Study Guide

Moby-Dick Summary

By Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Summary

Our intrepid narrator, a former schoolteacher famously "called" Ishmael—is that actually his name?— signs up as sailor on a whaling voyage to cure a bout of depression/being a misanthropic dirtbag. On his way to find a ship in Nantucket, he meets Queequeg, a heavily tattooed South Sea Island harpooneer just returned from his latest whaling trip. Ishmael and Queequeg become best buds and roommates almost immediately. Together, they sign up for a voyage on the Pequod, which is just about to start on a three-year expedition to hunt sperm whales.

On board the Pequod, Ishmael meets the mates—honest Starbuck, jolly Stubb, and fierce Flask—and the other harpooneers, Tashtego and Daggoo. The ship’s commander, Captain Ahab, remains secluded in his cabin and never shows himself to the crew. Uh, that's ominous. Oh well. The mates organize the beginning of the voyage as though there were no captain.

Just when Ishmael’s curiosity about Ahab has reached a fever pitch, Ahab starts appearing on deck—and we find out that he’s missing one leg. When Starbuck asks if it was Moby Dick, the famous White Whale, that took off his leg, Ahab admits that it was and forces the entire crew to swear that they will help him hunt Moby Dick to the ends of the earth and take revenge for his injury. They all swear.

After this strange incident, things settle into a routine on board the good ship Pequod. While they’re always on the lookout for Moby Dick, the crew has a job to do: hunting sperm whales, butchering them, and harvesting the sperm oil that they store in huge barrels in the hold.

Ishmael takes advantage of this lull in plot advancement to give the reader lots (lots) of contemporary background information about whale biology, the whaling industry, and sea voyages. The Pequod encounters other ships, which tell them the latest news about the White Whale. Oh yeah, and everyone discovers that Ahab has secretly smuggled an extra boat crew on board (led by a mysterious, demonic harpooneer named Fedallah) to help Ahab do battle with Moby Dick once they do find him.

Over the course of more than a year, the ship travels across the Atlantic, around the southern tip of Africa, through the Indian Ocean, among the islands of southeast Asia, into the Sea of Japan, and finally to the equator in the Pacific Ocean: Moby Dick’s home turf.

Despite first mate Starbuck’s misgivings and a variety of bad omens (all the navigational instruments break, a typhoon tries to push the ship backwards, and the Pequod encounters other ships that have lost crewmembers to Moby Dick’s wrath), Ahab insists on continuing to pursue his single-minded revenge quest. In a parody of the Christian ceremony of baptism, he goes so far as to dip his specially forged harpoon in human blood—just so that he’ll have the perfect weapon with which to kill Moby Dick.

Finally, just when we think the novel’s going to end without ever seeing this famous White Whale, Ahab sights him and the chase is on. For three days, Ahab pursues Moby Dick, sending whaling boat after whaling boat after him—only to see each one wrecked by the indomitable whale. Finally, at the end of the third day, the White Whale attacks the ship itself, and the Pequod goes down with all hands.

Even while his ship is sinking, Ahab, in his whaling boat, throws his harpoon at Moby Dick one last time. He misses, catching himself around the neck with the rope and causing his own drowning/strangling death.

The only survivor of the destruction is Ishmael, who lives to tell the tale because he’s clinging to the coffin built for his pal Queequeg when the harpooneer seemed likely to die of a fever.

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  • Chapter 1: Loomings

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    • The narrator introduces himself to the reader with one of the most famous first lines in literature: "Call me Ishmael."
    • He begins his story "some years ago," at one particular moment when he decided to go on a sailing voyage.
    • Ishmael explains that, whenever he feels depressed and suicidal, he always goes to sea.
    • Ishmael claims that most people and most cultures around the world have a special attraction to water in general and the sea in particular.
    • In Manhattan, he tells us, people crowd around the wharves, looking out at the sea and trying to get as close to it as possible. Niagara Falls is a major tourist destination. Ancient cultures in Persia and Greece worshipped the sea. You get the idea.
    • Ishmael doesn’t want to go to sea as a passenger, because then he’d have to pay.
    • He also doesn’t want to be in an important position, such as captain or cook, because then he’d have responsibilities, and that would really get him down (which, frankly, we can totally sympathize with).
    • He just wants to be an ordinary sailor.
    • Ishmael says that being a lowly sailor and getting ordered around does take some getting used to, especially if you’ve held a powerful position before—like, say, a schoolteacher. (We get the idea Ishmael’s been a schoolteacher.)
    • However, Ishmael doesn’t mind being ordered around on board ship, because he knows that "everybody else is in one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view" (1.9). In other words, everybody’s got a boss, even if it’s just God.
    • Ishmael especially likes getting paid instead of paying (who doesn’t?), which is another motivation for being a sailor.
    • The last reason Ishmael chooses to be a sailor is that it involves exercise and fresh air.
    • Although Ishmael has explained that going to sea and being a sailor are his decisions, he also says that going whaling instead of sailing on a merchant ship is his fate.
    • Still, even though Ishmael thinks his participation in the whaling voyage is predetermined, he acknowledges that he wants to go, in part, to satisfy his genuine curiosity about these enormous, mysterious creatures we call whales.
  • Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag

    • Ishmael packs a few things into a carpetbag (carpetbags were used stereotypically by people who traveled often) and heads from Manhattan to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
    • He intends to take the ferry from here to Nantucket, but he’s too late. He’s stuck in New Bedford for the night.
    • Ishmael explains that New Bedford is becoming the new center of the whaling trade, but he’d rather sail from Nantucket, because that place has older and more prestigious connections with whaling. Ishmael’s a bit of a snob.
    • Sadly, Ishmael doesn’t have much money, so he wanders around for a long time looking for the cheapest possible place to spend the night.
    • Ishmael wanders into the poorest, most deserted streets near the water, rejecting "The Crossed Harpoons" and "The Sword-Fish Inn" as too expensive.
    • He goes into what he thinks might be a cheap inn, but it turns out to be "a n**** church" (2.6).
    • Finally Ishmael finds a place called "The Spouter Inn," run by someone unfortunately named Peter Coffin. (Bad omen? You decide.)
    • The Spouter Inn is sort of New Bedford’s version of the fleabag motel—it looks run-down, but it’ll get the job done cheaply.
    • Before Ishmael enters "The Spouter Inn," he spends a moment feeling sorry for himself and brooding about the difference between cold wind when you’re looking out of your warm house at it and cold wind when you’re standing right in the middle of it.
    • Then, he snaps himself out of this self-indulgent attitude and heads on in.
  • Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn

    • Ishmael enters the Spouter-Inn, and—symbolism alert!—the first thing he sees is a strange oil painting so old and dirty that it seems abstract.
    • Ishmael spends a long time looking at this painting trying to figure out what it depicts. (Think of it as a Rorschach Test for our intrepid protagonist.)
    • He eventually decides that it represents a ship in a storm and a whale leaping up to fling itself on the ship. Hmm, why do you think he came up with that?
    • When Ishmael looks around the rest of the inn, he sees, displayed on the walls, "a heathenish array" (3.4) of weapons, mostly harpoons and lances from whaling ships or weapons from distant countries.
    • Ishmael goes further into the inn, noticing that the low ceiling, visible beams, and plank floor almost make the inn itself seem like a ship. The doorway between the public room and the bar is decorated with a giant whale’s jawbone.
    • Ishmael heads into the bar, where, he notes, the barman is selling drinks using trick glasses that make it look like you’re getting more for your money than you really are.
    • There are several different seamen at the bar, and Ishmael finds the landlord and asks for a room.
    • Unfortunately, the inn is full, but the landlord offers to let Ishmael share a bed with a harpooner. (Sharing a bed with someone at a crowded inn was actually pretty common in this time.)
    • Ishmael hems and haws; he doesn’t really want to share a bed, but he also doesn’t want to go back out into the cold and look for somewhere else. He reluctantly agrees.
    • After a short wait, Ishmael and some other patrons of the inn have supper in another room.
    • At dinner, Ishmael learns that the harpooner with whom he’s going to share a bed isn’t there yet and is "a dark complexioned chap" (3.14), which makes him a little suspicious. Racism!
    • After supper, everyone goes back into the bar, where Ishmael waits for the harpooneer and does some casual people-watching.
    • There’s a loud, raucous noise outside. Enter a bunch of men from a ship called the Grampus (which is, incidentally, also an old name for the "orca," or killer whale—like Shamu), which has just come back from a four-year voyage to the Fiji Islands.
    • They start doing some hard-core drinking and partying while Ishmael watches.
    • Ishmael notices that one of the men is a little mellower than the others.
    • This guy (whose name, we learn, is Bulkington), is tall and broad, deeply tanned, and Southern. He slips away in the middle of the party.
    • When Bulkington’s shipmates notice, they go after him.
    • The inn quiets again. Ishmael has decided that he doesn’t want to share a bed with anyone and that he’s going to sleep on the bench at the bar.
    • The landlord takes a carpenter’s plane (a hand tool used to scrape wood until it’s flat) and tries to level out the bench a bit, but it has so many knots that he can’t really do anything with it.
    • Ishmael tells him not to bother, and the landlord leaves, grinning.
    • Ishmael realizes that the bench is too narrow and too short; he supplements it with a chair and tries to sleep using the wall to support himself, but he’s really cold and uncomfortable.
    • Ishmael considers taking the harpooneer’s room and locking him out, but rejects the idea because the guy might wait outside for him and beat him up the next day.
    • Finally Ishmael decides that sleeping with the harpooneer might be okay after all.
    • He calls the landlord and asks why the harpooneer isn’t back yet—it’s midnight at this point.
    • The landlord explains that the harpooneer isn’t back because he’s been out trying to sell his head, but can’t because the market is flooded with them, and the one he has is broken.
    • Ishmael gets angry and thinks the landlord is making fun of him by telling some weird nonsense story.
    • The landlord tries to calm Ishmael down and explains that the harpooneer had a bunch of embalmed human heads from New Zealand.
    • The harpooneer, the landlord explains, has been selling them all over town during the last week, but the last one of the bunch is cracked and he wanted to sell it by today (Saturday).
    • After all, it would be pretty bad to sell a shrunken head on the Sabbath, wouldn’t it?
    • Ishmael doesn’t really feel any better about his situation after hearing this story (a shrunken head: gulp), but he agrees to follow the landlord upstairs to the harpooneer’s bed.
    • The landlord leaves Ishmael alone in the room, and Ishmael snoops around in the harpooneer’s things a little bit—he even tries on a weird poncho made of quills.
    • Ishmael slowly undresses and eventually has to get into bed because he’s so cold.
    • He sleeps restlessly for a little bit.
    • The harpooneer comes back, carrying a lantern in one hand and, yes, an embalmed head in the other.
    • Ishmael lies still and quiet, watching the harpooneer get ready for bed.
    • He’s startled to see the harpooneer’s face, because the man is not only dark-skinned but tattooed all over.
    • When the man takes off his hat, it turns out that he’s bald (or at least has a shaved head).
    • He also has a hatchet-like weapon that Ishmael thinks of as a tomahawk.
    • Ishmael’s really afraid of the man and considers trying to sneak out. He realizes, however, that he’s mostly afraid because he doesn’t understand the guy, and stays where he is.
    • The harpooneer keeps undressing as Ishmael watches.
    • Every part of his body is covered in the same checkerboard-pattern tattoos. Ishmael seems to really enjoy watching him undress, even though he’s afraid.
    • Next, the harpooneer takes out a wooden statue, puts it above the hearth, and makes an offering of heated biscuit to the statue while singing and chanting.
    • Then he puts the statue away without much fuss.
    • Ishmael tries to speak, but can’t.
    • The man takes his "tomahawk," lights the end of it, and puts it in his mouth; apparently it’s also a pipe. Then he puts out the light and gets into bed, still smoking.
    • Ishmael yelps and rolls away from the man.
    • The harpooneer notices him and starts demanding who he is.
    • Ishmael calls for the landlord.
    • The landlord, Peter Coffin, comes and calms them both down.
    • He explains to the harpooneer, whose name is Queequeg, that the two men need to share a bed because the inn is full.
    • Queequeg is very understanding and offers Ishmael his place in the bed back.
    • Ishmael is charmed by Queequeg’s good manners and gets back in bed—on the condition that Queequeg not smoke, because it’s a fire hazard. Fair enough.
    • Queequeg agrees and they go to sleep.
  • Chapter 4: The Counterpane

    • Ishmael wakes up with Queequeg’s arm around him in bed. Awww.
    • The patchwork quilt and Queequeg’s tattooed arm blend together strangely.
    • Ishmael tells us something that happened to him when he was a child. Here’s the story:
    • Young Ishmael has done something naughty and his stepmother sends him to bed, even though it’s only two in the afternoon on the summer solstice (which is, by definition, the longest day of the year).
    • Young Ishmael lies there, thinking that he’ll have to stay in bed for another sixteen hours before he can get up again. He’s bored and feels terrible.
    • Eventually, Young Ishmael gets up and begs his stepmother to punish him in any way other than making him stay in bed. She cruelly sends him back.
    • Young Ishmael lies in bed, feeling awful. Eventually he sleeps for a bit, and then he suddenly wakes in the dark.
    • His arm is hanging down by the side of the bed, and he thinks for a moment that he feels a supernatural hand in his. He can’t move.
    • This concludes Young Ishmael’s account.
    • Old, or Present Ishmael wonders about this strange event for a long time.
    • He compares it, minus the fear, to waking up and feeling Queequeg’s arm around him.
    • Now things go from scary to slapstick: Queequeg is still asleep, his grip is really strong, and Ishmael can’t wake him up, so he’s just lying there, trapped under the man’s arm.
    • Eventually, by wriggling around and shouting, Ishmael wakes up his bedfellow.
    • Queequeg and Ishmael stare at each other for a bit.
    • Queequeg is "stiff as a pike-staff," (nudge, nudge).
    • Queequeg gets out of bed and indicates that he’ll get dressed first and then leave and let Ishmael get dressed in private.
    • Ishmael’s grateful for his politeness, but doesn’t behave with such delicacy himself: he stares at Queequeg practically without blinking while the harpooneer gets dressed.
    • Queequeg getting dressed is like one of those Sesame Street segments where they teach you how to put on your pajamas if you don’t know how: he puts his hat on first, then gets under the bed to put his boots on in private, even though he still doesn’t have his pants on.
    • Queequeg’s "civilized" enough to know that some clothes should be put on in private, but not which ones.
    • Ishmael has to beg Queequeg to put his pants on, because people in the house next door can see in through the window.
    • Queequeg washes his chest, arms, and hands, but not his face, and then shaves using his harpoon. Queequeg then "proudly marche[s] out of the room" (4.7).
  • Chapter 5: Breakfast

    • Ishmael goes down to breakfast, exchanging a few words with the landlord.
    • Ishmael knows the landlord was teasing him with sinister stories about Queequeg before, but he doesn’t hold a grudge—Ishmael likes a good laugh.
    • The inn is full of different sailors. Ishmael can tell how long they’ve been ashore from their complexions: those who are more tanned and healthy-looking have only come back recently, while those who’ve been on land for a while are pale and sicklier-looking. Queequeg looks healthiest of all: after all, he has the darkest skin.
    • Ishmael expects breakfast to be fun and jolly and for everyone to tell whaling stories, but instead the meal is silent and everyone seems awkward and embarrassed.
    • Even though they’re all bold sailors, they’re not the most socially adventurous guys around.
    • Queequeg isn’t embarrassed—he’s just cool and collected. His table manners are pretty bad, though: he brings his harpoon to breakfast so that he can use it to reach across the table and pick things up, and he only eats rare steak.
    • After the meal, Queequeg smokes his tomahawk-pipe, and Ishmael goes for a stroll.
  • Chapter 6: The Street

    • Ishmael wanders through the streets of New Bedford, looking at all the unusual foreign-looking people near the docks.
    • There are lots of South Sea Islanders.
    • Ishmael thinks about the way that docks everywhere always have the most surprising people in any country—and how, in India, it’s the American Yankees who are the weird foreigners. A little bit of cultural relativism for you, there.
    • Even more amusing than the foreign traders, to Ishmael, are the naive country folks from Vermont and New Hampshire, who are in New Bedford trying to make their fortunes.
    • Lots of these rural folks are decked out in ridiculous clothing that they think is the last word in whaling high fashion.
    • Ishmael notes that all of New Bedford’s wealth comes from the whaling industry; that’s what made this place a nice little town instead of just a bit of scrub on the Massachusetts shore.
    • Even the women in New Bedford, according to Ishmael, are the most beautiful in America. Of course, we haven’t seen any women in the novel yet, and Ishmael doesn’t seem all that interested anyway.
  • Chapter 7: The Chapel

    • After his walk, Ishmael goes back to the inn to get a heavy coat, because a storm has set in. Then, he goes to a local "Whaleman’s Chapel," which most sailors visit before they embark on a voyage.
    • When Ishmael enters the chapel, he finds a group of "sailors, and sailors’ wives and widows" (7.2) sitting silently, each of them lost in their own thoughts.
    • They all seem to be reading the different plaques on the walls—memorials to men who died at sea.
    • Ishmael is surprised to find that Queequeg is also in the chapel.
    • Queequeg is the only person who reacts to Ishmael’s entrance, because he’s the only one not reading the plaques. (He can’t.)
    • Ishmael muses on how difficult it is to lose a loved one to the sea: without finding the person’s body, his friends and relatives never really get closure, and will always wonder if he’s really dead.
    • Even if he is dead, Ishmael finds it strange that nobody is comforted by the fact that he should be having a good time in the afterlife. This is a chapel after all—you’d think heaven would be more of a topic than it seems to be.
    • Ishmael, however, doesn’t get depressed: he thinks to himself that people keep obsessing over mortality, but that the body is much less important than the soul.
  • Chapter 8: The Pulpit

    • 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).
  • Chapter 9: The Sermon

