by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table Summary
- We return to your regularly-scheduled plot. It’s noon on board ship and Ahab has been using the sun to measure the ship’s position.
- Dough-Boy, the steward, announces that it’s time for dinner (the large mid-day meal, basically a big lunch).
- Ahab waits for a little bit, announces dinner to Starbuck, and heads into the cabin.
- Starbuck waits for Ahab to sit down, announces dinner to Stubb, and heads into the cabin.
- Stubb waits for Starbuck to sit down, announces dinner to Flask, and heads into the cabin.
- (It’s a comedy routine waiting to happen.)
- Flask silently does a silly dance in front of the sailors as he heads into the cabin, but the narrator somehow knows that, before the other mates and the captain catch him in his dancing, he’s changed his posture into a slavish bow.
- The narrator describes that officers who are bold on deck will generally be submissive at dinner with the captain. He thinks it’s a combination of the captain’s authority on board ship and the host’s authority at the dinner table.
- Ahab presiding at his table is like a sea-lion with its cubs. He carves the meat and serves each mate silently.
- Ahab’s never announced a rule that the officers can’t talk or help themselves, but they still don’t, and the whole meal happens without a word spoken.
- These meals are worst for Flask: he doesn’t get enough or anything very nice to eat, partly because he feels like he can’t help himself, partly because he has to come in last and leave first. Flask admits in private that he’s been hungry ever since he became an officer, and that he wishes he could be an ordinary sailor again so that he could eat a normal meal.
- After the captain and three mates eat, the harpooneers get to have their dinner at the cabin-table. Their meal is much livelier: even their chewing is loud, they eat huge amounts, and Tashtego throws a fork like a harpoon at Dough-Boy if he doesn’t work fast enough to keep them fed.
- Between the silent, sinister Ahab and the harpooneers who keep threatening to scalp him, Dough-Boy leads a pretty anxious life.
- The harpooneers supposedly live in the cabin with the captain and mates, but in reality they just enter it to eat or sleep a little, and spend most of their time outside it.
- Ahab mostly keeps the cabin to himself, but he’s not very pleasant company, so it doesn’t matter much.
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