by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle Summary
- This chapter is a full-on dramatic scene with stage directions, playbook-style dialogue—the whole thing.
- The crew of the Pequod who are on watch are standing, lying, and leaning all over the deck, singing a song about Spanish ladies. They’re an extremely multicultural bunch.
- The first Nantucket Sailor tells them not to be sentimental and changes the lovey-dovey song about girls to a whaling ballad.
- The mate’s voice (we don’t know which mate) is heard calling "eight bells" (midnight).
- The second Nantucket sailor orders Pip to strike the bell and summon the next watch, or shift, to come on duty.
- A French sailor suggests that everyone who was on this shift have a dance before they go to bed and orders Pip to get his tambourine.
- Pip doesn’t know where his tambourine is. Some of the sailors object, saying the plank floor isn’t good to dance on and that there aren’t any girls.
- The Long Island sailor is willing to dance whenever he can. The Azores Sailor brings Pip his tambourine.
- Pip plays, and some of them dance; some go to bed below decks; some sleep where they are.
- Tashtego is off to the side smoking. He thinks the white men are silly for wasting their energy.
- The Old Manx sailor wonders if these young men ever think about the fact that they’re dancing over other sailors’ ocean graves, but he figures they might as well dance anyway.
- The crew exhausts themselves and stop dancing. The wind picks up.
- The Maltese sailor thinks the waves heave like the bosom of a woman. This theme finds an appreciative audience, to say the least, and eventually they’re talking about Tahitian dancing girls.
- The storm gets worse and the ship is making all sorts of alarming cracking noises, but as long as it’s flexible and has a little give to it, the sailors know it will hold together.
- Ahab’s orders are apparently to steer right into a storm to pass through it.
- The Old Manx sailor sees bad omens everywhere and points out a strange bright mark in the sky that looks like Ahab’s birthmark; everything else is black.
- This leads to some racist comments from the Spanish sailor.
- Daggoo, understandably, is offended and they begin fighting with knives.
- Tashtego points out that gods and men are both brawling—the gods with the storm and the Spanish sailor and Daggoo with their knives.
- One of the mates orders everyone to reef, or tie down, the topsails and the sailors all abandon the fight in order to keep the ship afloat amidst the storm.
- The little black tambourine-playing boy Pip is left alone, trying to find shelter from the storm under the windlass (a mechanism for hauling heavy weights), worrying about the ocean’s white squalls and the white whale and praying to the white God to keep him safe.
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