    • Father Mapple almost seems to think that he’s actually still on a ship: he uses maritime terminology to order the congregation to cluster together.
    • Father Mapple leads the congregation in a prayer and a hymn. The hymn, a version of Psalm 18, is a Jonah-esque tale of being trapped in the belly of a whale and escaping.
    • Then Father Mapple begins preaching on—what else?—the story of Jonah and the whale, focusing especially on Jonah’s disobedience toward God’s commands. We think you will agree that Ishmael’s made it pretty clear by now that the main topic of this novel will be whaling.
    • (At this point it might be useful for you to read the Book of Jonah, which is (a) really short, and (b) pretty important background for this chapter in particular, and for Moby-Dick in general.)
    • Father Mapple retells the story of Jonah to the congregation in his own way, modernizing it a little and making the seafaring details more concrete:
    • Disobeying God, Jonah decides to flee God’s wrath by getting on a ship made by men and going across the known world.
    • As Jonah tries to book passage on a ship, Father Mapple imagines his fear that he will be discovered and the suspicion of the mariners that he has committed some terrible crime.
    • Father Mapple further imagines that the captain of the ship can tell Jonah has a guilty conscience, but doesn’t care because Jonah pays for his passage on the ship ahead of time—and pays much more than the going rate.
    • Jonah then goes into his cabin and lies down, but can’t lock the door because he doesn’t have a key.
    • The small, cramped cabin foreshadows Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale.
    • Jonah watches the lamp that hangs from the ceiling swinging slowly; he knows the lamp is hanging straight because of gravity, and that makes it obvious that everything else is crooked as the ship rocks slowly back and forth.
    • Father Mapple makes this an allegory for Jonah’s conscience (like the lamp, it always hangs straight) and his soul (which is all crooked-like).
    • Finally Jonah falls asleep as the ship sails on.
    • As Jonah sleeps, a fierce storm blows up, and all the sailors work hard to keep the ship from sinking.
    • The captain goes to Jonah to wake him, and Jonah stumbles out onto the deck.
    • The sailors vote (or "cast lots") to find the cursed one responsible for the violent storm, and they decide it must be Jonah.
    • The sailors start asking him questions about who he is and where he comes from.
    • Jonah explains that he is a Hebrew who has defied God.
    • Jonah doesn’t ask God for forgiveness yet, but he tells the sailors they should throw him overboard and save themselves.
    • The sailors try to save the ship without throwing Jonah overboard, but eventually they give up and take him up on the offer.
    • Suddenly, the sea calms: the storm is centered on Jonah personally.
    • Whirled around by his own personal storm, Jonah almost doesn’t notice when the whale swallows him.
    • In the whale’s belly, Jonah prays to God for forgiveness, but not for his punishment to end.
    • Jonah accepts God’s punishment as justice, which is why, says Father Mapple, God eventually has mercy on him.
    • Father Mapple pauses for a moment, and then explains that the story he’s just related is the lesson regular churchgoers should derive from the story of Jonah.
    • As a clergyman, there is another, more difficult lesson that he must accept personally: if someone chosen by God to be a prophet or a leader refuses to preach the truth, as Jonah did, then God will visit a terrible punishment on him.
    • However, Father Mapple says, the reverse is even more true—God will grant favor and delight to those who do preach the truth.
    • Father Mapple blesses the congregation and kneels, covering his face with his hands, while everyone leaves the chapel.
  • Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

    • Ishmael goes back to the Spouter-Inn and finds Queequeg already there, sitting by the fire, carving the lines on the face of his sacred wooden statue a little deeper.
    • When Ishmael comes in, Queequeg puts the statue away and picks up a book. He can’t read the book, but he counts the pages in groups of fifty and seems amazed at how long it is.
    • Ishmael watches Queequeg with interest and decides the Queequeg may be a "savage" but is also "a simple honest heart" (10.3).
    • According to Ishmael, Queequeg looks a little bit like the popular image of George Washington, at least in the shape of his head.
    • Ishmael is a little bit confused that Queequeg doesn’t acknowledge him at all, especially considering that they shared a bed last night.
    • However, he decides that Queequeg’s indifference is a little bit noble; even though he’s a long way from home, he seems content just to be himself and doesn’t need to make friends everywhere he goes.
    • As Ishmael sits watching Queequeg he feels "a melting" in his heart and decides that he will "try a pagan friend [...] since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy" (10.5).
    • Somehow, knowing Queequeg makes Ishmael feel better about the whole world.
    • Ishmael tries to explain the book to Queequeg, and then they chat about the town and share a pipe of tobacco.
    • After they finish smoking, Queequeg hugs Ishmael to him and says that they are "married" (10.7).
    • Ishmael tells the reader that this means they are "bosom friends" who would die for each other, but there may be more to it than that (10.7).
    • After supper, Ishmael and Queequeg go back to their room. Queequeg gives Ishmael the embalmed head and then takes out all his money and gives half of it to Ishmael. (Apparently, they’re going to share everything equally!).
    • Next, Queequeg tries to get Ishmael to worship the statue with him.
    • Ishmael thinks about this for a little while, since he doesn’t want to go against the will of God by worshipping an idol.
    • In the end, Ishmael agrees to kneel before the statue with Queequeg after all, because he decides that God can’t really be jealous of a little piece of wood.
    • Furthermore, Ishmael decides, if he wants Queequeg to participate in Ishmael’s own Presbyterian worship, he should observe Queequeg’s form of worship, too.
    • Ishmael and Queequeg go to bed and have a cozy little chat before they fall asleep.
  • Chapter 11: Nightgown

    • Ishmael and Queequeg lie in bed talking and napping. Ishmael tells us that Queequeg is "now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over [his]" (11.1).
    • Before dawn, they’re ready to get up, but it’s still very cold, so they sit up in bed still snuggled under the covers.
    • Ishmael opens his eyes (he’s been keeping them closed to enjoy snuggling down in the warm bed) and is irritated by the fact that it’s still dark.
    • They light a lamp and share a pipe—apparently, Ishmael no longer objects to Queequeg smoking in bed.
    • While they sit there, Queequeg tells Ishmael about his homeland and history (see the next chapter).
  • Chapter 12: Biographical

    • Ishmael gives the reader Queequeg’s back-story:
    • Queequeg is from a (fictional) South Sea island called Kokovoko, from a noble family: his father was a king, and his uncle, a high priest.
    • As a child, Queequeg always wanted to travel and to see more of the white Christian men than he could observe on a passing whaling or trading ship now and then.
    • Queequeg tried to become a sailor on a whaling ship from Sag Harbor, but it didn’t need any more men and he was refused.
    • He paddled after the ship in his canoe, sank the canoe, climbed up the side of the ship, grabbed a ringbolt on the deck and refused to let go.
    • Eventually, the captain of the ship agreed to let Queequeg stay and made him an ordinary sailor on the ship.
    • Queequeg hoped that he would learn things to improve the lives of his people, but instead he discovered that "even Christians could be both miserable and wicked" (12.4).
    • He gave up on trying to become like the Christians and resolved to remain a pagan, although he kept living among the white men.
    • Hearing this narrative, Ishmael asks Queequeg if he wants to return home and become king, since his father is probably dead by now. (Tactful, Ishmael.)
    • Queequeg says that his experiences among the Christians have perhaps made him unfit to be a pagan king, but he might go back eventually when he thinks the time is right and he’s ready.
    • In the meantime, he’ll be a harpooneer and sail on whaleboats.
    • Ishmael and Queequeg decide to find a whaling ship sailing from Nantucket on which they can both get jobs together.
    • Queequeg blows out the light, hugs Ishmael, and they go to sleep. Awwwww.
  • Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

    • Ishmael and Queequeg leave the inn the next day; Ishmael pays with Queequeg’s money.
    • The landlord and other guests are amused by their intimate friendship.
    • They borrow a wheelbarrow to transport all their belongings as they go to catch a ferry called the Moss, which will take them to Nantucket.
    • As they walk, everyone stares at the two men who are "upon such confidential terms" (13.2), but Ishmael and Queequeg ignore them.
    • Ishmael asks Queequeg why he carries his own harpoon—don’t whaling ships come with harpoons?
    • Queequeg says that he prefers his own, which has a successful history of whale slaughter.
    • Queequeg tells Ishmael a story about the first time he saw a wheelbarrow.
    • He didn’t know how it worked, so he tied it to his chest and carried it on his shoulders.
    • When Ishmael asks if people laughed at him for this, Queequeg tells another story: back at his home on Kokovoko, the captain of a whaling ship was invited to the wedding feast for Queequeg’s sister. The captain didn’t understand the local customs and washed his hands in the punchbowl.
    • Then Queequeg asks Ishmael if he thinks the Kokovoko people laughed at the captain for this blunder. We would guess—yes?
    • Ishmael and Queequeg board the ferry with all of their luggage in tow, and the Moss sets sail down the river.
    • On one side of the river, they see fancy houses, and on the other, whale ships at the docks.
    • The boat moves into more open water, and Queequeg and Ishmael both get excited as the boat jostles and reels around.
    • Eventually, Ishmael and Queequeg notice that the other passengers are making fun of them for being "so companionable" (13.7).
    • Queequeg grabs one particular country bumpkin who is "mimicking him behind his back" and throws him high in the air, then turns his back on the guy and starts smoking his pipe again (13.7).
    • The bumpkin tattles on Queequeg to the ferry captain, who threatens Queequeg and tells him to leave the guy alone.
    • The weather suddenly gets rougher, and the bumpkin in question is swept overboard.
    • Everyone panics and nobody can seem to get the ship under control—the boom (a long pole attached to the bottom of the sail) is swinging wildly around.
    • Queequeg, cool-headed as always, quickly stabilizes the boom with a rope, pulls off his shirt and jacket, jumps into the sea, and rescues the bumpkin, who promptly revives.
    • Everyone is grateful to Queequeg for the rescue, and the captain forgives him for what he did to the bumpkin earlier.
    • Queequeg remains humble about his heroics.
  • Chapter 14: Nantucket

    • The ferry arrives at Nantucket, a prime opportunity for Ishmael to tell us more about the history of the island.
    • Nantucket is a lonely, isolated, sandy bit of land where hardly anything grows of its own accord and everything is surrounded by sea.
    • Ishmael also relates a story about how a group of Native Americans came to settle Nantucket: an eagle came one day and carried away a baby, and the parents followed the bird until they came to the island—where they found the child’s skeleton. Grim.
    • The people of Nantucket have always sailed the sea and used it to survive and prosper.
    • At this point, Ishmael tells us, Nantucketers are all over the globe, in every ocean, and are the only people who truly belong on the water: it’s like their empire.
  • Chapter 15: Chowder

    • Ishmael and Queequeg disembark from the ferry.
    • It’s too late at night to do any business in Nantucket, so they go to an inn recommended by Peter Coffin called The Try Pots, run by Hosea Hussey, Peter’s cousin.
    • The Try Pots is supposed to be famous for its chowders.
    • It takes a little while to find the Try Pots, but eventually they manage.
    • Ishmael thinks that the "sign" of the inn, which is two huge black pots hanging from an old mast, looks like a gallows.
    • He wonders if all these symbols of death (a landlord named Peter Coffin, tombstones in the chapel, and something that looks like a gallows) might be a bad sign. You think?
    • Hosea Hussey isn’t there, but Ishmael and Queequeg meet Mrs. Hussey, who asks them nothing but "clam or cod." This confuses Ishmael, but it turns out to be a question about what kind of chowder they want.
    • They try both kinds, and both are excellent. (In fact, when you read the description, it’s hard not to want clam chowder for dinner. Actually, we’re kind of salivating here.)
    • Our heroes discover that the Try Pots serves chowder every meal; the floor is paved with clamshells instead of tiles, and even the milk tastes like fish (because the cow eats fish heads).
    • Ishmael and Queequeg head to bed.
    • Mrs. Hussey insists that Queequeg leave his harpoon downstairs; a guest at the Try Pots was once killed in bed with his own harpoon.
    • Ishmael orders both kinds of chowder for breakfast.
  • Chapter 16: The Ship

    • That night in bed, Queequeg tells Ishmael that he’s been talking to the little black statue of his god (which, we learn, is named Yojo), and Yojo wants Ishmael to choose the ship that the two of them will sail with.
    • Ishmael’s pretty nervous about this responsibility. He was hoping Queequeg’s experience with whaling ships would help find the right one.
    • But Queequeg insists that Yojo has already found the right ship and that he’ll help Ishmael choose it.
    • The next morning, Ishmael goes out on his own.
    • It seems to be some kind of religious holiday for Queequeg, who stays at the inn fasting, smoking, and offering a sacrifice of biscuit to Yojo.
    • Ishmael finds out that there are three ships about to sail for three-year voyages: the Devil-Dam, the Tit-Bit, and the Pequod. He chooses the Pequod.
    • The Pequod is an older ship that has already been on a lot of whaling voyages. It has a lot of character, and is decorated with sea-ivory—whalebone and teeth.
    • On board the Pequod, Ishmael looks around for someone in charge. He sees a strange teepee-like tent made of whalebone on the deck and enters it, where he finds a "brown and brawny" old seaman who seems to have some authority.
    • Ishmael tells the old seaman that he wants to join the Pequod’s whaling expedition, and explains that he doesn’t have any specific whaling experience, but he has been in the merchant service before.
    • The old man scoffs—merchant service! The idea!—and asks why Ishmael wants to go whaling.
    • Ishmael says that he wants "to see what whaling is" and "to see the world" (16.18).
    • The old man asks Ishmael if he’s met Captain Ahab.
    • Ishmael is confused. He thought the old man was the captain of the Pequod.
    • The man explains that he is Captain Peleg, and that he and Captain Bildad, who are both retired, own the ship and are outfitting it with men and supplies. (It’s like their investment plan for retirement.)
    • Captain Ahab will actually be in charge of the ship on its voyage.
    • Captain Peleg tells Ishmael that Captain Ahab lost a leg to a whale, and asks if he’s still willing to go on a whaling voyage. Ishmael says that he is.
    • Ishmael’s formal manner of speaking rubs Captain Peleg the wrong way, and the Captain wonders if Ishmael is tough enough for a whaling voyage.
    • Captain Peleg asks Ishmael if he would throw a harpoon down a whale’s throat and jump after it. Ishmael says he would if it was absolutely necessary, but he thinks it could probably be avoided. This is, apparently, the right answer, which is good to know, for those of you planning to hunt the wily sperm whale.
    • Next, Captain Peleg takes on Ishmael’s desire to "see the world." He asks Ishmael to look across the bow of the ship and tell him what’s there: it’s nothing but water. Captain Peleg tells Ishmael that’s the only world he’d see on a whaling voyage.
    • Ishmael’s a little shaken by this, but remains firm on the whaling thing.
    • Captain Peleg takes him below decks to sign a contract, where Ishmael meets Captain Bildad.
    • Ishmael explains that both Peleg and Bildad are Quakers, but they’re "fighting Quakers" who have been adapted by their circumstances to be bloodthirsty seamen. (This is a little joke from Melville, because Quakers are famous for being pacifists and conscientious objectors.)
    • Captain Bildad, according to Ishmael, has stricter Quaker principles and is more obsessed with his religious foundation than Captain Peleg.
    • Ishmael thinks Captain Bildad is a little bit hypocritical, because he won’t shed the blood of men on land, but he’s slaughtered lots of whales on the sea.
    • Captain Bildad also has a reputation for working his men incredibly hard. His own body is lean and clean-shaven—there’s nothing extra or superfluous to him.
    • When Ishmael and Captain Peleg approach Captain Bildad, Bildad is sitting stiffly upright reading the Bible.
    • Peleg asks Bildad if Ishmael is an appropriate sailor for the Pequod, and Bildad gives him the okay.
    • Captain Peleg takes out a copy of the ship’s articles (the contract between the owners of the Pequod and its sailors) and a pen and starts to add Ishmael to the contract.
    • Ishmael tells the reader that he already knows a little bit about how whaling works: seamen aren’t paid wages, but they get a certain percentage of the net profits of the voyage. Ishmael has no whaling experience, but he has been to sea before, and he’s decided that he should be offered what’s called the 275th lay—at least 1/275 of the net profits. He thinks he might get something as good as the 200th lay.
    • Ishmael’s a little suspicious at this point, because he’s heard that Peleg and Bildad can be stingy, especially Bildad.
    • Peleg asks Bildad what lay Ishmael should get, and Bildad suggests the 777th lay. (This is another in-joke: 777 is a Biblical number, and Bildad is reading Matthew 6:19, which advises people not to lay up treasure on the earth.)
    • Peleg says that the 777th lay would be swindling Ishmael and suggests the 300th lay.
    • Bildad reminds Peleg that some of the investors in the Pequod are widows and orphans, and that giving Ishmael too large a share in the profits would be swindling these unfortunates.
    • Peleg and Bildad keep arguing over Ishmael’s lay, and finally Peleg seems to get so angry that he rushes at Bildad as though he’s going to attack him.
    • Ishmael is almost ready to leave and forget about whaling completely, but suddenly Bildad and Peleg both settle down and Peleg puts Ishmael down on the ship’s articles for the 300th lay.
    • Ishmael tells Peleg that he has a friend with whaling experience who also wants to voyage on the Pequod, and Peleg tells him to bring the friend (Queequeg, we miss you!) the next day.
    • Ishmael leaves, feeling pretty good about his decision—but then he realizes he’s still never met or even seen Captain Ahab.
    • He goes back and asks Captain Peleg where Captain Ahab is.
    • Peleg tells Ishmael that he can’t see Ahab at this point because Ahab has been shutting himself up alone in his house.
    • Peleg tries to describe Ahab’s virtues to reassure Ishmael, but Ahab sounds really strange and alarming: Peleg calls him "a grand, ungodly, god-like man" (16.79).
    • Ishmael suggests that the name "Ahab" has disturbing Biblical connotations. (You might want to read the story about Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21.)
    • Captain Peleg gets angry and reminds Ishmael that Ahab didn’t choose his name... but then admits that a Native American seer said that Ahab’s name would be prophetic in some way.
    • Peleg admits that Ahab has been "moody" and "savage" since he lost his leg fighting a whale, but tells Ishmael that Ahab is still a good captain, even if he is depressed and angry (16.81).
    • Ishmael leaves, feeling sorry for captain Ahab but also afraid of him. Then he forgets all about him for the time being.
  • Chapter 17: The Ramadan

