pains to blame God and the universe (not Stubb) for Pip's plight. The gods are supposed to be good, yet they've abandoned the poor boy; men are supposed to be evil, yet here is Pip, full of goodness and love. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 127: THE DECK The Pequod steers a lonely path toward the Equator, and the ocean's calm seems like the calm before a storm. Early in the morning Flask is startled by an unearthly cry, which the Manxman interprets as the cry of newly drowned sailors. Shortly after sunrise one of the crew climbs to the masthead to begin his watch. Suddenly what Ishmael feared would happen to him happens to the sailor. He falls into the sea. The life-buoy is thrown to him, but the sailor doesn't rise to grasp it, and the life-buoy is so old that it sinks, too. Ishmael notes that some people would see in the death a warning: "the first man to look out for the White Whale on the White Whale's own grounds has died." But the crew is relieved, because they believe this was the death foretold by the strange cries of the night before. When no cask light enough to make a replacement life-buoy can be found, Queequeg offers his unused coffin. The carpenter grumpily makes the necessary alterations, annoyed that Queequeg didn't die and use the carpenter's work for its intended purpose. As the carpenter works, Ahab comes out of his cabin to watch. He wittily calls the carpenter "unprincipaled as the gods, and as much of a jack of all trades" because the carpenter deals both with life (Ahab's leg) and death (the coffin). But the carpenter doesn't understand the joke, or any of Ahab's other remarks. Disgusted, Ahab shouts at the workman, then ponders the meaning of a coffin converted to a life-buoy. NOTE: From the opening pages of Moby-Dick, we've seen coffins used as ominous symbols of death, but throughout the book, symbols are ambiguous. Here a symbol of death is made into a symbol of life. You'll see the coffin play an important role at the end of the book. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 128: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE RACHEL As a large ship, the Rachel, bears down on the Pequod, something about it indicates bad news to the superstitious Manxman. Ahab asks his question: "Hast seen White Whale?" "Yes," the answer is, followed by another question: "Have ye seen a whale-boat?" The Rachel's captain climbs aboard the Pequod. Ahab, fearful that the Rachel may have killed Moby-Dick before he gets his chance, learns instead that while chasing the whale one of the Rachel's boats was lost. For a full day the ship has been searching for its missing craft. The Rachel's Captain Gardiner asks Ahab to join the search, for Gardiner's own twelve-year-old son is aboard the missing boat. But Ahab is deaf to the captain's pleas, and orders the Pequod to sail on. NOTE: THE RACHEL "She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not." Melville ends the chapter with a reference to the biblical mother of the Jewish people. The themes of isolation and loss are brought up as they were at the start of the book. We'll see them again, along with the Rachel itself, at the novel's end. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 129: THE CABIN Ahab is leaving his cabin to go up on deck when Pip takes his hand to follow. Ahab tells him to remain behind. His human sympathies for the boy may cause him to lose his inhuman obsession with Moby-Dick, and Ahab now loves his madness too much to want that. When Pip begins to weep, Ahab tries to smother his own feelings of sympathy with anger: "Weep so and I will murder thee." He leaves Pip to talk madly to himself. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 130: THE HAT The Rachel's news that it encountered Moby-Dick only a day before has added new fire to Ahab's obsession. He paces the deck day and night, taking his meals there, never seeming to sleep. His grim determination has infected the rest of the crew as well. Only Fedallah seems immune to Ahab, though in some strange way he seems at the same time to be Ahab's slave. When four days go by without sight of the whale, Ahab decides that Moby-Dick will never be found by a Christian watcher, only by a pagan or by Ahab himself. He raises himself to the masthead by means of a special line, ordering Starbuck to see that the line remains secure. Does Ahab think that despite Starbuck's rebellion, the first mate is the most trustworthy of all the crew? Or does he wish to force Starbuck to commit himself to the hunt for the White Whale? As Ahab stands in his perch, a screaming sea hawk flies away with his hat and drops it into the ocean: clearly another bad omen, yet another omen that Ahab ignores. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 131: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE DELIGHT The Pequod's last meeting with another ship is with the "miserably misnamed" Delight, which carries a whaleboat newly shattered by Moby-Dick. "The harpoon is not yet forged that will kill the whale," the Delight's captain says, and when Ahab presents his blood tempered harpoon, he only warns "God keep thee, old man." The whale has killed five of his men, and the body of only one was recovered and given a proper burial. The burial service resumes with the words "may the resurrection and the life-" but Ahab interrupts with orders to sail on. He wants no part of resurrection, or of life. