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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 8: The Pulpit Summary

  • The chaplain, Father Mapple, enters the chapel, hangs up his wet coat, hat, and boots, and goes to the pulpit to begin the service.
  • Father Mapple, Ishmael explains to the reader, was a sailor on a whaling ship when he was younger and has become a clergyman in his old age.
  • As a result, he has a lot of interesting mannerisms that most clergymen don’t have.
  • The pulpit from which Father Mapple preaches is very high, and, instead of having a long staircase that would crowd the little chapel, it has a ladder on the side, the kind of ladder sailors use to climb up into a ship from a rowboat.
  • Father Mapple clambers up this ladder into the pulpit.
  • Just as Ishmael is thinking that it really isn’t necessary for this rope ladder to be collapsible like a real shipboard ladder, Father Mapple pulls it up after him.
  • Ishmael decides that hauling in the ladder symbolizes the clergyman’s "spiritual withdrawal [...] from all outward worldly ties" (8.4).
  • There are other seagoing touches in the chapel, too: there’s a painting hanging behind the pulpit, of a ship in a storm and an angel looking down on it from a sunny cloud. The front of the pulpit and the lectern where the Bible sits are shaped like the bow of a ship.
  • Ishmael makes this all into a (rather strained?) analogy: "the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow" (8.7).

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