    • Ishmael leaves Queequeg alone all day to perform his religious observances with Yojo, since this is apparently a special religious holiday for Queequeg.
    • Ishmael tells the reader that he believes in religious tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude.
    • In the evening, Ishmael assumes that Queequeg is finished with his holiday and goes upstairs to their room, but the door is locked. Ishmael calls, but there’s no answer.
    • Ishmael looks through the keyhole. He can’t see Queequeg, but he can see Queequeg’s harpoon, so he assumes the man is there somewhere.
    • Ishmael tries to break the door down and can’t. He runs downstairs and finds a maid and then the landlady, Mrs. Hussey, and tries to convince them to pry the door open.
    • When Mrs. Hussey understands what’s going on, she’s afraid that there’s been another suicide at her inn.
    • She orders the maid, Betty, to go get a sign made that says "no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor" (17.10). (Sounds useful to us.)
    • The landlady tries to keep Ishmael from breaking down the door and damaging the inn, but Queequeg has bolted the door from the inside and no key or locksmith will help.
    • Ishmael goes ahead and breaks the door down in spite of Mrs. Hussey’s objections.
    • When they get into the room, they find Queequeg sitting in the middle of the floor holding Yojo on top of his head. He doesn’t move or speak.
    • They try to get Queequeg to move or respond, but he won’t, so finally Ishmael sends Mrs. Hussey away and sits beside Queequeg, since he can’t do anything else.
    • After a while, Ishmael goes downstairs and has supper, then goes back to bed. Queequeg is still sitting in the same position and not speaking. Ishmael’s starting to get pretty pissed.
    • Ishmael puts his heavy jacket around Queequeg’s shoulders to keep out the cold and goes to bed. It takes him a long time to fall asleep because he’s worried about Queequeg. (Aww!).
    • At sunrise, Queequeg gets up and tells Ishmael that his holiday is over.
    • Ishmael makes Queequeg get into bed and tries to explain that extreme ascetic behavior—such as fasting, meditating, and sitting still in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time—is ridiculous and unhealthy and causes indigestion.
    • Ishmael is equally critical of Lent (a Christian fast), Ramadan (a Muslim fast), and Queequeg’s own tribal customs. (Note that Ishmael calls Queequeg’s fast "a Ramadan," but this is just a general use of the term to mean a religious fast. Queequeg isn’t Muslim.)
    • Ishmael asks Queequeg if he’s ever had indigestion. Queequeg says only once, when his people won a major battle and cooked and ate fifty of their captives.
    • Ishmael stops him before he explains any more about his tribe’s cannibalistic customs.
    • Queequeg doesn’t seem affected by Ishmael’s lecture about religious customs; in fact, he seems to pity Ishmael for not knowing better.
    • Ishmael and Queequeg get up, eat a breakfast of chowder, and head to the Pequod.
  • Chapter 18: His Mark

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

    • When Ishmael and Queequeg get to the Pequod, Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad say that they don’t take cannibals or non-Christians on their ship.
    • Captain Bildad asks if Queequeg is a Christian, and Ishmael says that he’s a member of the First Congregational Church.
    • When Captain Bildad starts asking about a particular local church with that name, and how long Queequeg has known the man who runs it, Deacon Deuteronomy, Ishmael explains: Queequeg is a member of the First Congregational Church in the sense that he’s a member of "the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world" (18.12). In other words, he’s human.
    • Captain Peleg is impressed by Ishmael’s mind-twisting rhetoric and agrees to take Queequeg on board without more proof of his religious conversion.
    • For some reason—we speculate on possible reasons in Queequeg’s "Character Analysis"—Captain Peleg calls Queequeg "Quohog," which is the name of a type of clam. (And, if you watch Family Guy, Quohog is the name of the town where the Griffin family lives on the coast of New England. The town is named after the clam, which is local to that area.)
    • Captain Peleg asks Queequeg if he’s ever harpooned a whale. Queequeg takes his harpoon, points at a small spot of tar in the water, and throws the harpoon so that he hits the spot exactly.
    • After Peleg and Bildad see this demonstration of Queequeg’s skill, they’re falling all over themselves trying to sign Queequeg up for the voyage of the Pequod. They give him the 90th lay.
    • When it’s time for Queequeg to sign his name, he takes the pen and copies a symbol onto the paper that matches one of the symbols tattooed on his arm.
    • Captain Bildad gives Queequeg a copy of a religious tract encouraging him to convert before the Apocalypse.
    • Captain Peleg objects, saying that harpooneers have to be wild and devilish men.
    • Bildad reminds Peleg of the time when Peleg was Ahab’s first mate and the ship was caught in a typhoon—he must have thought about the afterlife then.
    • Peleg denies it; he says he was just thinking about how to stay alive.
    • Bildad turns his back on Peleg and goes to watch some sailors fixing a sail and to pick up little bits of material that might go to waste.
  • Chapter 19: The Prophet

    • Ishmael and Queequeg leave the Pequod and are stopped by a badly dressed stranger with a fascinating skin disease.
    • The man asks if they have agreed to sail in the Pequod, and Ishmael says that they have.
    • The sinister stranger asks if they’ve also sold their souls, if they have any. Ishmael doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
    • Then the man asks if they’ve met "Old Thunder," which is apparently Captain Ahab’s nickname. Ishmael says they haven’t, and that all they know is that he’s "a good whale hunter, and a good captain to his crew" (19.22).
    • The stranger says that both of these things are true, but that there’s more: Ahab once seemed dead for three days after a mysterious happening, and he’s done other strange and terrible things.
    • And, of course, he lost a leg to a whale on his last voyage.
    • Ishmael asks the man to be clearer, but the man just says that, if they’ve already signed the papers, then what’s done is done.
    • Ishmael thinks the man is trying to scam them in some way, and that there isn’t really any sinister secret lurking behind Captain Ahab.
    • Ishmael asks the man his name, and the man says "Elijah."
    • Ishmael and Queequeg walk away, talking about how ridiculous the man is—and then Ishmael notices that Elijah is following them.
    • Ishmael turns around and starts going back the way they came.
    • Elijah doesn’t follow, so Ishmael feels a little bit better.
  • Chapter 20: All Astir

    • For the next several days, everyone is busy getting the Pequod ready for her voyage. Captain Peleg stays on the ship overseeing things and Captain Bildad is in charge of buying supplies.
    • Ishmael and Queequeg get their trunks packed and loaded on the ship, but they keep sleeping at the inn until they have to leave.
    • The ship not only needs lots of supplies, it needs lots of spares of everything that can’t be replaced once it leaves the harbor.
    • Ishmael says that it’s practically two ships rolled into one; the only things that aren’t doubled are the ship itself and the captain.
    • The person in charge of most of the supplies is Captain Bildad’s sister, who is called Aunt Charity. (Charity is actually her first name; the "Aunt" part is more of a nickname.) She’s always bringing some little thing on board that might help.
    • While the ship is being outfitted, Ishmael and Queequeg keep asking about Captain Ahab, but he never shows up. They try not to worry about it, but not knowing the man who’s going to be their captain for three years is disturbing.
  • Chapter 21: Going Aboard

    • Around 6 a.m., Ishmael and Queequeg go to join the ship, which is going to sail today.
    • They see some men running ahead of them and start to worry that they’re late and the ship is already off. They hurry to catch up.
    • Before they can get to the ship, Elijah grabs hold of Ishmael, but they shake Elijah off and keep going.
    • Elijah follows them and asks if they saw any men ahead of them. Ishmael admits that they did. Elijah tells him to try and find them again, and then wishes them well and says he’ll see them at the Last Judgment.
    • Ishmael and Queequeg board the ship and find everything quiet and nobody around anywhere. They go below decks and find an old rigger asleep.
    • The sailors Ishmael saw are nowhere to be found, and it turns out that Queequeg didn’t see them at all.
    • Queequeg sits down on the sleeping rigger’s behind, which is cushiony enough to make a good seat, in his opinion. Ishmael makes him knock it off.
    • They sit there, smoking Queequeg’s tomahawk-pipe, as the man keeps sleeping. Queequeg explains that it’s traditional in his country to use fattened slaves as chairs and couches.
    • Queequeg appears to threaten to kill the man, and talks to Ishmael about the two-in-one function of his tomahawk-pipe. Fortunately, at this point, the smoke wakes the man up.
    • The old rigger tells them that the ship will sail today, and that Captain Ahab came aboard last night.
    • There’s a noise from above, and Ishmael and Queequeg follow the rigger up to the deck.
    • The crew is starting to come on board and things get busy, but Captain Ahab remains hidden in his cabin.
  • Chapter 22: Merry Christmas

    • After the last preparations, gifts from Aunt Charity, and hauling the ship away from the wharf, Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad say goodbye to the first mate, Mr. Starbuck, and make sure everything is ready.
    • Captain Ahab is still in his cabin, and Peleg and Bildad give the first orders as though they were going to command the ship.
    • They take down the teepee-like tent where Ishmael first met Captain Peleg, a sure sign that they’re actually leaving port.
    • Captain Bildad acts as the "pilot" when they navigate the ship out of Nantucket’s harbor.
    • Even though Bildad has previously insisted that there wouldn’t be any naughty songs as they got under way, he lets them sing a ditty about a slum filled with prostitutes ("a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley" (22.9).
    • Ishmael is astonished by how much Captain Peleg is swearing, and pauses in amazement as he hauls up the anchor. Peleg literally kicks his butt and roars at him to keep working.
    • They get the ship under way and they’re almost out upon the open sea. It’s a cold and icy Christmas day.
    • Captain Bildad takes the first watch, and everyone can hear him singing hymns. These hymns lift Ishmael’s spirits and make him think that things will be okay.
    • Finally, they get the ship far enough out that they don’t need a pilot to navigate the harbor anymore.
    • A sailboat that’s been following them comes alongside to take Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad back home. Both the retired captains are reluctant to leave.
    • Even as they’re getting into the boat, Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad continue to give everyone advice and to wish them a good voyage.
    • Then they sail away, and the Pequod is on its own in the vast Atlantic.
  • Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

    • Ishmael reminds the reader about the man he saw in the inn at New Bedford named Bulkington (you remember, the least rowdy Grampus crew member, way back in New Bedford?).
    • Now he looks upon the Pequod and sees a vision of Bulkington at the helm.
    • He’s amazed that a man who just came back from a four-year voyage would immediately set off on another voyage for three years.
    • Ishmael explains: "this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington" (23.2). Bulkington’s not dead, but we’re not going to hear any more about him in the novel.
    • Ishmael uses Bulkington as a means to think about the safety of port and land versus the thrilling danger of landlessness, and then dismisses Bulkington forever.
  • Chapter 24: The Advocate

    • This is the first major chapter that interrupts the "plot" of the novel in order to discuss whaling in general. Don’t tune out, though: some of Melville’s best jokes are in these chapters.
    • Ishmael becomes a kind of advocate for whaling as an activity. He argues that whaling is a worthwhile profession and not an "unpoetical and disreputable pursuit" (24.1), as some people argue.
    • Ishmael establishes that whaling isn’t respected as a profession: you couldn’t have a calling card in high society that says you’re a harpooneer, he points out.
    • The first reason people object to whaling is that it seems like butchery. Ishmael admits that it is, but argues that military service is much bloodier and involves more bloodshed, and it’s considered honorable.
    • Ishmael reminds the reader that many of the lamps and candles in the Western world are (at this point in time, the mid-nineteenth century) made with whale oil and whale blubber.
    • Ishmael tells the reader some whaling history and statistics, showing that whaling has been respected and honored by kings—and that it’s really very profitable.
    • Ishmael also claims that, over the past sixty years, whaling has made the world a lot safer. For example, according to Ishmael, whaling ships were the first to go to many distant countries and establish relationships with unknown peoples.
    • Ishmael then brings up a series of aesthetic objections to whaling that he proceeds to shoot down:
    • If you argue that there aren’t any famous epic stories about whaling? Ishmael answers with the book of Job, the writings of Alfred the Great about a Norwegian whaler, and a speech made in Parliament by Englishman Edmund Burke referencing whaling.
    • If you argue that whalemen aren’t noble? Ishmael snaps back that Benjamin Franklin is distantly related to a whaling family.
    • If you argue that whaling isn’t respectable? Ishmael points out that the whale is called "a royal fish."
    • If you argue that the whale "never figured in any grand imposing way"? Ishmael hits you with a famous Roman procession that involved the bones of a whale.
    • If you argue that there is "no dignity in whaling"? Ishmael gets in a constellation in the south called Cetus (the whale). What’s more, Ishmael respects Queequeg, and those who can kill whales more generally, more than any king or general who has stormed human towns.
    • Finally, Ishmael says that, if there is any value in his own behavior or in his manuscript, he’ll give all the glory to whaling, because it has taught him everything he knows.
  • Chapter 25: Postscript

    • Ishmael adds one more point that to make whaling seem dignified, nay, royal: the oil used at royal coronations must be whale oil, right? And so the British kings and queens have all been anointed with oil that comes from the work of common seamen on stinking whaling ships.
    • (Note: this may or may not be true—in fact, it probably isn’t true. But it’s hilarious.)
  • Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

    • Ishmael describes the first mate of the Pequod, Starbuck. (However, we’ve got to note that, at this point in the novel, the distinctive story-telling voice of Ishmael is fading further and further away as the narrator seems to become Melville himself.)
    • Starbuck is a Nantucket Quaker, and he’s basically the goody-two-shoes play-by-the-rules do-it-by-the-book officer on the ship.
    • Starbuck’s most striking physical characteristic is his leanness—he seems tight, dry, and condensed, and looks like he could endure terrible weather.
    • Personally, Starbuck is "steadfast" and conscientious (26.1); he’s also a little bit superstitious, but in an intelligent way.
    • He wants all his sailors to be afraid of whales, because men who respect the power and danger of the whale will be better companions than cocky guys who take stupid risks.
    • Starbuck is also a reasonable and pragmatic fellow; he’s brave, but always weighing the pros and cons of behaving bravely in any particular situation. He’s not one for extreme risks.
    • Still, Ishmael can tell that there’s some deep flaw in Starbuck that could break him and ruin all his courage.
    • Ishmael (or perhaps the speaking voice is Melville) assures the reader that Starbuck isn’t going to be completely broken in the course of the novel. That would violate the essential dignity of man in some way.
    • The narrator (Ishmael or Melville) explains that, if he’s going to exalt and glorify men who seem lowly, then that’s just the result of the democratic equality of men.
    • After all, men like John Bunyan (the author of A Pilgrim’s Progress, who was a convict), Miguel de Cervantes (the author of Don Quixote, who was disabled and a pauper) and Andrew Jackson (the seventh president of the United States, who grew up poor) have been glorified by history.
  • Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

    • Yes, this chapter has the same title as Chapter 26, if you were wondering about that. It has different content, though, so you do have to read it.
    • Ishmael (or possibly Melville or an unnamed narrator) describes the second mate, Stubb, who is basically the ultimate laid-back chill guy.
    • Stubb is from Cape Cod, and he’s a cheerful, "happy-go-lucky" (27.1) individual who never seems to worry about anything. Even in dangerous, stressful situations Stubb remains calm and relaxed and likes to hum little tunes.
    • Ishmael suggests that Stubb is able to be so mellow all the time because he smokes so much—the first thing he does in the morning, before he even gets dressed, is to put his pipe in his mouth, and before he goes to bed he smokes a whole row of pipes. (And yes, he's smoking tobacco.)
    • All this tobacco smoke seems to ward off anxiety for him... although we don’t recommend it as a general strategy.
    • Next up is the third mate, Flask, who is from Martha’s Vineyard. Flask is Stubb’s opposite; instead of being mellow, he’s aggro.
    • Flask seems to have a serious grudge against whales and doesn’t have any sense of them being beautiful or awesome or dangerous.
    • Flask’s nickname is "King-Post" because he’s like the timber brace of a ship that’s called by that name.
    • Ishmael explains that, if they do find a whale, each of these three mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, will be in charge of a boat, sort of like being the captain of a military company.
    • Each mate has a harpooneer to assist him. So, the mates are sort of like knights, and the harpooneers like squires. (That’s why the title of the chapter is ...oh, you get it.)
    • Starbuck’s harpooneer is Queequeg, whom we know already.
    • Stubb’s harpooneer is Tashtego. Tashtego is a pureblooded Native American from Martha’s Vineyard, and Ishmael sees him as having inherited a warrior and a hunter’s spirit. Instead of taking that prowess and hunting beasts on land, though, Tashtego pursues whales. Hmm, stereotype much?
    • Flask’s harpooneer is Daggoo, an African tribesman who chose to join a whaling ship that landed on the coast of his native country when he was young. Daggoo isn’t very acculturated; he’s only been in Africa, Nantucket, and different whaling ports, so he retains most of his tribal customs. He’s tall and proud and makes Flask look "like a chess-man beside him" (27.9).
    • The rest of the crew of the Pequod, Ishmael (or perhaps Melville) tells us, is equally diverse.
    • In whaling, just as in the military and in construction crews, only about half the workers are white Americans. (These are the numbers the text gives, but we’d have to check our history to know if they’re accurate.)
    • Most of the Pequod’s crew are South Sea Islanders like Queequeg.
    • Ishmael or Melville hints that most of these crewmembers aren’t going to return from this voyage— "Black Little Pip" never did. (This is the first we’ve heard of Pip, but apparently he has a tragic end. So don’t get too attached.)
  • Chapter 28: Ahab

    • For a few days after the ship sails, Captain Ahab stays alone in his cabin and nobody sees him.
    • It seems like the three mates are completely in charge except that every so often they give random orders that obviously come from someone bossing them around behind the scenes.
    • Whenever Ishmael comes on deck, he immediately looks to see whether Captain Ahab is there.
    • (Ah, Ishmael, there you are. So, he’s still around in the story.)
    • Ishmael’s starting to get pretty nervous about Ahab, especially because of Elijah’s weird prophecies.
    • Whenever he’s worried, though, he thinks about the three mates and the harpooneers, who all make him feel a lot more confident about the voyage.
    • The ship keeps sailing south, moving from the icy winter weather off the New England coast into gradually less extreme conditions.
    • One morning, Ishmael comes on deck for the watch and ...da dum! There’s Captain Ahab.
    • Ahab doesn’t look like he’s actually been sick, but he does look "wasted" (28.3), as though he’s almost been burned at the stake but cut away before it actually killed him.
    • Starting in his hair and going down one side of his face and neck under his collar, Ahab has a strange white scar.
    • Nobody ever talks about it (because it’s not like you can just ask the captain of your ship about his facial disfigurements), so nobody knows whether it’s a birthmark or something that happened to him in a fight or at sea.
    • One of the Native American seamen claims that he got it suddenly when he turned forty and that it goes all the way down his body. Happy Birthday, Ahab!
    • And, of course, Ahab is missing one leg. Instead of a wooden leg, he has an ivory leg made from a sperm whale’s jawbone.

