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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 43: Hark! Summary

  • Ishmael seems to disappear again; all the evidence suggests that we’re immersed in third-person omniscient narration.
  • Two seamen, Cabaco and Archy, are in a line of seamen who are passing buckets of fresh water along in order to refill the scuttle-butt (cask of drinking water) from a fresh-water butt (extra barrel of water).
  • Flash History Lesson: The scuttle-butt is the water cooler of the nineteenth-century sailing ship. Like the water cooler, the scuttle-butt is a place everyone gathers to have a drink and a chat. As a result, "scuttlebutt" has come to mean "rumors" or "gossip." Some people (sailing enthusiasts and nerds) still use the word with this meaning.
  • Ironically, however, because the men have to stand on the captain’s quarter deck to do this chore, everyone has to stay completely silent out of respect.
  • It’s so quiet you can hear the sail flap.
  • Archy hears a noise like a cough and whispers to Cabaco about it.
  • Cabaco doesn’t hear it and makes fun of him for thinking he’s got super-hearing.
  • Archy claims there is someone hiding in the after-hold, someone who hasn’t been seen on deck yet and who Captain Ahab knows something about.
  • Cabaco still doesn’t believe him, but we recognize a really broad hint from Melville when we see it.

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