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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 58: Brit Summary

  • The Pequod, continuing its voyage, comes across large meadows of "brit," yellow clusters of little crustaceans on which the right whale feeds.
  • A day later, they see several right whales, which are swimming slowly through the brit with their mouths open. The pod of whales ignores the Pequod, which only hunts sperm whales.
  • Ishmael watches the right whales cutting blue paths through the yellow brit like mowers. They look like rocks to him, these massive black creatures that you can hardly believe are alive.
  • Ishmael denies that any claim that all land animals have sea counterparts; he argues that people feel completely different about ocean life than they do about animals on land. There’s nothing in the ocean as friendly as a dog, for example.
  • Even though the awful power and strangeness of the sea will never really be overcome by human "science and skill," Ishmael says that some men have "lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea" by continually exposing themselves to it (58.6).
  • The rules of the sea are utterly different from those on land. If the earth swallows up something, it seems like a terrifying miracle, but the sea does it all the time.
  • Ishmael compares the horrifying power of the sea, surrounding the more-easily-tamable land, to [deep ominous voice] the human soul. [Cue cymbals crashing and thunder rumbling.]

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