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

    • He’s able to walk around on the deck of the ship because there are half-inch holes bored in the deck in different places and he can steady the end of the bone leg in them.
    • Even though Ahab is on deck, he doesn’t say anything or give any orders. Apparently he’s content to just stand around looking creepy.
    • As the weather gets nicer, Ahab gets gradually more pleasant (sometimes he almost smiles) and comes on deck more often, although he still doesn’t say or do anything.
    • This continues until May. (Remember that the Pequod began its voyage at Christmas, so it’s been almost six months before Ahab really takes part in the action.)
  • Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb

    • Notice that the title of this chapter is a stage direction, so we should probably be thinking about ways that the novel is starting to resemble a play.
    • Also notice that this is the first chapter where Ishmael seems to have completely disappeared as narrator. He’s been fading away for a few chapters now, but in this chapter we don’t get any first-person pronouns, Ishmael doesn’t do anything, and the events in this section, especially Stubb’s monologue, seems to be things that Ishmael couldn’t have witnessed.
    • The Pequod keeps sailing south and the weather becomes consistently pleasant and beautiful.
    • Captain Ahab spends more and more time on deck, especially at night. He seems to live on deck and just visit his cabin below, which feels "like going down into one’s tomb" to him (29.2).
    • At night, when everyone working on deck is trying to be quiet so the others can sleep below, Captain Ahab avoids walking on the quarter-deck (where the captain usually gets to pace around) because the sound of his bone leg would disturb everyone beneath.
    • One evening, Ahab can’t resist and does start pacing on the quarter-deck. Stubb comes up and tries to suggest that he knock it off, or that perhaps he could put something on the end of his leg to muffle the sound.
    • Ahab freaks out at Stubb, calls him a dog, and orders him below to his kennel.
    • When Stubb objects to this, Ahab calls him "a donkey, and a mule, and an ass" and repeats the order to go below decks (29.7).
    • Stubb heads back down into the ship toward his cabin, shaken and surprised at the way he’s been treated.
    • At first he just seems angry, but the more he talks about it to himself, the more he appears afraid of Ahab’s bizarre behavior.
  • Chapter 30: The Pipe

    • After Stubb goes below, Captain Ahab orders a sailor to get him a stool and a pipe and sits smoking on the deck.
    • The narrator (probably not Ishmael at this point) thinks Ahab looks like a Norse king.
    • Ahab discovers that smoking the pipe doesn’t soothe him, throws it overboard, and goes back to pacing on the deck. (See, we told you that smoking wasn’t a good mood stabilizer back in Chapter 27, and we were right.)

  • Chapter 31: Queen Mab

    • In the morning, Stubb tells Flask about a dream he had the night before. There’s no doubt that it could easily win a "weirdest whaling dream" contest: Stubb dreams that Ahab kicks him with his ivory/bone leg. Stubb tries to kick him back and his own leg comes off.
    • Ahab turns into a pyramid, which Stubb keeps kicking. (It doesn’t seem to matter that one of his legs has come off.)
    • In the dream, Stubb seems to realize that being kicked by a false leg is less of an insult than being kicked by a real one, because the false leg isn’t alive and narrows to a little point. (No, that doesn’t make any real sense, but that’s what he thinks in the dream.)
    • An old merman appears, grabs Stubb by the shoulders, and turns him around. Stubb decides not to kick the merman because the merman’s covered in spikes.
    • The merman tells Stubb to stop kicking Ahab (who is still a pyramid at this point) because it’s actually an honor to be kicked by a great man with an ivory leg—sort of like being slapped by a queen.
    • The merman swims off and Stubb wakes up.
    • Flask doesn’t think much of Stubb’s dream, but Stubb insists that it’s made him wise, and that now he knows to leave Ahab alone.
    • Ahab, meanwhile, calls up to the lookout that he’s spotted whales in the area, and that he’s especially interested in white whales.
    • Stubb can tell there’s something special going on with the whole white whale thing. Maybe he’s right…
  • Chapter 32: Cetology

    • This chapter returns to the first-person point of view, but it doesn’t seem to be from Ishmael’s perspective, so we’ll call the speaker "the narrator." Just for kicks.
    • The narrator takes some time out from the progress of the plot to review the details of cetology, a branch of marine science that studies marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins, and porpoise, in the scientific order Cetacea.
    • Don't tune out. This chapter may look at first like the beginning of a boring Zoology textbook, but it’s really funny. We promise.
    • Oh, and you might not want to use this to write a report about whales for your biology class. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
    • The narrator starts by quoting a few eminent scholars who have written about cetology. What all of them agree on is that studying whales is "involved" or "utter confusion" or "unfathomable" or "impenetrable" or "incomplete" (32.3-5). Good thing we’re going to get some solid scientific facts here.
    • Of course, the narrator explains, there may not be any "real knowledge," but there are still plenty of books about whales!
    • He lists a few dozen authors who have written about them, most of whom are also quoted in the "Extracts" section at the beginning of the novel.
    • Only a few of these authors actually saw whales, and only one of them was a professional whaleman, Captain Scoresby. Scoresby knew a lot about the Greenland or right whale but not much about the sperm whale.
    • The narrator claims that the sperm whale is the real king of whales.
    • According to the narrator, there are two books that describe the sperm whale firsthand in scientific terms (by Beale and Bennett), but they’re pretty limited, so the sperm whale "lives not complete in any literature" (32.8).
    • The narrator decides that, since nobody’s been able to put together a classification system or family tree of whales, he’ll have to do it himself. Still, he says he knows it will be a rough sketch—because what is he, a biologist? But he’ll try anyway.
    • The narrator finds two main problems with making a classification system for whales:
    • First, are whales fish, or what? The narrator knows that Linnaeus (an eighteenth-century Swedish botanist and zoologist who laid the foundations of the modern biological system of classification) said whales aren’t fish, because they’re warm-blooded and have lungs, whereas fish are cold-blooded and have gills.
    • The narrator acknowledges Linnaeus’s point but, meh—he still decides that the whale is pretty much a fish anyway, à la Jonah. Good thing our narrator is a logical guy, eh?
    • Second, how do we define "whale" as a specific category? The narrator decides to define "whale" as "a spouting fish with a horizontal tail" (32.14).
    • But, the narrator assures us, that doesn’t mean he’s excluding anything that Nantucketers have called a whale before, even if it doesn’t fit his definition.
    • Except, he says (in a footnote), he knows there are fish called pig-fish and sow-fish that some people call whales, and he excludes them. Make sense? Nah, it’s not supposed to.
    • The narrator divides the whales into classification categories, which he calls "books" and "chapters." Hmm… whales are being treated as novels. Interesting, that, in a novel about a whale.
    • The three "books" of whales are the "folio whale," the "octavo whale," and the "duodecimo whale." Flash History Lesson: This is another book joke, because folio, octavo, and duodecimo are three common nineteenth-century sizes of books. Each size is related to how many times you fold a large standard sheet of paper to make the pages. Folios are the largest, octavo are mid-sized, and duodecimo are tiny, so the narrator is just dividing up whales by their size, a pretty basic characteristic.
    • Within "Book I," the "Folio Whales," the narrator includes six "Chapters" of whales, each of which is what we’d call a species. The six are: the Sperm Whale, the Right Whale, the Fin-Back, the Hump Back, the Razor Back, and the Sulphur Bottom.
    • The Sperm Whale comes first (of course). According to the narrator, sperm whales are the biggest and the best whales around.
    • The main thing the narrator wants to talk about here is why they’re called "sperm whales." We know you’ve been snickering into your hand about that one, and guess what: you should.
    • We’re giving you a big literary-critical thumbs-up about the dirty joke here. Every time we see the phrase "sperm whale" in the novel, just imagine that Melville is digging his elbow into your ribs and saying "get it? sperm?"
    • (Don’t even get us started on all the puns on "seamen.")
    • The narrator explains how he thinks they came to be called sperm whales.
    • Sperm whales produce a valuable oily substance called "spermaceti," and people thought that it was actually the semen of the Greenland or right whale, but it wasn’t.
    • When they finally figured it out, people started calling the whale that spermaceti actually comes from the "sperm whale," and the name stuck.
    • Anyway, spermaceti’s going to be pretty important later in the novel.
    • The Right Whale is the first that people hunted, and from it we get whalebone and baleen and whale oil (not the same as spermaceti). Melville lumps together six or so different names for whales here, blithely claiming they’re all basically the same anyway and that the whole problem with naturalists is that they’re always dividing things up into too many categories. Wait… isn’t that what he was supposed to be doing here? Oh, well.
    • Next comes the Fin-Back Whale, which has—are you ready for this?—a big fin on its back. We know you’re shocked. Oh, and it seems like a sinister whale version of Cain.
    • Of course, the narrator admits that lots of different whales have fins on their backs, but he can’t be bothered to use superficial features like that to classify whales.
    • It’s not the outsides of whales, their humps or fins or teeth or baleen or anything, that makes it possible to classify them.
    • Is it their insides? Nope, that’s pretty much the same, too.
    • They have to be classified in a bibliographical system, like books, because that’s the only thing that will work, says the narrator. (No, that is not supposed to make sense.)
    • Next comes the Hump Back Whale, which isn’t the only whale with a hump on its back and doesn’t have very valuable oil, but is a cheerful playful sort of creature.
    • Next is the razor back whale. Nobody knows anything about it, including the narrator.
    • Last of the "folio whales" is the Sulphur Bottom Whale, which has a yellow belly and looks like it’s been scraping along the ceiling of hell.
    • Now the narrator lists five kinds of "Octavo Whales," which are the Grampus, the Black Fish, the Narwhale, the Killer, and the Thrasher. (They sound like nicknames for pro-wrestlers, don’t they?)
    • First comes the Grampus, which most people don’t call a whale, but some do. Seeing a grampus may mean that there’s a sperm whale nearby (hint hint).
    • Next comes the Black Fish, which the narrator suggests should be called the Hyena Whale instead because there are lots of black fish. It can be a poor substitute for a sperm whale for hunters.
    • Next is the Narwhale, which is sometimes called the "Unicorn Whale" because it has a long single sharp tusk on the left side. Nobody really knows what it uses this for, perhaps to rake up food, perhaps to break up ice. The narrator thinks it should use the tusk to turn the pages while it reads.
    • Next is the Killer Whale, which our narrator says isn’t usually hunted and seems savage. The narrator objects to its name, saying that "we are all killers, on land and on sea" (32.35).
    • Last of the "Octavo Whales" is the "Thrasher Whale," which supposedly swims on the back of other whales and uses its tail to whip them and make them move forward. Seriously?!
    • The narrator lists three types of "Duodecimo Whales," which are all porpoises. The narrator says that they may not seem like whales because they’re so small, but he has to include them because they fit his definition of "a spouting fish with a tail."
    • The first is the Huzza Porpoise, which the narrator himself named because it’s supposed to be a good omen. ("Huzza" is an older version of "hooray.") The Huzza Porpoise is sort of like a miniature sperm whale. Hey—can we get in on the whale-naming game? This seems fun.
    • The next is the Algerine Porpoise, which is larger and savage.
    • The last is the Mealy-Mouthed Porpoise, which is the largest one and looks like it just made a sneaky visit to its food dish.
    • The narrator explains that he’s going to stop there and not talk about any of the other whales that he knows "by reputation, but not personally." He lists a few dozen of them.
    • After all, he promised that his classification system would be incomplete, and he’s got to keep that promise.
    • It’s like a cathedral that is so grand that it can’t be completed by the first architect. Thus, the narrator expresses the hope that he’ll never finish anything. (We just hope he finishes the novel.)
  • Chapter 33: The Specksynder

    • The narrator describes some of the unusual aspects of the hierarchy on board whaling ships.
    • In the past, Dutch whaling ships had two commanders, a captain who ran the ship itself, and a "specksynder" who was like a chief harpooneer.
    • The importance of the harpooneers on a whaling voyage has always meant that there was an "extra" class of people on a whaling ship (as compared to other ships).
    • Harpooneers usually get living quarters with the officers, because where you live on the ship is the main way of distinguishing officers from crew.
    • Even though whaling ships usually go on long voyages and they feel a little bit more democratic because everyone’s in it together to make a profit, discipline usually isn’t relaxed. Captains are usually proud and distant.
    • Captain Ahab doesn’t require anything harsher than strict obedience (he doesn’t make people take off their shoes before stepping on the quarter-deck, like some captains), but he’s still terrifying and has complete authority.
    • It’s also obvious, the narrator says, that sometimes Ahab abuses the forms and ceremonies allowed to captains for his own devious ends. After all, forms and ceremonies can even make idiot kings like Russia’s Czar Nicholas I into authority figures.
    • Ahab, of course, isn’t a king, just a Nantucket whaling captain, and so most of his grandeur has to come from something less concrete.
  • Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table

    • We return to your regularly-scheduled plot. It’s noon on board ship and Ahab has been using the sun to measure the ship’s position.
    • Dough-Boy, the steward, announces that it’s time for dinner (the large mid-day meal, basically a big lunch).
    • Ahab waits for a little bit, announces dinner to Starbuck, and heads into the cabin.
    • Starbuck waits for Ahab to sit down, announces dinner to Stubb, and heads into the cabin.
    • Stubb waits for Starbuck to sit down, announces dinner to Flask, and heads into the cabin.
    • (It’s a comedy routine waiting to happen.)
    • Flask silently does a silly dance in front of the sailors as he heads into the cabin, but the narrator somehow knows that, before the other mates and the captain catch him in his dancing, he’s changed his posture into a slavish bow.
    • The narrator describes that officers who are bold on deck will generally be submissive at dinner with the captain. He thinks it’s a combination of the captain’s authority on board ship and the host’s authority at the dinner table.
    • Ahab presiding at his table is like a sea-lion with its cubs. He carves the meat and serves each mate silently.
    • Ahab’s never announced a rule that the officers can’t talk or help themselves, but they still don’t, and the whole meal happens without a word spoken.
    • These meals are worst for Flask: he doesn’t get enough or anything very nice to eat, partly because he feels like he can’t help himself, partly because he has to come in last and leave first. Flask admits in private that he’s been hungry ever since he became an officer, and that he wishes he could be an ordinary sailor again so that he could eat a normal meal.
    • After the captain and three mates eat, the harpooneers get to have their dinner at the cabin-table. Their meal is much livelier: even their chewing is loud, they eat huge amounts, and Tashtego throws a fork like a harpoon at Dough-Boy if he doesn’t work fast enough to keep them fed.
    • Between the silent, sinister Ahab and the harpooneers who keep threatening to scalp him, Dough-Boy leads a pretty anxious life.
    • The harpooneers supposedly live in the cabin with the captain and mates, but in reality they just enter it to eat or sleep a little, and spend most of their time outside it.
    • Ahab mostly keeps the cabin to himself, but he’s not very pleasant company, so it doesn’t matter much.
  • Chapter 35: The Mast-Head

    • We move back to Ishmael’s perspective. Ishmael’s first experience as lookout (for whales or for anything else) on the mast-head comes during the nice weather further south.
    • Most American whaling ships, Ishmael explains, man the mast-heads from the time they leave port until every hold, jar, and bottle is full of whale.
    • Ishmael compares standing on the mast-head to standing on top of a renowned monument and to famous heroes occupying pillars—e.g., the pyramids, which he suggests were used for astronomy; the pillar-dwelling hermit St. Stylites; and generals and heroes like Napoleon, George Washington, and Admiral Nelson, who are now statues overlooking wide expanses from their pillars.
    • Ishmael excuses his comparison between land and sea pillars by describing whalemen's lookout towers on land that let ships know when it’s safe to head out.
    • Ishmael describes a shift on top of the mast-head as incredibly relaxing—you’re just hanging out a few hundred feet in the air, not reading any disturbing news, not getting anxious about anything, just feeling yourself move across the sea. You don’t even wonder about dinner, because everyone has the same thing all the time.
    • Of course, the problem is that there isn’t anything comfortable to stand or sit on; usually you’re perched on the cross-trees, two thin pieces of wood nailed to the mast, and you’re pretty cold.
    • On Greenland whalers, the lookouts have crow’s-nests, which are little tent or pulpit sort of things to sit in that hold your stuff and protect you a little from the weather, but they don’t have these on the southern whaling ships.
    • Ishmael thinks the best part of the crow’s-nest would be the ability to keep a flask of liquor in it.
    • Ishmael finds being on mast-head duty relaxing, but that’s mostly because he spends more time thinking up there and less time worrying about the things he supposed to be looking for.
    • He advises people who own whaling ships not to hire young men who look romantic or philosophic, because they’ll be terrible lookouts.
    • These types of young men will be more capable of feeling their identities dissolve into the natural world in a kind of ecstatic spiritual experience than they will to spot the whales they’ve been hired to find.
    • One problem with this transcendent encounter between man and nature? Is that this feeling might make a guy forget to hold on to the mast, and he could fall into the sea and drown.
  • Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