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 132: THE SYMPHONY The next day dawns with sky so blue that it can hardly be distinguished from the ocean; the sun is like a bright bride to the ocean's groom. Even Ahab is moved enough by this beauty to shed a tear for it. Starbuck, sensing the captain's mood, goes to talk with Ahab. Ahab reminisces about his solitary years of whaling and about his wife and child whom he has hardly seen. Out of a genuine concern to keep Starbuck safe, he tells the first mate to remain on the Pequod when Ahab lowers for Moby-Dick. Starbuck, moved by the captain's humanity, begs him to give up the chase so they can return to their families in Nantucket. Even as he describes the joys of a wife and a child, however, Ahab's bitterness is regaining its power. Something within Ahab is forcing him to continue his quest. What is it? God or Ahab himself? Fate or the Devil? Starbuck, discouraged, leaves, and Ahab abandons the sanity Starbuck represents by going over to talk with a symbol of his madness, Fedallah. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 133: THE CHASE--FIRST DAY That night Ahab senses a sperm whale is near, and the next morning he orders the three harpooners to the mastheads. When they see nothing, he climbs to his own perch. There, at last he spies "a hump like a snow hill." It is Moby-Dick. The boats are lowered, Starbuck remaining as promised on the Pequod. As the whaleboats approach the great beast he seems gentle and unsuspecting, lovely, and mighty as Jove. But when he sounds--disappears into the water--his gaping, terrifying mouth becomes visible. Moby-Dick resurfaces almost directly under Ahab's boat, all cruel teeth and malicious intelligence. The whaleboat shatters as the whale bites through it, his jaw reaching within six inches of Ahab's head. Ahab, in a combination of madness and bravery, fights with his bare hands to save the boat, but falls from the shattered craft into the ocean. Moby-Dick swims furiously around the wreckage, seemingly readying himself for a final attack, but the Pequod drives him away. Yet Ahab is undaunted; as soon as he's taken on board ship, he orders it to continue the chase until nightfall. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 134: THE CHASE--SECOND DAY By the second day of the quest, all the crew share some of Ahab's determination to kill the whale, their fears swept aside by their awe of Ahab. Moby-Dick breaches--leaps almost perpendicular into the air. This time the battle begins at once. Stubb's, Flask's, and Ahab's boats are soon dangerously tangled in harpoon lines, with loose harpoons and lances flying around the crews' heads. Stubb's and Flask's boats smash against each other, and Moby-Dick dashes his forehead against Ahab's boat, knocking it sideways and shattering Ahab's ivory leg. Then the whale vanishes. The Pequod rescues the men from the shattered boats. As they gather on deck Stubb notices that one man is not with them: Fedallah. Stubb thought he saw the Parsee caught in the tangle of line and dragged under the water. Starbuck insists to Ahab that to continue the chase is madness, but, though Ahab feels sympathy for the first mate, he refuses to stop. He has no choice, he says; from the beginning of time this was his fate. He still expects victory tomorrow, though Fedallah's disappearance is ominous: the Parsee's death was one of the preconditions for Ahab's own. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: CHAPTER 135: THE CHASE--THIRD DAY The third day dawns so fair it might seem to some a newmade world, but not to Ahab. From his perch on the mast-head he takes a long look at the sea as if it might be his last. Starbuck begs him once again to halt the chase, but for the third time Ahab says, "Lower away." As a final warning, his boat is surrounded by sharks, sharks that feed on the dead. Yet Ahab speeds confidently on. Suddenly, Moby-Dick rises to the surface. Maddened by the harpoons already in him, he smashes Flask's and Stubb's boats. And when he turns around, he displays, lashed to his side, the body of Fedallah. NOTE: FEDALLAH'S PROPHECIES Two of the conditions for Ahab's death have now been met. Fedallah has died, and Ahab has seen a sea-going hearse not made by man: the whale itself. Two more remain unfulfilled: that Ahab see another hearse made of American wood, and that Ahab die by hemp. Stubb and Flask and their crew have returned to the Pequod, leaving Ahab's boat to fight the whale alone. Out of tiredness, or perhaps out of malicious deceit, the whale seems to slow down to allow Ahab's boat to catch up with it. Ahab is about to throw his harpoon when the whale writhes sideways, tipping the boat. Two oarsmen are knocked to the gunwhales and a third is thrown into the sea. Then Moby-Dick sees the Pequod. And instead of turning to continue its fight with Ahab, it advances toward the ship. Stubb and Starbuck see the whale swimming mightily towards them. Starbuck wonders if his lifetime of goodness and piety has brought him only to this cruel end. Stubb realizes