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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 124: The Needle Summary

  • In the morning, the sea is still a little choppy as Ahab stands on the deck, imagining that the ship is "the sea-chariot of the sun" (124.3)—because of the direction the Pequod is headed, it looks like the ship is pulling the sun along behind it.
  • Suddenly, Ahab realizes what this means: the ship is headed west instead of east.
  • Starbuck and Ahab examine the compasses, which suggest that the ship is going east as it’s supposed to. The magnetism of the compass needles has been disturbed by the storm.
  • Ahab determines that the compasses have been exactly reversed, something not unheard of on long sea voyages, and orders the ship to turn around.
  • Ahab makes a new needle for one of the compasses by magnetizing one of the needles used for sewing the sails.

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