    • A short time after the pipe-throwing incident (Chapter 30), Ahab comes onto the deck one morning after breakfast and starts pacing.
    • Even the planks that don’t have special holes for his bone leg have dents in them from all his pacing, and the dents seem especially deep today.
    • Then Ahab shuts himself up in his cabin and paces some more.
    • Eventually he comes out and orders Starbuck to send everyone aft. The whole ship’s crew, even the lookouts, gather together.
    • Ahab keeps pacing. The crew start to wonder if they’re just there to watch him pace.
    • Ahab suddenly asks everyone basic questions about whaling, and they answer that when you see a whale you call out, lower the boats, and go after him, and your motto is "a dead whale or a stove [wrecked] boat" (36.16).
    • Ahab pulls out a gold Spanish doubloon, shows it to everyone, and announces that whichever lookout finds "a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw" that also has "three holes punctured in his starboard fluke" will get the doubloon (36.21).
    • Symbolism Alert: Ahab nails the doubloon to the mast.
    • The harpooneers, Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo, each react strangely to Ahab’s description of the white whale. Tashtego says it must be the whale some people call Moby Dick. At last! The title character gets mentioned!
    • Each of the harpooneers has seen Moby Dick, and they each know a little about him—how his spout looks, how he moves his tail, and how many different harpoons he has in him already.
    • Starbuck has also heard of Moby Dick—and he’s heard that Moby Dick is the whale that took off Ahab’s leg.
    • Ahab admits this and, getting really worked up, announces that he’s going to chase the whale everywhere, even to hell, in order to get revenge on it.
    • Everyone cheers and Ahab orders drinks for everyone, but Starbuck spoils the party by objecting. He says he came on the voyage to hunt whales and make money, not to get revenge for Captain Ahab. He’ll hunt Moby Dick if they happen to come across him, but he’s not going on some weird quest.
    • Ahab offers to pay Starbuck out of his own pocket to hunt the whale. Starbuck still objects and says that it’s blasphemous to be angry at a dumb animal.
    • Ahab argues that all things in the world are like "pasteboard masks" and that there’s some conscious thing behind them all.
    • In striking at the whale he is going to "strike through the mask" at whatever it was that destroyed his leg, and it doesn’t matter to him whether the whale was the thing itself or just the mask (36.39).
    • Ahab realizes that he’s disturbing Starbuck and starts to speak more calmly. He argues that Starbuck is here to hunt whales anyway, so why not this one? After all, everyone else in the crew is happy to hunt Moby Dick.
    • For some reason, Starbuck gives in to Ahab. (See Chapter 26, which foreshadows this weakness in Starbuck’s courage.)
    • For a moment, there are sinister omens everywhere: Starbuck prays, the wind dies down, there’s a strange laugh from below, and so on. Then it all passes away.
    • Ahab takes a pewter mug full of grog and arranges the harpooneers in a line standing across from him and holding their harpoons; the mates stand beside him holding their lances. The crew stands around them all in a circle.
    • Ahab sends the mug around to the crew for everyone to drink; they refill the cup each time it gets empty.
    • Next, Ahab makes the mates cross their lances in front of him, and he grasps them where they cross. Then he suddenly pulls at them in a strange way. Stubb and Flask look away and Starbuck looks down.
    • Ahab says that it’s probably for the best that the three mates failed to absorb his electric anger, because then he might have lost it himself.
    • Now Ahab orders the harpooneers to cut the ropes that hold the iron heads of their harpoons to the handles. Each harpooneer hands the head of his harpoon to the mate that he works with. The mates, as cupbearers, turn the heads over and use the socket ends as cups, which Ahab fills with grog. Then they give these cups back to the harpooneers, who drink "Death to Moby Dick!" (36.49)
    • Everyone has one more drink, and they disperse.
    • Starbuck turns pale and shivers.
  • Chapter 37: Sunset

    • Note that this chapter has stage directions at the beginning and in the middle. From now through Chapter 40, the novel will take on the style of a play.
    • For this chapter only, the novel shifts into first-person narration from Captain Ahab himself. Since the novel is temporarily turning into a play anyway, you can think of it as a soliloquy, a dramatic monologue laying out the internal reflections of a character.
    • Ahab notes that he seems to turn everything around him paler.
    • Ahab imagines himself wearing the "Iron Crown of Lombardy," which was used to crown the Holy Roman Emperors and was supposed to contain a nail from Jesus' cross. He feels like the jagged edge of the metal is digging into his forehead.
    • Ahab can’t enjoy the sunset, although he knows it’s beautiful. He seems to have lost the power to enjoy things.
    • Ahab is surprised that nobody seriously objected to his plan of revenge. He knows that he’s somewhat crazy, but he can’t change his plans at this point. He’s going to run over everything that gets in the way of his quest for the white whale.

  • Chapter 38: Dusk

    • This chapter is Starbuck’s soliloquy.
    • Starbuck senses that, even though his soul is rebelling against Ahab’s plan for revenge, he’s going to continue supporting and helping Ahab as first mate.
    • He hopes that they won’t be able to find the whale in the vast ocean. Maybe then Ahab’s blasphemous vengeance won’t be able to happen.
    • When he hears the men partying down below, Starbuck is alarmed and disgusted by the "heathen crew" accompanying him on this voyage (38.2).
    • He feels horrified by life and hopes he can fight against the evil things he senses.

  • Chapter 39: First Night-Watch

    • This chapter is Stubb’s soliloquy.
    • Stubb is alone, mending a brace.
    • He’s decided to react to this whole situation with a good hearty laugh.
    • It’s all predestined anyway, he thinks, and so the wise thing to do is just to be merry as long as he can.
    • He feels a little better because now Ahab has mastered Starbuck the way Stubb himself got mastered earlier.

  • Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle

    • 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.
  • Chapter 41: Moby Dick

    • The novel returns in this chapter to Ishmael’s first-person account of the voyage of the Pequod.
    • Ishmael tells us that he, like the rest of the crew, is totally ready to jump on the swearing-revenge-on-Moby-Dick bandwagon.
    • Moby Dick has been around for a while, apparently, but whaling ships go on such long voyages, and they’re often so far apart, that it’s taken some time for his legend to spread.
    • Plenty of ships have fought him without recognizing him as one specific legendary whale.
    • It used to be the case that, even when sperm whale hunters heard the legend of Moby Dick, it didn’t stop them from hunting him if they came across him.
    • Over time, however, Moby Dick has brought about so many accidents and catastrophes that even the bravest don’t want to attack him anymore.
    • Now, the rumors have, naturally, been embroidered by superstitious claims that there’s something supernatural about Moby Dick.
    • Still, even leaving Moby Dick as a particularly vicious whale aside, sperm whales have always had a reputation for being way more tough than other kinds of normal, wimpy whales like the right whale.
    • Some writers even claim that sperm whales are the vampires of the sea, constantly out for human blood. Okay, "vampires of the sea" was our phrase, but you get the idea.
    • The result of all this is that most of the guys who have gotten accustomed to hunting right whales absolutely refuse to hunt sperm whales.
    • A few of them, however, are still willing to hunt sperm whales, even Moby Dick, mostly because they’re pretty far down the grapevine and hadn’t heard all the stories yet.
    • At one point, says Ishmael, whalers actually believed that Moby Dick was everywhere at once, and that different ships could hunt him in different places at the same time.
    • Ishmael thinks this is probably just because whales know about some kind of Arctic Passage that ships haven’t found yet.
    • After a while, some whalers have even started believing that Moby Dick is immortal, because he has been fought so many times and kept on living. So now, he’s everywhere, at all times, at once... omnipresent and omnitemporal... hmm, who does that remind you of?
    • Even if Moby Dick doesn’t have supernatural powers, he’s still terrifying: he has a "peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump" (41.16) as well as a pattern of strange white marbling on his body and a deformed lower jaw.
    • Plus, when boats are chasing him, he turns around and attacks them.
    • He’s a malignant, violent, evil mockery of a normally placid, natural creature, so of course he freaks out the sailors who encounter him.
    • Having established Moby Dick’s reputation, Ishmael (or the narrator—how could Ishmael know this?) describes the scene in which Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick:
    • Having lost all three of his ship’s whaling boats to Moby Dick’s violence, Ahab’s floundering around in the water, and everything is basically falling apart.
    • Ahab grabs the only weapon he can find, a six-inch knife, which is as threatening to a whale as a splinter is to you.
    • Moby Dick sweeps "his sickle-shaped lower jaw" (41.21) underneath Ahab and cuts one of his legs right off.
    • Ahab begins by being furious at Moby Dick specifically for his maiming; then, he starts to blame the whale for all of his pain and anger. Eventually, Ahab turns the White Whale into a Symbol of All Evil.
    • This doesn’t all happen at once, of course, but as his ship is traveling home, Ahab lies in his hammock stewing over things and slowly going crazy. You know how your mom used to tell you, "if you make that face long enough, it’ll freeze like that"? That’s what happened to Ahab’s mind.
    • On the voyage home, Ahab is obviously crazy, ranting and raving, and his crew have to put him in a straitjacket.
    • Later, Ahab calms down and seems to have gotten over his little psychotic break, but all he really does is push his madness below the surface. He becomes more successful (although, we would argue, not entirely successful) at hiding his crazy from other people.
    • Ishmael (or perhaps it’s the narrator at this point) describes Ahab as noble and tragic, a man who can tell that he’s only pretending to be sane, but can’t help himself.
    • The owners of the Pequod must have heard about all this, but they probably just thought it would make Ahab an even better captain, because now he has a weird grudge against whales.
    • All they care about is their profits, and they don’t realize that Ahab might jeopardize their shareholder returns.
    • The strangest thing is how perfectly the situation has worked out for Ahab—it almost seems like some higher power has handpicked a crew of people easily convinced to join his crazy revenge quest.
  • Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale

    • Ishmael explains what Moby Dick means to him (in contrast to what the whale means to Captain Ahab).
    • What really bothers Ishmael about the whale is its whiteness.
    • In a sentence-turned-paragraph, Ishmael describes all the natural and unnatural contexts in which whiteness is considered good or superior, including everything from pearls to white supremacy to priests’ white robes.
    • Despite all these things, however, Ishmael claims that the fundamental idea of whiteness "strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood" (42.3).
    • As a result, Ishmael claims, anything that is already terrible seems even more horrifying when it has a ghostly, eerie whiteness to it, like a white shark or a polar bear. (Apparently, Ishmael suffers from polarbearophobia.)
    • And then there’s the albatross: aren’t those creepy? (Never mind that they’re supposed to be good omens for sailors—focus on the creepiness.).
    • Next, Ishmael tells a supposed Native American legend of a divine White Steed, which inspires everyone who sees it with awe and terror.
    • The next example of disturbing whiteness is albino human beings, who, Ishmael claims, people instinctively fear. Just when we thought Ishmael was getting over this whole skin-color-prejudice thing by getting to know Queequeg, he comes out with something else.
    • Whiteness gets associated with evil things in Nature (the White Squall), evil things in civilization (the White Hoods of Ghent, a group of Flemish rebels who rose up against the French king Louis II), and metaphysical evil things (ghosts).
    • So, Ishmael argues, even if white can sometimes symbolize things that are "grand or gracious," it also "calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul" (42.11). In other words, even when it’s good, it’s bad.
    • What Ishmael really wants to know is why: why does something seem way more sinister if it’s white?
    • He lists lots of examples, but we’re thinking of the white storm trooper uniforms in Star Wars. Don't they seem way more evil than if they all wore khaki? And what about Saruman from The Lord of the Rings? Or, Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup in The Dark Knight definitely counts—that’s the kind of freaky whiteness we’re talking about here.
    • Of course, Ishmael admits that, when people are afraid of something white, they don’t usually think it’s frightening—because it’s white, especially if the object of their fear isn’t something they usually worry about in other colors. To clarify, Ishmael gives two examples:
    • First, mariners get scared when their ships are surrounded by white water. Sure, they’ll claim they’re just afraid of their ship hitting rocks in the shallows, breaking up completely, and everyone drowning, but Ishmael knows that what they really fear is the whiteness of the water.
    • Second, even though lots of people aren’t afraid of wide expanses of snow, sailors are terrified by the Antarctic seas. And no, it’s not the giant icebergs. So there.
    • Ishmael admits that some people might think he’s being a tad bit panicky, but he thinks that he’s reacting based on some hidden instinct, the way a horse who’s never been gored by or even seen a buffalo will freak out if it smells buffalo hide.
    • Finally, Ishmael suggests a few reasons that whiteness might seem alarming: because it’s indefinite, void, makes us think of non-existence and atheism, and is simultaneously the absence of color and a mixture of all the colors.
    • And all those things (everything above, this whole chapter) are what the White Whale symbolizes. So now do you see why everyone’s joining in the insane hunt-quest?
  • Chapter 43: Hark!

    • 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.
  • Chapter 44: The Chart

    • In this chapter, the narrative is still third-person omniscient.
    • The night after the storm (the one that happened back at the end of Chapter 40, which broke up the fight), Captain Ahab goes down to his cabin, takes out a bunch of yellowing sea charts and studies them carefully, comparing them to old log-books and marking them up with a pencil.
    • While he does this, the lamp overhead swings back and forth, making lines appear on his forehead just as he is drawing lines on his charts. (Hmm, where else did we see a swinging lamp? Oh, right, in Father Mapple’s sermon on Jonah in chapter nine.)
    • Ahab does this pretty much every night, using charts of four oceans to try to correlate the currents and tides, the location of sperm whale prey, the hunting season, and Moby Dick’s past habits, so that he can figure out where and when he’ll have the best chance of finding the White Whale.
    • He is totally, as Melville likes to say, monomaniacal.
    • The narrator assures us that, even though it seems completely insane to try to find one particular whale by searching all the oceans, it’s actually possible to track a lot of variables and make some educated guesses about where sperm whales as a species will be, especially since they often migrate in straight lines in known positions.
    • Basically, says the narrator, the ocean’s crisscrossed with whale freeways.
    • Of course, although you can be pretty sure there will be some sperm whales on certain "freeways" in a particular season, you can’t always be sure that it will be a certain individual whale.
    • Moby Dick has been in four different places in the same season for the past four years.
    • Still, during the height of the whaling season, Moby Dick appears to hover around the equator: that’s where most of the "deadly encounters" with him have happened, including Ahab’s leg-severing mishap.
    • The Pequod left Nantucket at the beginning of one whaling season, so Ahab’s spent the last several months sailing south through the Atlantic and heading toward Cape Horn so that he can go through the Indian Ocean and past the islands of Southeast Asia into the Pacific in time for next year’s season.
    • (For a map of the Pequod’s route, check out the maps in the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, or see this 1956 map, held by the Library of Congress.)
    • Since it’s a three-year voyage, he’s got plenty of time.
    • Still, Ahab is impatient to get this whole vengeance thing going—hence all this obsessive work with the charts, trying to figure out if he can intercept Moby Dick somewhere else.
    • The narrator guesses that you’re thinking it will be hard to identify Moby Dick as an individual whale even if they do come across him, but his white forehead and hump makes it possible.
    • Ahab pretty much never calms down. Even when he’s sleeping, his hands are clenched, and when he wakes up from his crazy nightmares he seems possessed.
    • Ahab’s monomania seems to be something separate from the soul that also inhabits his body.
    • It’s like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, only he created the alien thing himself just by sulking too much.
  • Chapter 45: The Affidavit

    • We’re going to go ahead and say that this chapter is from Ishmael’s perspective.
    • Really, though, it’s just first-person narration, and the "I" that’s speaking here could just as easily be the faceless narrator and/or Melville himself. (A lot of the whaling experience that’s referenced here is from Melville’s own life.)
    • The narrator claims that he has to give some more background on whaling in order to prove a few things. He mentions them in no particular order.
    • First, he says, he knows of three separate occasions when a (a) whale had an initial encounter with one man, (b) escaped with the man’s harpoon stuck in him, (c) met the same man again later, but (d) lost the fight that time and got slaughtered.
    • There’s no possibility of mistake, he says, because the previous harpoons, which had personal markings on them, were still in the whales.
    • Second, there have been several times when specific whales became well known and identifiable by their markings and personalities.
    • Such whales have been given names by sailors—Timor Jack, New Zealand Tom, Morquan, Don Miguel.
    • Each of these famous whales was eventually hunted down by a whaling captain who got a bit obsessed with him. So there’s some real-life precedent for this whole Ahab-versus-Moby-Dick thing. History is repeating itself.
    • The narrator also mentions a few different whaling catastrophes, just to make it clear that Moby Dick is a real sea adventure story, not "a monstrous fable" or "a hideous and intolerable allegory" (45.7).
    • So, this white whale is super-symbolic of everything (see, oh, all of Chapters 41 and 42), but it’s also not just a symbol.
    • First, the narrator says, whaling and fishing are generally known to be dangerous, but people don’t usually realize just how dangerous they are (clearly, this novel predates the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch). Most deaths at sea don’t get reported in your local New England newspapers.
    • Second, even though regular idiot landlubbers like us know whales are big, they don’t usually seem to realize just how powerful and dangerous they are.
    • Sperm whales, the narrator claims, sometimes deliberately attack and sink ships. He gives several examples of this happening:
    • In 1820, the Essex was attacked by a whale that bashed its head against the ship in order to sink it. (This is the story that’s explored in the documentary Moby Dick: The True Story, by the way.)
    • In 1807, the Union sank under what might have been similar circumstances, although nobody really knows any details.
    • About twenty years before, an American warship was sailing the Pacific, and during a conversation about whaling, the Commodore laughed off the idea that a whale could damage his ship at all.
    • The irony gods seemed to hear this: a few weeks later, a sperm whale damaged the hull so badly that the ship had to head straight for port, pumping water out of the hold the whole time.
    • On another occasion, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a Russian ship struck a surfaced whale almost the way it would hit an iceberg, and the whole ship was lifted three feet out of the water, but ended up unscathed.
    • Something similar happened to a ship sailing toward Juan Fernandes (a group of Pacific Islands)— the ship seemed to hit something very hard, but there wasn’t any rock there, and they eventually decided it had been an earthquake. The narrator, however, thinks that a whale hit the bottom of the ship’s hull.
    • The narrator claims that he has many examples "of the great power and malice of the sperm whale" (45.19), but decides to give just one more: a legend that, in the sixth century, a magistrate of Constantinople named Procopius recorded the capture of a sea monster that had been destroying ships in the area for fifty years.
    • The narrator claims, based on circumstantial evidence, that this must have been a sperm whale. (Not exactly a rock solid case.)
  • Chapter 46: Surmises