his jolliness will not help him as the whale smashes his enormous head vengefully against the ship's bow. NOTE: THE MATES The mates retain their personalities to the very end, and their different ways of looking at life. Starbuck asks if after a lifetime of conventional piety he must still meet death at the hands of the whale. Stubb hopes he will be remembered as a jolly fellow. And the materialistic Flask can only hope that his mother has collected part of his pay. Melville seems to be saying that against the mightiest forces of nature no ordinary philosophy is enough. Ahab now sees the second hearse, made of American wood: the Pequod. He's cut off even from the "last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains," that of going down with his ship. His hate unceasing, he throws a harpoon at the whale; it stabs Moby-Dick, but the line tangles and catches Ahab around the neck, and, in fulfillment of Fedallah's prophecy, pulls him, strangled, into the water. The topmost masts of the Pequod, with the harpooners still watching from the mast-heads, disappear beneath the waves. The sinking ship has become the center of a whirlpool that is carrying every bit of wreckage, every human life into the depths. As Tashtego defiantly nails Captain Ahab's flag to the masthead, a hawk lands there and is pulled down with the ship, a bit of heaven dragged into hell. And the sea rolls on unchanging. NOTE: AHAB'S DEATH This last chapter shows us both the madness and the glory of Ahab. Hatred has taken him completely over, yet there is a nobility in that hatred, and a greatness in his defiance. He is destroyed, but not conquered. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: EPILOGUE Ishmael explains how he survives to tell the story. After Fedallah's disappearance he is moved into Ahab's boat, and fate further ordains that he be the man tossed out when Moby-Dick smashes against the craft. Drawn more slowly into the whirlpool than were the rest of the victims, he is saved when Queequeg's coffin-turned-life-buoy shoots up from the sinking Pequod. He clings to the coffin for nearly a day. The sharks for some reason don't bite him, and the sea hawks don't attack. The Rachel, still searching for its lost boat, finds him, "another orphan." NOTE: In this somber postscript, Melville repeats a number of the questions that run through the book: Is the universe good? Evil? Is it possible to know? The question is raised by the quotation, "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee," which comes from the Book of Job in the Bible. Pious Job was tormented by God as a test of faith, losing his livelihood, his health, his family. Job's faith endured, and God rewarded him with a new life. Yet to some readers of the story, the God of Job is an awful God, one deserving defiance not respect. Is this quotation a signal that Melville feels Ahab is essentially correct--that Moby-Dick is an evil representative of a universe fully as evil? Perhaps. If so, the last word of the novel, "orphan," can be taken to mean that Ishmael, too, has lost whatever faith he possessed at points in the novel, and is once again as alone as he was at the book's beginning. But some readers take another view. The fact that Ishmael survives, and survives using Queequeg's coffin, is for them a sign of Melville's belief that, although the world can be cruel, in brotherhood with one or two other people we can find salvation. Perhaps there even is a force for good in the universe, for the sharks glide by Ishmael as if they have padlocks on their mouths. Or perhaps the mixture of beauty and ugliness, cruelty and generosity, life and death, that we see in the epilogue as we see in the rest of Moby-Dick, is a sign that the universe will be forever a mystery to man. ^^^^^^^^^^ MOBY-DICK: GLOSSARY AMBERGRIS A grayish, waxy substance secreted in the whale's intestine and highly valued for use in the production of perfume. BREACH The whale's spectacular, near-vertical leap out of the water into the air. BRIT A yellowish substance (probably tiny crustaceans) favored as food by the right whale. CETOLOGY The scientific study of whales. CUTTING-IN The initial butchering of a whale. DEAD RECKONING A system of determining a ship's location without the use of instruments other than a compass. DRUGGS Wooden blocks tied to the whale-line to tire a fleeing whale. FAST-FISH A whale held "fast" to the boat that harpoons it, and by whaling custom the property of that boat. FORECASTLE The compartment where common sailors sleep, in the bow of the ship. GAM A meeting between two whaling ships to exchange news and mail. IRON A harpoon; generally each harpooner carries a first and second iron. JONAH In the Old Testament book, the son of Amitai who disobeyed God's orders to preach to Ninevah and was punished by being swallowed up by a great whale; the subject of Father Mapple's sermon. LARBOARD The left or port side of a ship. LAY A percentage of the profits of a whaling voyage; Ishmael is signed on for the 300th lay, or 1/300th of the profits of the Pequod's voyage. LEEWARD The side of a ship away from the direction the wind blows from. LEVIATHAN An enormous sea-beast mentioned in the Bible, often assumed to be a whale and used by Ishmael to mean