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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters Summary

  • Ishmael describes the behavior of whales when they gather in herds. There are two types of whale "schools," divided by gender.
  • The all-female schools, which Ishmael describes as harem-schools, are often accompanied by a single, huge male, much larger than any of the females, which Ishmael calls the "Grand Turk."
  • The harem-school rambles around through different waters, and the Grand Turk protects the females from any obnoxious young male whales who think he’s going to mate with one of them.
  • Sometimes the males seem to duel for love of the females by jawing at each other.
  • The Grand Turk mates with many different females, but doesn’t care at all for his children.
  • Eventually, in extreme old age, the Grand Turk disbands the harem entirely and becomes a lone whale.
  • At this stage in the Grand Turk’s life, the fishermen don’t hunt him much, because his oil isn’t plentiful enough to make it worth the trouble.
  • The Grand Turk is also called the "schoolmaster" of the group of whales...although Ishmael thinks its’ a pretty immoral schoolmaster who’s always sleeping with the students. Where did he get this stuff?
  • The all-male schools of young whales are much more violent and hot-headed and very dangerous for whaling ships to encounter.
  • The other difference between the schools is how they behave when one of them is attacked – the males abandon their fellows to their fates, wile the females cluster so closely around an injured schoolmate that they often become victims, too.