    • The point of view of this chapter is unclear; it could be Ishmael narrating, but the complete lack of first-person pronouns and the insight into Ahab’s mind both suggest that this is our third-person omniscient narrator.
    • Even though Ahab is completely obsessed with Moby Dick, he’s still interested in hunting other sperm whales, partly because he’s always been a whaleman and partly because continuing with the original goal of the voyage (to make money) will keep the men (especially Starbuck) in order.
    • The seamen need something to do other than stand around obsessing about Moby Dick all the time.
    • They also need to feel like they’re getting rich—or at least making a living—off of plundering the sea, the way crusaders pillaged as they traveled toward Jerusalem. (That’s Melville’s analogy, by the way, not ours.)
    • Ahab also wants to make sure that his crew and officers don’t start thinking too hard about how insane he is, because if they mutinied he wouldn’t be able to carry out his plan for revenge.
    • The upshot of all this is that Ahab gives standing orders that they’ll hunt any whale they see. (Otherwise, how could you have more than half the book left to read?)
    • Soon, they have a chance to try.
  • Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

    • Just when we thought Ishmael and Queequeg had disappeared from this book for good, here they are again! Heck, we haven’t seen Queequeg since Chapter 36. Anyway, here they both are, working together to weave a mat on a cloudy afternoon.
    • Ishmael is passing the shuttle (which has one strand of yarn, the woof) through the threads on the loom (the warp). Queequeg is hitting the woof with a long piece of wood (the sword) to tamp down the threads.
    • Dreamily, Ishmael decides that their present activity is like a huge metaphor for the way that fate, free will, and chance operate: the warp, which is fixed in place before the weaving starts, is like fate; Ishmael’s shuttle, which he can move however he wants, is like free will; and Queequeg’s sword blows, which are somewhat random, are like chance. (You can read our thoughts on this metaphor in the "Quotes and Thoughts" on the theme "Fate and Free Will.")
    • Suddenly, the weaving is interrupted when Tashtego, who is the current lookout, calls that he’s sighted a whale. And, yes, he shouts "There she blows!"
    • Everything goes crazy and they start getting the three boats ready to launch, complete with mates, harpooneers, and rowers.
    • Just as they’re about to launch, five dark-skinned men that nobody’s ever seen before appear around Captain Ahab.
  • Chapter 48: The First Lowering

    • Four of the strange men, who look to Ishmael like "aboriginal natives of the Manilas" (48.1), are preparing and lowering what everyone thought was a spare boat to go after the whale.
    • The fifth is a tall man with yellowish skin, a Chinese-style black silk jacket, and braided white hair wrapped around his head like a turban. Ahab calls him Fedallah.
    • Ishmael, that paragon of measured, fair judgment, immediately decides that these figures must be evil and demonic.
    • Fedallah lowers the spare boat with Ahab in it and the four other strangers rowing, and they glide up to the other three boats, which are headed by the three mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. (Apparently, the mates launched their boats sometime between Chapter 47 and Chapter 48.)
    • Ahab starts giving orders. Everyone is stunned by this unexpected revelation, but they start obeying.
    • Stubb is the first to follow Ahab’s commands and forget about the strange situation.
    • He starts ordering his crew around, swearing at them and abusing them, but saying everything so wittily and in such a lazy, friendly way that they don’t seem to mind and working hard to please him anyway.
    • Archy and Cabaco are rowers in Stubb’s boat, and Archy doesn’t lose any time in saying "I told you so" about the stowaways.
    • Starbuck’s boat crosses the path of Stubb’s, and Stubb calls out to Starbuck, asking what he thinks about "those yellow boys" (48.16).
    • Starbuck agrees that they must have been smuggled on board earlier, but suggests that everyone forget about it and concentrate on hunting sperm whales and making some cash.
    • Ishmael explains that, even though the five strangers appearing right at the moment when the hunt began is pretty freaky, everyone on the ship had heard Archy claiming he heard something out of place (see Chapter 43), so they were somewhat prepared for it.
    • Ishmael himself thinks about Elijah’s warnings and about the mysterious men he saw the morning the Pequod sailed (see Chapter 21).
    • Back to the whale hunt! Ahab’s boat is pulling out in front of the other three.
    • The four strange yellow-skinned men are rowing with unbelievable strength.
    • Fedallah is Ahab’s harpooneer, and he’s taken his jacket off so that he can thrust his bare chest out in the air to impress... wait a minute, who is he impressing?
    • Ahab is actually managing to stand up in the boat by using one arm as a counterweight for his balance—he’s even wielding the steering oar.
    • The whales have submerged a little. Starbuck shouts for everyone to keep an eye out for them and orders Queequeg to stand up.
    • There’s a pause while everyone who can stands up in the boats to scan the water.
    • Flask is standing on a handy post, but he’s so short that even that isn’t enough height for him. He asks Daggoo to hold an oar in the air for him to stand on, but Daggoo volunteers to let Flask stand on his shoulders instead.
    • Symbolism alert: Flask climbs up on Daggoo’s shoulders, bracing himself against an arm Daggoo holds up in the air for the purpose. The small, impatient white man stomping on top of the strong, steady black man makes Ishmael think of them as allegorical figures like Passion and Vanity.
    • Stubb is the only one who doesn’t seem worked up about the hunt. He takes his pipe out of his hatband and loads it, but before he can light it, Tashtego, who is his harpooneer, sees the whales and calls out.
    • All there is to see is a little patch of churning water moving along the surface of the ocean, but all the boats start chasing it. The whales seem to be getting away!
    • Starbuck urges his rowers on. Unlike Stubb, he doesn’t abuse and mock his men—all he does is whisper intensely to them to keep pulling on their oars.
    • Flask’s coaching style is different from both Stubb’s and Starbuck’s and consists entirely of shouting and throwing his hat around.
    • Stubb, still with his unlit pipe in his mouth, manages to multitask by making fun of his crew and of Flask’s weird fits at the same time.
    • Ishmael edits out what Ahab says to his crew as unfit for Christian ears. Just consider it bleeped by the FCC.
    • Flask keeps yelling at his crew about the whale that’s behind them. (Because of the way the oars are arranged in the boats, the rowers are facing backwards and can’t see where they’re going.) His men start to glance nervously over their shoulders, even though this interferes with their rowing.
    • They continue chasing the whales. The boats are riding high upon the waves and then crashing down on the other side, the Pequod is following fast behind the boats, and the whales seem to have separated.
    • There are whale-spouts and patches of white water all around the boats.
    • Starbuck’s boat, on which Ishmael is a rower, hits a large patch of mist and nobody can see anything. The wind is rising and there’s a storm coming on.
    • They can hear the other boats, but they can’t see them. Starbuck orders Queequeg to stand up. The boat is still rushing through the mist. The rowers can hear the whale surfacing and wallowing behind them, but can’t see it.
    • Starbuck gives the order and Queequeg throws his harpoon.
    • At the same moment, the squall hits the boat.
    • The whale escapes and the boat is thrown around by what feels like an earthquake.
    • Starbuck’s boat is still in one piece, but flooded.
    • Everyone gets back to his place after being tossed around, but they’re sitting knee-deep in the water.
    • There’s nothing they can do as the storm rages around them; the water’s rising too fast for them to bale out the boat.
    • Starbuck manages to light a lantern and attach it to a pole, then orders Queequeg to hold this pole out in the storm, trying to let the other whaling boats or the Pequod know where they are and that they need help.
    • They stay like this for hours as dawn starts to break.
    • The lantern has burned out and lies broken in the bottom of the boat.
    • They sit waiting. It’s still misty and they can’t see very far.
    • Suddenly, they hear a creaking noise, and then out of the mist comes the Pequod, heading straight for them.
    • The men all bail out as the boat is destroyed in a crash with the ship.
    • It turns out that the other ships left the hunt before the storm hit and got back to the Pequod hours ago. The ship has been looking for Starbuck’s boat ever since.
  • Chapter 49: The Hyena

    • Ishmael is starting to feel like the entire universe is just one giant practical joke at his expense, and he feels detached and ready to accept the abuse of Fate.
    • As Ishmael’s pulled up on deck of the ship (he’s is the last to be rescued), he asks Queequeg whether this sort of thing—chasing a whale in a storm and almost drowning—is common on whaling voyages. Queequeg agrees stoically that it is.
    • Next, Ishmael asks Stubb if ordering his men to go out under these dangerous conditions is usual for a prudent man like Starbuck, and Stubb says that it is.
    • Finally, Ishmael turns to Flask and asks if most whalemen regularly row themselves backwards into the jaws of death. Flask agrees that it’s pretty typical.
    • After these assurances of what his future on the Pequod is likely to be, Ishmael decides to make a last will and testament, appointing Queequeg as his executor.
    • Ishmael tells us that this is the fourth time in his sea-going life that he’s made a will.
    • It always makes him feel better, almost as though his death has already happened and now he’s living on borrowed time.
  • Chapter 50: Ahab’s Boat and Crew · Fedallah

    • Now that the excitement of the chase is over, Ishmael and the rest of the crew have time to wonder about the bizarre appearance of Fedallah and his men.
    • Flask and Stubb are amazed that Ahab actually went out in one of the boats, even though he’s missing a leg. They don’t actually know whether the leg is cut off above or below the knee because they haven’t seen Ahab kneel.
    • Ishmael proposes an age-old whaleboat dilemma: should the captain risk his (relatively important) life by going out in one of the hunting boats personally?
    • In Ahab’s case, there’s even more reason for him to stay on the ship—even completely able-bodied men have trouble standing upright in the boats, and Ahab’s disability might jeopardize the other men in his boat.
    • At least, that’s what the owners of the Pequod thought, and that’s why the three hunting boats are under the command of the three mates.
    • But Ahab wants to have a boat of his own so he can get out there and hunt Moby Dick, so he has taken steps of his own to make sure he’d have a boat and a crew.
    • Before they set off, the seamen saw Ahab making some preparations in the spare boat that suggested he was getting it ready for himself, but they thought he’d only go out to hunt Moby Dick—not other whales.
    • The four rowers that Ahab secretly brought aboard the Pequod quickly find their places in the crew, but Fedallah always seems mystical and strange, both more primitive and closer to the gods than other men.
  • Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

    • Several weeks go by while the Pequod trolls around in different parts of the ocean.
    • One moonlit night, Fedallah sees a whale spout ahead of the ship in the distance.
    • Fedallah’s been keeping watch at night, even though usually seamen don’t lower the boats or hunt in the dark, whether they sight whales or not.
    • Ahab orders the sails to be set, and the Pequod rushes after the spout.
    • Different symbolic conflicts happen here: the ship seems to be torn between rushing forward after the whale and being lifted up toward heaven by the wind, and Ahab’s walk alternates between a living leg and a dead piece of whalebone.
    • Eventually, the spout stops appearing.
    • Everyone thinks they’ve seen it once, but no more.
    • Several days go by and the sailors have almost forgotten the spout when, suddenly, it appears t and disappears in the middle of the night again like before.
    • This keeps happening—every few nights, they see the spout, but they never actually see the whale, and they never catch up with it before it disappears.
    • Some of the sailors decide, purely due to superstition, the creepiness of the calm weather, and the mysterious evening spout, that this must be Moby Dick.
    • When the Pequod finally turns east (they’ve been heading south in the Atlantic, and now they’re going around the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa), the spirit-spout and creepy calmness disappear in stormy weather, but things are still pretty depressing.
    • Sea-ravens land on the ship in droves, as though it were already an abandoned wreck for them to scavenge. The sea is choppy and violent.
    • All they can do is ride out the storm, so Ahab stands silently on the deck staring into the wind, and the crew ride in the waist (the level just below the main deck), tying themselves to the railings to make primitive seatbelts.
    • Starbuck is haunted by Ahab’s behavior, especially one evening, when he goes into the captain’s cabin to look at the barometer. He finds Ahab asleep in his chair with his head thrown back and his closed eyes pointed toward the compass.
  • Chapter 52: The Albatross

    • When the Pequod comes to the Crozetts, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, she sees another whaling ship, the Goney. ("Goney" is another name for an albatross.)
    • The Goney’s wood is bleached, and along the white sides of the ship are red streaks of rust.
    • The men on board have long beards and tattered clothes and remain completely silent, even though the two ships pass close enough for the men to talk.
    • Ahab calls out to the other ship, immediately asking if they’ve seen the White Whale.
    • The Goney’s captain holds up a primitive megaphone to answer him, but somehow manages to drop it into the sea.
    • Ahab seems to consider sending out a boat to board the Goney, but the wind is against them.
    • As the wake of the Goney washes past the Pequod, shoals of small fish that have been swimming alongside break away from the Pequod and arrange themselves around the Goney.
    • Ahab is deeply saddened by this small thing and takes it as a bad omen.
    • Ahab draws strength from somewhere and orders them to keep sailing "round the world." Ishmael wishes it were really a voyage of discovery instead of an insane revenge quest.
  • Chapter 53: The Gam

    • Ishmael, or possibly our Melvillean narrator, takes some time out to explain how strange it is that the Pequod and the Goney didn’t interact more.
    • Ahab’s excuse for not boarding the other ship was the weather, but even if the weather had been great, Ishmael suspects that he wouldn’t have been interested in exchanging any news with them except news of the white whale.
    • Usually, when two whaling ships meet, they exchange information—the ship that’s just set out tells the ship that’s returning all the news from home, and the ship that’s returning tells the new ship about what the whaling has been like this season. Sometimes they even have letters for one another.
    • Even when the ships come from different countries, they still socialize as long as they speak some common language—although when English and American ships meet, there’s some national pride and snobbery.
    • In contrast to the interaction between whaling ships, which is quite matey, other types of ships are more standoffish: merchant ships ignore each other, warships interact with rituals and ceremonies and military discipline, slave ships hurry away from one another, and pirate ships don’t meet because they don’t like to observe how villainous their business is.
    • Whaling ships, however, usually have a "Gam" when they meet—something nobody but whalemen has even heard of.
    • During a Gam, both captains go on board one ship and both first mates on the other, and the ships exchange men so that they can all socialize. It’s like a foreign exchange program for seamen (though they all go back to their own ships at the end).
    • The other strange thing about a Gam is that, because the boatload of exchangees is so full, the captain has nowhere to sit and has to balance standing up in the boat the whole time, which is incredibly difficult. But he can’t be seen to hold on to anything because it would be undignified.
    • Of course, occasionally the boat rocks so hard that he must grab something—even if it’s the hair of a nearby rowing sailor.
  • Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story