a whale. LOG AND LINE A rope and wood device which, when dragged behind a ship, can aid in determining the ship's location and speed. LOOSE-FISH A harpooned fish that has broken free of a line and is fair game for other ships. PARSEE A follower of the religion of Zoroastrianism. Fedallah is a Parsee. PARMACETI A sperm whale. PEQUOD A Massachusetts Indian tribe, exterminated by the Puritans; Ahab's ship is named for them. PITCHPOLE A light whale lance that can be hurled long distances. QUARTERDECK The upper part of the deck behind the mainmast. RAMADAN The Muslim month of fasting, used by Ishmael to mean Queequeg's day of fasting. SKRIMSHANDER Intricate carvings made by whalemen from whale bone, also called scrimshaw. SOUND The whale's dramatic, near-vertical plunge from the ocean surface into its depths. SPERMACETI The Sperm whale's oil, valuable as a lubricant and for lighting. STARBOARD The right side of a ship. TRY-WORKS A brick oven on board a whaling ship, used to melt whale blubber into oil. YOJO The small black wooden idol worshipped by Queequeg. In the end, as one reflects on the book, one is aware that one must reckon with the most comprehensive of all its qualities, the quality that can only be called mythic.... Like a truly myth-making poet's, Melville's imagination was obsessed by the spectacle of a natural human scene in which the instinctive need for order and meaning seems mainly to be confronted by meaninglessness and disorder; in which the human will seems sometimes to be sustained but oftener to be thwarted by the forces of physical nature, and even by agencies that lie behind it; in which goodness and evil, beneficence and destructiveness, light and darkness, seem bafflingly intermixed. -Newton Arvin, Herman Melville, 1950 Queequeg's love redeems Ishmael from the fatal isolation which has led him to choose Ahab's ship for his journey away from his self. He must lose himself to find himself. His love for Queequeg makes this possible, and qualifies Ishmael alone of Ahab's oath-bound crew, to dissever the bonds of hatred and vengeance and so qualify for survival from the annihilation that Ahab willed for all the rest. -Daniel Hoffman, Form and Fable in American Fiction, 1961 Ahab... is a hero; we cannot insist enough on that. Melville believed in the heroic and he specifically wanted to cast his hero on American lines--someone noble by nature, not by birth, who would have 'not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture.' Ahab sinned against man and God, and like his namesake in the Old Testament, becomes "a wicked king." But Ahab is not just a fanatic who leads the whole crew to their destruction; he is a hero of thought who is trying, by terrible force, to reassert man's place in nature. And it is the struggle that Ahab incarnates that makes him so magnificent a voice, thundering in Shakespearean rhetoric, storming at the gates of the inhuman, awful world. Ahab is trying to give man, in one awful, final assertion that his will does mean something, a feeling of relatedness with his world. -Alfred Kazin, Introduction to the Riverside Edition of Moby-Dick, 1950 A hunt. The last great hunt. For what? For Moby-Dick, the huge white sperm whale: who is hoary, monstrous and swims alone; who is unspeakably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow-white. Of course he is a symbol. Of what? I doubt that even Melville knew exactly. That's the best of it. -D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 1927 Melville did not achieve in Moby-Dick a Paradise Lost or a Faust. The search for the meaning of life that could be symbolized through the struggle between Ahab and the White Whale was neither so lucid nor so universal. But he did apprehend therein the tragedy of extreme individualism, the disasters of the selfish will, the agony of a spirit so walled in within itself that it seemed cut off from any possibility of salvation. -F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance, 1941 As Ahab in his whaleboat watches the Pequod founder under the attack of the whale, he realizes that all is lost. He faces his "lonely death on lonely life," denied even "the last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains," the privilege of going down with his ship. But here, at the nadir of his fortunes, he sees that in his greatest suffering lies his greatest glory. He dies spitting hate at the whale, but he does not die cynically or in bitterness. The whale conquers--but is "unconquering." The "god bullied hull" goes down "death glorious." What Ahab feels is not joy or serenity or goodness at the heart of things. But with his sense of elation, even triumph, at having persevered to the end, there is also a note of reconciliation: "Oh now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief." This is not reconciliation with the whale, or with the malice in the universe, but it is a reconciliation of Ahab with Ahab. Whatever justice, order, or equivalence there is, he has found not in the universe but in himself.... In finally coming to terms with existence (though too late), he is tragic man; to the extent that he transcends it, finds "greatness" in suffering, he is tragic hero. -Richard B. Sewall, The Vision of Tragedy, 1959 THE END