    • Ishmael explains that the Cape of Good Hope is a popular area where lots of ships tend to meet.
    • This is why, shortly after meeting and passing the Goney, the Pequod encounters another ship, the Town-Ho.
    • The Town-Ho’s crew is mostly Polynesian.
    • The two ships have a Gam, and the sailors from the Town-Ho share news about Moby Dick.
    • What Ahab and the mates don’t know—what the captain of the Town-Ho doesn’t even know—is that there’s another part of the story that has been kept secret.
    • Three seamen from the Town-Ho know this secret and tell it to Tashtego, making him promise not to tell anyone.
    • Luckily for us, Tashtego talks in his sleep, and lets enough of the story slip that he’s forced to explain all of it to the other seamen.
    • Ishmael tells us the story in the same way, he reports, that he told it while drinking at the Golden Inn at Lima (the capital of Peru, if you remember your geography class) two years after his fateful voyage. He even includes the interruptions of two of his friends, Don Pedro and Don Sebastian, as they ask questions.
    • Got all that? This is a story told by three men from the Town-Ho to Tashtego, who tells it to Ishmael, who tells it in Lima and then tells us how he told it in Lima. So let the story-within-a-story begin:
    • The Town-Ho is sailing north of the equator in the Pacific when it develops a mysterious leak.
    • The crew can’t find the source of the leak, but it doesn’t seem very dangerous, so at first they just keep pumping water out of the hold.
    • Eventually, though, the leak becomes extreme and the crew starts to worry, so they set out for a nearby harbor.
    • The ship could make it to harbor without any problems—they have three dozen men who can keep the pumps working—except for a conflict between two men: the domineering mate, Mr. Radney, and an angry seaman named Steelkilt.
    • Radney is a Nantucketer and Steelkilt is a Lakeman (from the shores of Lake Erie), so we’ve already got some regional conflict going on.
    • Ishmael describes the areas around lakes as miniature oceans, with the same variety of peoples and wildlife on their shores and the same free spirit inspired by their open expanses of water. Steelkilt, as a Lakeman, is "wild-ocean born" (54.7). (Also, "Steelkilt" is definitely in the running for funniest name in the novel.)
    • Radney, even though he’s from Nantucket and has been raised in what amounts to an urban environment, is still "as vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman" (54.7).
    • So far, Radney has been a decent guy, and Steelkilt has behaved okay because he’s been treated with respect. So far.
    • After another day or two of sailing toward harbor, the Town-Ho’s leak seems to get worse again. According to Ishmael, this isn’t as bad as it sounds—most ships are always pumping some water out of the hold on a constant basis, and it’s really only alarming if you’re absolutely in the middle of nowhere.
    • Still, some of the men start to worry about the extent of the leak, especially Radney.
    • Most of the men take Radney’s caution as a joke, because Radney’s a part owner in the ship and he’s probably just nervous about his investment.
    • Ishmael reminds us that it’s pretty common for a superior who has a proud subordinate to try and crush that man if he can, and this is pretty much the case with Radney and Steelkilt.
    • Radney is an ugly, stubborn, nasty little man, and Steelkilt is as noble and proud as Charlemagne (or Billy Budd, a character in another Melville novel—this type of conflict is something of a theme for him).
    • Steelkilt is working with a group of other men to pump water out of the hold as Radney walks by.
    • Steelkilt ignores Radney and trash-talks him as though he isn’t there.
    • Steelkilt jokes that the hole in the ship was probably just caused by a swordfish and that, if Radney’s worried about it coming back with a saw-fish and a file-fish, he should jump overboard and chase all the fish away from the ship himself.
    • Radney demands that Steelkilt and the other men to keep working, and they do.
    • For a long time, they work as hard as they can at the pumps.
    • Eventually, exhausted, they have to take a break.
    • While Steelkilt is sitting, exhausted and sweating, Radney goes over and orders him to get a broom and a shovel and clean some pig poop off the deck. (Yes, they actually have a pig on board.)
    • Sweeping is usually something that boys do on the ship, and, as the captain of a gang of men working at the pump, Steelkilt shouldn’t have to do menial work like shoveling pig poo. It’s an obvious insult.
    • Steelkilt looks into Radney’s eyes and realizes that he’s losing it, so he doesn’t react too much; he quietly says that it’s not his job to clean the deck, and points out three boys who haven’t done anything all day and who are usually assigned to clean the deck.
    • Radney swears at Steelkilt and grabs a nearby hammer, which he shakes in the man’s face.
    • Steelkilt still stays calm; he walks slowly backwards away from the mate, refusing to get into a fight, as Radney keeps threatening him with the hammer.
    • Eventually, Steelkilt thinks he’s endured enough and stops retreating. He tells Radney that he’s not going to obey the order and that the mate should put the hammer down... or else.
    • Radney swings the hammer. The moment that it touches Steelkilt’s cheek, Steelkilt knocks Radney’s jaw back into his head.
    • Radney falls down, bleeding profusely.
    • Steelkilt shakes one of the ropes attached to the masthead, where two of his friends are on lookout duty. His friends are both Canallers.
    • Ishmael explains to Don Pedro and Don Sebastian back in Lima that Canallers are Erie Canal boatmen, and he describes the canals as a lawless world of anarchy, something like the corruptions of Venice.
    • On the canals, the Canaller seems effeminate and heroic, but on land he’s terrifying to ordinary people.
    • Working on the canals is also sort of like a gateway drug—it can seduce you away from regular respectable life into seeking your fortune at sea.
    • Back to the story: Steelkilt is surrounded by four harpooneers and the other three mates, but his two Canaller friends come sliding down the ropes and start fighting at Steelkilt’s side.
    • A group of seamen join Steelkilt and the two Canallers and it turns into a huge brawl.
    • The captain rushes around, ordering his men to seize Steelkilt and trying to get to the man himself with his pike, but he can’t get through the crowd.
    • Steelkilt jumps up on the barricade and refuses to get down.
    • If he’s shot, he tells the captain, everyone will mutiny.
    • The men refuse to go back to work at the pumps unless the captain promises not to punish them.
    • For a while, it’s a standoff.
    • Steelkilt paces around on the barricade, alternately offering to surrender if he’s not punished and urging the seamen to arm themselves with knives.
    • Steelkilt tells the captain that he won’t attack anyone else, or urge the men to, unless the officers attack first—but they won’t go back to work unless the captain promises they won’t be flogged.
    • The captain won’t promise this, and so Steelkilt and the ten men who’ve been supporting him end up going down into the forecastle, where the captain locks them in.
    • This leaves twenty seamen on deck who haven’t taken sides yet.
    • All through night, some of the officers keep watch around the forecastle to make sure Steelkilt and his men don’t break out.
    • The other men keep working the pumps.
    • At dawn, the captain orders the men back to work, but they still refuse. They’re fed a little water and biscuit.
    • This happens twice more, but on the fourth day, four of the men break away from Steelkilt and join the captain. The next day, three more men return to work, leaving Steelkilt and the two Canallers still on strike.
    • Steelkilt and his friends plan to break out the next day and run amok on the ship, trying to seize control of it from the captain.
    • However, when Steelkilt falls asleep, the other two reveal to each other that they each plan to betray Steelkilt and surrender.
    • They bind and gag Steelkilt while he sleeps and holler for the captain.
    • The captain and his men rush in, seize all three of them, and hang them in the rigging. (They’re not hung by their necks—the captain doesn’t want to kill them—it’s more like hanging on the wall of a dungeon.)
    • At dawn, the captain summons everyone to the deck. He says he won’t flog the seven men who surrendered, but he whips the two Canallers (still in the rigging) until they’re unconscious.
    • The captain orders Steelkilt ungagged, so that the captain will be able to hear Steelkilt scream as he’s flogged.
    • When the gag’s removed and Steelkilt can speak, he says he’ll murder the captain if he’s flogged.
    • Steelkilt whispers something that only the captain can hear and, in shock and amazement, the captain throws down the rope and orders Steelkilt released.
    • As the three junior mates start to untie Steelkilt, Radney appears among them.
    • He’s been lying in bed nursing his head wound, but today, he hears the ruckus and comes up to see what it is.
    • He can hardly speak, but says that he’ll do what the captain doesn’t dare. He picks up the rope.
    • Steelkilt whispers his mysterious threat to Radney, but Radney whips him anyway.
    • The three men are taken down from the rigging and everyone goes back to work.
    • That evening, the two Canallers run up to the cabin and tell the captain and officers that they’re afraid of the crew. They’re put in protective confinement.
    • The rest of the men don’t seem ready to mutiny—they seem to be following instructions from Steelkilt to obey all orders until they get to a harbor, when they plan to desert the ship as a group.
    • They’ve agreed, however, not to call out if they see any whales.
    • Steelkilt is still waiting to take his own revenge on Radney.
    • He’s been assigned to work on Radney’s watch, which gives him plenty of opportunity.
    • Radney has another strange habit that Steelkilt can use for his own purposes: he sometimes naps sitting on the quarterdeck, leaning on the boat that’s hoisted there. There’s a large gap between the boat and the ship’s sides that goes straight down to the sea.
    • Steelkilt spends the next day braiding something out of twine. He’s also observed with a large iron ball encased in netting.
    • Before Steelkilt can actually murder Radney, one of the sailors, forgetting about the pact not to sight whales, calls out that he’s seen Moby Dick.
    • The mates and harpooneers are excited about capturing a famous whale; the seamen are nervous about the ghostly, ghastly white monster.
    • The four boats are lowered; Steelkilt, of course, is the bowsman (main rower) in Radney’s boat.
    • Radney orders Steelkilt to ram their boat into the side of the whale; Steelkilt does, and Radney, holding his spear, is thrown from the boat onto the whale and flounders in the spray. Moby Dick snatches Radney in his mouth and plunges down into the sea.
    • Steelkilt cuts the line tied to Radney’s spear to keep the boat from being pulled down, too.
    • Moby Dick surfaces in the distance.
    • All that’s left of Radney are some bits of his shirt in the whale’s teeth.
    • The boats chase Moby Dick, but he escapes.
    • The Town-Ho finally reaches a harbor at some strange, unnamed island, where most of the men, including Steelkilt, desert.
    • They steal a native canoe and set off on their own.
    • The captain "call[s] upon the islanders to assist him" in fixing the leak in the bottom of the ship. In other words, he kidnaps a bunch of locals and enslaves them for a while to do all the work (54.87)
    • The captain and officers have to guard "their dangerous allies"—i.e., their slaves—so intensely that they’re eventually exhausted and don’t dare to sail using them as crewmembers (54.87). They anchor the ship far from the shore and the captain and one other man set out in a boat to Tahiti to get a replacement crew.
    • Four days later, they see a canoe, which is, of course, Steelkilt and his men.
    • Steelkilt boards the captain’s boat and makes him swear to beach his boat on a nearby island and stay there for six days, and then he goes back to his own canoe and leaves.
    • Steelkilt and his men make it to Tahiti and get work on other ships sailing for France before the captain can badmouth them.
    • Ten days after Steelkilt’s new ship leaves, the captain gets to Tahiti and hires some Tahitian sailors, takes them back to his ship, and resumes his voyage.
    • Ishmael ends by saying that nobody knows where Steelkilt is now, and Radney’s widow still dreams about Moby Dick.
    • Ishmael’s listener, Don Sebastian, asks if the story is really true, and all the other men listening chime in with the same question.
    • Ishmael sends for a priest with a copy of the four gospels (which he refers to as "the Evangelists") and swears, with his hand on the gospels, that the story he told "is in substance and its great items, true" (55.109)—whatever that means.
    • He also says he’s met Steelkilt since the mutiny.
  • Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales

    • Once again, we get general information about whaling from an indefinite first-person narrator who might be Ishmael and might not.
    • Given that the last chapter was definitely written in Ishmael’s voice, perhaps we can assume that this chapter continues on from there. Still, the ambiguity is worth noticing.
    • Ishmael explains that, soon, he’ll describe whales as accurately as he can—but first, he’s going to survey all the inaccurate descriptions of whales that circulate among idiot landlubbers like us.
    • "Monstrous" or false and exaggerated images of whales have, according to Ishmael, been around since the beginning of civilization in India, Egypt, and Greece.
    • The oldest image of a whale, Ishmael claims, is an Indian statue of the god Vishnu as half man and half whale.
    • Ishmael dislikes it because the tail tapers too much and isn’t a proportionally accurate representation. (Because, of course, naturalistic accuracy was the first concern of ancient Hindu sculptors trying to show the power of the gods.)
    • Actually, Ishmael admits, the earliest representations of whales by Christian artists aren’t any better, and images of the whale that devours Jonah are especially bad.
    • Symbolism alert: There also seem to be a lot of strange images of whales in the publishing world, and connections made between the whale and the book as physical objects.
    • But Ishmael realizes that, so far, he’s only been talking about artistic images, not scientific ones. So what about the scientific ones—are they any better? Not really.
    • Sometimes these scientific illustrations make it look as though whales are icebergs with polar bears running across them; sometimes they get the direction of the flukes wrong; sometimes they’re drawn out of scale. Sometimes they’re just really bad drawings in kids’ textbooks. Sometimes pictures are labeled with the wrong species name.
    • Ishmael even objects to the whales painted on signs at inns, because they have huge humps and look like vicious monsters that have four sailor tarts for breakfast every morning.
    • But, Ishmael says, he understands why so many of these images are inaccurate: they tend to be drawn using the beached or slaughtered whale as a model, which would be like trying to paint a portrait by looking at a corpse.
    • It’s difficult, if not impossible, to paint the whale as it lives in the ocean, because its skeleton alone doesn’t give enough idea of its blubbery shape floating in the water.
    • The only way to really know what whales really look like, Ishmael tells us, is to go to sea and hunt them yourself.
  • Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes

    • Ishmael says that he’s tempted to keep discussing "monstrous pictures of whales" (see Chapter 55), but he’s willing to move on.
    • There are only a few artists and naturalists whose drawings of whales Ishmael can recommend as accurate. The best, he says, are some French engravings based on paintings by Ambroise Louis Garneray (whom Melville calls "Garnery.") They’re "action scenes" of men fighting a sperm whale and a right whale.
    • Even though he admits that "Garnery’s" whales are anatomically incorrect, Ishmael likes the engravings because of the intense depiction of the hunt.
    • For some reason, Ishmael says, the French painters and engravers tend to create "whaling scenes" instead of just drawing "the mechanical outline of things," as the British and American naturalists do in their sketches of whales (56.7).
    • Another French engraver, H. Durand, has also created images of whales together with whaling ships that tickle Ishmael’s fancy.
  • Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars

    • Ishmael describes a one-legged beggar who stands near the docks in London holding up a painted board that depicts the whale-hunting scene in which he lost his leg.
    • Ishmael explains that the beggar’s paintings of whales are as good as any he’s seen.
    • Many sailors carve images of whales, whaling ships, and hunting scenes on pieces of whale-bone and whale-tooth to pass the time while they’re on board ship; these are called "skrimshander." (You may have seen some of it on the Antiques Roadshow; if you ever find any, send it to us, because it’s valuable stuff.)
    • Ishmael compares the sailors carving whalebone (and sometimes wood) to different tribesmen—Native Americans, Hawaiians, and ancient Greeks—patiently working beautiful sculptures out of wood and bone. The sailor, he claims, is just as savage as any primitive tribesman.
    • Ishmael observes many other images of whales throughout the world, from brass door knockers to iron weather vanes to statues made of rock.
    • Sometimes you can even see the shape of a whale in the stone of a cliff, if you’re really obsessed with whales (as Ishmael inarguably is), or the outline of a whale as a starry constellation overhead in the evening sky. ("Cetus," "the whale," is a recognized constellation in the southern hemisphere.)
  • Chapter 58: Brit

    • 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.]
  • Chapter 59: Squid

    • The Pequod continues sailing northeast toward Java (Indonesia).
    • One morning, Daggoo, who is on lookout duty, calls out that he’s sighted Moby Dick! It’s a full red alert and everyone to action stations.
    • Everyone scurries to the boats and launches as soon as they see something in the distance.
    • The creature rises up in front of the boats—it’s a "vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color" (59.4), and it has a bunch of strange undulating tentacles. Then it submerges itself again.
    • Starbuck is disturbed and wishes it had been Moby Dick instead of what it is—a giant squid.
    • So they all have to sail back to the ship. No hunt today. False alarm.
    • Whalemen are deeply superstitious about squids, which they don’t understand very well and which they believe to be the prey of the sperm whale (this, according to a diorama we saw at the New York Natural History Museum, appears to be true), which sometimes vomits up severed squid arms in front of observers. Ick.
  • Chapter 60: The Line

    • We’ll admit it: this is a whole chapter about whaling line (like fishing line, but for whales). But it’s going somewhere interesting, we promise.
    • At first, nineteenth-century whalers used hemp rope infused with just a little bit of tar.
    • Recently, Ishmael informs us, they’ve started using Manilla rope, which is stronger but not as durable and, he adds, prettier. Hooray for aesthetically pleasing fishing equipment.
    • Whaling line is thin but strong—the whole rope can hold about three tons (more than many full-size SUVs).
    • The line is stored in the stern of the boat coiled in a tub. Whalers have to be very careful to coil their line with precision, because if it’s kinked or tangled it could kill someone as it plays out.
    • British whaling ships use two tubs together, while Americans use one. Ishmael explains that the British system is better because it makes everything fit more compactly in the boat.
    • Both ends of the line remain free, and the bottom end is tied in a loop and hangs over the side of the boat, for two reasons. First, if the whale takes the whole length of the line, then they can tie another boat’s line to the free-hanging loop. Second, if the rope were attached to the boat, the whale might be able to capsize it.
    • Things start getting symbolic: Ishmael tells us that before the boat is lowered from the ship to hunt a whale, the line is taken out of the tub and coiled intricately all around the boat—even across the handle of every oar and between the rowers.
    • When a harpoon actually strikes a whale and the line plays out, all the men are in the middle of a whizzing, wild rope. They can’t even sit still, because the boat is rocking crazily. It’s not really surprising that people get hurt this way.
    • Ishmael thinks that sitting in the boat with the line coiled all around, anticipating the hunt, is worse than actually doing the hunting.
    • After all, Ishmael, he muses:"[a]ll men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks" (60.9).
  • Chapter 61: Stubb kills a Whale

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

    • And we return you to the plot of the novel, already in progress.
    • Starbuck may be freaked out by seeing the giant squid, but Queequeg is excited—seeing the squid means sperm whales are probably nearby.
    • The next day is hot and sleepy. Ishmael is on watch, and we know what that means—he falls asleep, noticing, just before he dozes off, that the other two seamen on watch are already napping.
    • Suddenly Ishmael jerks awake, just in time to see a huge sperm whale forty fathoms away. The whale spouts, and half the men on the ship, including the three watchmen, sing out.
    • The boats are lowered and the men set out to hunt the whale. They’re not sure if it’s aware of them, so they’re whispering and not using the oars, just paddling along as quietly as possible.
    • The whale shows its tail and sinks down into the water; sighting the "flukes" means it’s headed under for a while, so they wait for it to surface. Stubb smokes a pipe.
    • The whale resurfaces a bit further away—it’s clearly noticed the boats.
    • Stubb’s boat is closest, but everyone starts rowing furiously in pursuit of the whale, which is swimming away as fast as it can.
    • Stubb shouts encouragement to his men, Tashtego whoops, Daggoo and Queequeg scream wildly. Finally, they get close enough to the whale for Tashtego to throw his harpoon.
    • The line plays out rapidly, whizzing past everyone’s heads and slapping their wrists as it goes by. Stubb has dropped the cloth he usually uses to hold the rope, and it cuts into his hands.
    • Stubb calls for the line to be doused with water and secures it more firmly. It’s as tight as a harp string, and the whale is pulling the boat through the water with incredible speed.
    • Stubb and Tashtego change places. (There’s an explanation of why in Chapter 62.)
    • Stubb orders the men to haul the boat in; by pulling on the line, they draw the boat up to the whale’s side, where Stubb stabs it over and over with his lance until blood pours down in every direction.
    • They pull the boat even closer to the whale’s side; Stubb drives in his lance and churns it around the whale’s insides until it’s mortally wounded.
    • The men row the boat away from the whale’s death throes so they don’t get killed.
    • Finally, the whale spouts its own gory blood—its heart has burst. It’s dead.
    • Stubb’s only comment is that "both pipes" are "smoked out"—his own pipe, and the whale’s blow-hole (61.22).
  • Chapter 62: The Dart

    • Ishmael explains why Stubb and Tashtego had to change places in Chapter 61: because the traditional arrangement is for the harpooneer to be pulling the oar in front and the headsman to be steering.
    • The harpooneer stops rowing to throw the first harpoon at the whale, and then he and the headsman change places so the headsman can finish off the whale by stabbing with a dart, the way Stubb did.
    • Ishmael thinks this is idiotic: one man, who never has to exhaust himself by rowing, should stay in the bow of the boat and do both the harpooning and the darting.

  • Chapter 63: The Crotch

    • Ishmael decides that the equipment on the whaling boat deserves one more special chapter—this time, it’s about the crotch.
    • The "crotch" is a long notched stick used as an upright rest for the harpoon handle.
    • Usually there are two harpoons in the crotch, both connected to the line—but this can be really dangerous if the harpooneer misses with one of them, because then there’s a free harpoon attached to the line that’s whizzing around. They have to throw it overboard and let it drag in the water, hoping its blade doesn’t cut anything important, like the line, or somebody’s arm.
    • On a major whaling voyage, each boat might have two spare harpoons swinging around like this on each of four boats—making a total of eight or ten random swinging blades for everyone to avoid in the middle of the hunt. Yikes.
  • Chapter 64: Stubb’s Supper

    • The sailors use three of the whaling boats together to tow the whale’s carcass back to the Pequod.
    • Captain Ahab orders them to secure the whale for the night and retreats into his cabin. He did his job the way he was supposed to, but now he’s dissatisfied.
    • He doesn’t care about killing any whale except Moby Dick.
    • The men tie the whale to the Pequod, tail to bows and head to stern.
    • Stubb is way overexcited by having killed the whale, and Starbuck lets him take charge for a little while.
    • Stubb decides that he wants to eat a whale-steak, cut from the narrower area near the whale’s tail, before he goes to bed. He sends Daggoo over the side of the ship to cut it.
    • Around midnight, Stubb is able to eat his whale-steak by the light of some sperm-oil lanterns. While he eats, sharks are tearing mouthfuls off the whale carcass tied to the ship.
    • Ishmael explains that there are lots of situations in which sharks move alongside ships hoping for food, but they’re most excited about a whale carcass.
    • While he eats, Stubb calls for Fleece, the cook, to come to him. Fleece, like many nineteenth-century sea cooks, is a black man.
    • Fleece gets up from his hammock and comes on deck to hear what Stubb has to say; he has stiff knees and poor hearing, and we feel pretty sorry for him being dragged up in the middle of the night like this.
    • Stubb complains to Fleece that the steak is overdone, not tough or rare enough, the way he and the sharks like it.
    • Then he notices how loud the sharks are and orders Fleece to go quiet them down; he doesn’t care how much of the whale they eat, but he wants them to do it quietly.
    • Fleece takes the lantern, leans over the side of the ship, and begins preaching to the sharks as though they could understand English.
    • Stubb objects to the fact that Fleece is swearing and orders him to change his tone, so Fleece makes his sermon more coaxing. We’re not sure who’s fooling with whom here.
    • Fleece explains to the sharks that they should govern themselves more calmly and that each of them has the same right to feast off the whale-carcass as the others; after all, it doesn’t even belong to them, but to someone else. (Hmm, might this be a little bit metaphorical?)
    • Stubb is pretty amused and wants Fleece to keep going, but Fleece is tired of the joke.
    • Stubb goes back to complaining about the steak, cross-examining Fleece. Fleece is tired and irritated by Stubb’s behavior, but, answering his questions, admits that he’s around ninety, was born in a ferry-boat in the Roanoke river, and thinks the whale-steak is plenty juicy.
    • Stubb tells Fleece that he needs to be born again so that he can learn how to cook a steak correctly this time.
    • Then, Stubb starts mocking Fleece’s beliefs about the afterlife, punning wittily off the man’s straightforward answers.
    • Finally, Stubb gets around to the point: he tells Fleece just how he wants his steak cooked and orders other bits of the whale for breakfast and dinner the next day.
    • Fleece goes back to bed, muttering in irritation. We’d be irritated, too, if Stubb woke us up in the middle of the night for some kind of impromptu comedy routine.
  • Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish

    • Ishmael feels the need to explain Stubb’s behavior—eating a newly-slaughtered creature by the light of its own oil.
    • First, Ishmael lists several epicurean circles in which whale and porpoise meat are considered delicacies.
    • Next, Ishmael explains that the main reason whale-hunters tend not to eat the meat of their prey is that seeing such an enormous pile of meat as a whale carcass takes their appetite away.
    • Plus, whales are so rich—so oily—that it’s hard to eat much of them, although it can be tasty to dip bread in their spermaceti and fry it.
    • Ishmael speculates about the nature of eating meat. Slaughtering a whale might seem like murder, but slaughtering an ox probably did the first time it happened, too.
    • He suggests that everyone is a cannibal in some way; a cannibal tribesman who kills and preserves a missionary might not be as bad as the "civilized and enlightened gourmand" who tortures geese to get paté-de-foie-gras. We’re not sure we agree with this argument, but the production methods used to make foie gras are pretty disturbing.
    • Ishmael lists several other situations in which eating an animal is coupled with using something else made from its body—eating roast beef and using a knife with an ox-bone handle, and eating a goose and using a goose feather as a toothpick.
  • Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre

    • Ishmael explains why they tied the whale to the ship and left it there overnight: because slaughtering a whale is such an arduous process, when a whale is captured late at night, it’s standard procedure to tie it to the ship overnight and let everyone get a good night’s sleep before they start the butchering process.
    • Sometimes, however, especially near the equator in the Pacific, there are too many sharks for this— they can strip a whale bare in a few hours.
    • In the morning, to get rid of the sharks, Queequeg and another seaman are lowered over the side of the Pequod on platforms, holding their whaling-spades, to kill as many sharks as possible in a vicious bloodbath.
    • They haul one of the sharks in over the side of the ship to get its skin, and, not quite dead, it almost bites Queequeg’s hand off. Queequeg responds with a racial slur.
  • Chapter 67: Cutting In

    • The next morning, everyone on the ship works together to start butchering the whale, even though it’s Sunday and should be a day of rest.
    • First, of course, they have to haul the whale carcass up and over the side of the ship and onto the deck. This is a complex and difficult process involving a huge pulley system, a giant hook, and everyone tugging a rope.
    • Once the whale is hoisted up out of the water (causing the ship to lean crazily to one side), Starbuck and Stubb cut the blubber off of it in one long strip.
    • As the blubber comes off (and the whale’s weight decreases), they’re able to haul it higher and higher, until it’s suspended from the main-top.
    • One of the harpooneers moves toward the bloody, swaying carcass and attaches another hook to the strip of blubber. Then he cuts the two apart so that the "blanket-piece" of blubber is hanging separately from the rest of the carcass.
    • The blubber is lowered into a special compartment called the "blubber-room" below decks. Ugh. What a name.
  • Chapter 68: The Blanket

    • Ishmael takes a time-out to discuss the whale’s skin. Where/what is it?
    • The whale’s blubber is obvious—a layer between eight and fifteen inches thick all over the whale’s exterior. But is that the whale’s skin? It’s so thick that it seems like something else, but it is the whale’s outermost layer.
    • Of course, there is a really thin transparent layer on the very outside of the blubber that you can scrape off and dry.
    • Ishmael uses pieces of it as bookmarks and thinks that sometimes they act like magnifying glasses. But he thinks of this, not as the whale’s skin, but as the skin of the skin.
    • So, if the blubber is the skin, Ishmael tells us, it gives about 100 barrels of oil, which is about 75% of the mass of the blubber—which gives you some idea how massive it is.
    • One strange aspect of a whale’s outside (Symbolism Alert!) is that there seem to be strange lines and markings all over the whale, not on, but rather, underneath that very thin transparent layer.
    • Ishmael regards them as hieroglyphics of some kind.
    • The blubber is called the "blanket piece" because it is the whale’s blanket. As warm-blooded mammals, whales have to keep their blood warm just as people do, and the blubber is the amazing insulation that they use to stay alive even in arctic waters.
    • Ishmael wishes that men would take the whale as an example and learn to be warm in the arctic and cool in the equator—to "live in this world without being of it" (68.7).
  • Chapter 69: The Funeral

    • Once the ship has taken all the whale’s blubber (and thus gotten everything that will have valuable whale-oil in it), they throw the rest of the carcass overboard and let it float away, attacked by sharks, leaving a gory trail in the water that the ship can see for hours.
    • Even though the whale is dead, it still exerts a ghostly fascination—other ships might see the heap in the water and all the white spray around it, and assume there are deadly shallows and rocks in the area, and shun that place for years to come.
  • Chapter 70: The Sphynx

    • Ishmael realizes he forgot to tell us something: before the ship throws the whale’s carcass overboard, they cut off its head.
    • Complicating the whale’s decapitation is the fact that, like an over-muscled wrestler, it doesn’t have any neck, so it’s hard to say where the head ends and the body begins—and the whale’s at its thickest right there anyway.
    • Once someone (in this case Stubb) manages to cut off the whale’s head, they attach it to a cable and hang it over the side of the ship.
    • After doing this, everybody goes to lunch. While the deck is mostly empty, Captain Ahab does something that’s not creepy at all: he comes on deck, grabs a spade, and stabs the back of the whale’s head so that he can hold it close and stare at it.
    • Ahab conjures the whale’s head to speak and tell him the secrets of the deep ocean that it has seen. It seems like the enigmatic head of the Sphynx.
    • Conveniently, before anyone has to explain to Ahab that the whale is dead, and that it can’t talk anyway, the Pequod’s lookout sees another ship and notices that the breeze is picking up.
    • Ahab is unnaturally excited by this news. He feels like the new ship and the increasing wind are renewing his soul.
  • Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story

    • The Pequod discovers by signaling that the other ship is the Jeroboam, another Nantucket whaling ship.
    • The Jeroboam launches a boat over to the Pequod, but stays a short distance away. Captain Mayhew explains that his ship has a contagious disease on it and he’s observing quarantine, but he’s come to exchange some news and conversation with the Pequod’s crew.
    • One of the rowers in the boat from the Jeroboam is a man Stubb recognizes, about whom he heard a story from the crew of the Town-Ho (what gossips those Town-Ho sailors are). Here’s the story:
    • This man was raised in a Shaker community (by the way, the Shakers were a Protestant separatist denomination relatively prominent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) in New York where he was heralded a prophet.
    • One day, though, this man decided to go on a whaling voyage.
    • The man seemed normal enough when he signed up, but after the Jeroboam set sail, he went crazy, announced he was the Archangel Gabriel, and gave everyone the heebie-jeebies.
    • The captain wanted to leave "Gabriel" at the next port, because he refused to work or follow orders, but everyone else was so afraid that Gabriel would curse the ship if they did that the captain had to keep him on so the whole crew didn’t desert.
    • Now Gabriel has the run of the ship, especially because he’s convinced some of the men that he controls the disease epidemic they’re experiencing. This concludes the story.
    • Back to the Pequod. Captain Ahab tells Captain Mayhew to come on board in spite of the disease, but Gabriel objects and drones on about the plague.
    • Luckily, the sea drowns out most of what he says.
    • Ahab asks if the Jeroboam has seen Moby Dick, and Gabriel starts prophesying destruction. Captain Mayhew takes this as his cue to tell his own story about Moby Dick:
    • After the Jeroboam left harbor, they hear about Moby Dick. Gabriel instantly decides that the White Whale is "the Shaker God incarnated" and warns everyone not to attack it.
    • A year or two later, they sight Moby Dick, and the chief mate, Macey, insists on hunting him.
    • With Gabriel standing on the masthead shouting prophecies of doom, Macey heads out with his boat and crew to hunt the White Whale. The whale turns on his boat and knocks him fifty yards away into the water, where he drowns; the boat and everyone else were left unharmed.
    • Gabriel convinces the rest of the men to call off the hunt, and everyone is more afraid of his prophecies than ever.
    • Ahab asks so many questions about Moby Dick that Captain Mayhew and Gabriel figure out he wants to hunt the White Whale; Gabriel continues to prophesy doom to anyone who tries.
    • Ahab orders Starbuck to look through the Pequod’s mailbag and find any letters for the Jeroboam’s crew. There’s only one—for the dead Macey. Gabriel tells Ahab to keep it, since he’ll be following Macey to destruction soon.
    • Ahab sticks the letter on a pole and holds it out to the boat, but Gabriel takes it, stabs through it with a knife, and throws the knife and letter together at Ahab’s feet. Symbolism…
    • The Jeroboam continues on its voyage, and the crew of the Pequod goes back to butchering Stubb’s whale.
  • Chapter 72: The Monkey-rope

    • Ishmael skips backward again to tell us more about the details of the slaughter of the whale Stubb killed.
    • He explains that it was Queequeg who attached the hook to the whale, and that, dressed only in a butcher’s apron and coarse socks, he had to stay on the surface of the half-submerged whale carcass to accomplish his task.
    • During this process, Ishmael, as Queequeg’s bowsman, holds Queequeg’s harness, which is called a monkey-rope. This rope is tied to both their belts, so if Queequeg falls into the sea and drowns, Ishmael will be pulled in after him. They are "wedded" (72.3) for the moment.
    • As Ishmael thinks about this literal connection to another man, he drifts off into daydream about the complicated web of interconnections that link all men to one another.
    • When Queequeg falls into the gap between the whale and the ship or gets to close to a ravenous shark, Ishmael jerks him to safety. Meanwhile, Tashtego and Daggoo stand on a platform just above Queequeg, stabbing at the sharks with their whale-spades.
    • When Queequeg is hoisted back on board, freezing and exhausted, Dough-Boy (the steward) brings him a cup of ginger-water.
    • Starbuck and Stubb object to this and insist that Queequeg should have something stronger.
    • Apparently the ginger-water was one of Aunt Charity’s ideas, and the men now throw the drink overboard.
  • Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

    • Ishmael reminds us that the sperm whale’s head is still hanging on the side of the ship.
    • The Pequod has drifted into an area filled with brit, the right whale’s favorite food, and the captain decides, on the spur of the moment, to hunt a right whale.
    • Soon, the crew spots spouts, and Stubb and Flask take boats out to hunt.
    • They get their harpoons into a whale, which tries to slam their boats into the side of the ship, but they manage to avoid crashing and succeed in slaughtering the animal. Sharks circle around drinking blood from the water.
    • While they tie cords around the whale to tow it back to the Pequod, Stubb and Flask are able to have a semi-private chat.
    • Stubb wonders why Ahab wants a right whale.
    • Flask answers that he heard Fedallah claim that a ship with a sperm whale’s head on the starboard side and a right whale’s head on the larboard (port) side is supposed to be impossible to sink.
    • Stubb and Flask agree that Fedallah is strange and creepy; Stubb suggests that Fedallah is actually the devil in disguise, come to tempt Ahab to give up something in return for successfully killing Moby Dick.
    • It becomes obvious that Stubb is teasing Flask a little; Stubb’s a bit more educated than Flask, and his story about Fedallah being the devil gets slowly more ridiculous.
    • Flask’s not stupid, though: if Fedallah is the ancient, immortal devil, why has Stubb said that he wants to throw him overboard? Stubb claims it would just be good for the ducking.
    • If Fedallah tries to kidnap or entrap captain Ahab, Stubb says, he plans to shake him by the nape of his neck and pull off his tail.
    • Flask wants to know what he’d do with the tail, and Stubb says he’d sell it for an ox-whip.
    • Flask’s pretty sure now that Stubb is just mocking him.
    • Once they get the right whale back to the Pequod, Ahab arranges for its head to be hung on the other side of the ship, just as Flask predicted.
    • Ahab and Fedallah stand together on deck examining the right whale’s head. Disturbingly, Fedallah is entirely in Ahab’s shadow and appears to have no shadow of his own.
  • Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head – Contrasted View

    • Ishmael guides the reader through contrasting examinations of the two whale-heads hanging on either side of the Pequod.
    • The two heads are both enormous, but otherwise quite different. The sperm whale’s head looks more noble and dignified in its coloring and structure.
    • The two whale heads are also similar in the situation of their ears and eyes.
    • The whale’s eyes are on the sides of its head, near the corners of its mouth, and very small; the whale, Ishmael theorizes, must be able to see on either side of its body, but not directly in front. It has "two backs" and "two fronts," as far as vision is concerned. It also sees two entirely different pictures of the world on either side of it, and Ishmael is amazed that it can think about them both at the same time.
    • The whale’s ears are tiny holes just behind its eyes, hardly visible on the sperm whale and invisibly covered by a flap of membrane on the right whale. The size of whales’ eyes and ears, however, doesn’t lessen their perception of the world.
    • In a move that seems to anticipate the way the camera maneuvers around in a film, Ishmael encourages the reader to go up through the bottom of the whale’s head into its throat and look at the world from inside its mouth, covered in glossy white membranes.
    • Ishmael pulls the reader outside the whale’s mouth to look at the huge, hinged lower jaw. After a few days, the three harpooneers cut off the lower jaw and bring it on deck to cut out the teeth and bone for carving.
  • Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head – Contrasted View

    • Continuing on from the last chapter, Ishmael the director starts to send his film camera into the mouth of the right whale’s head, even though he finds it far less elegant than the sperm whale’s.
    • As he pulls in for his close-up of the right whale’s head, Ishmael notices how many different things it reminds him of: a musical instrument, the trunk of an oak tree, a king’s crown.
    • Moving in under the whale’s hare-lip into its mouth, Ishmael notices the slats of whale-bone that structure its mouth. (This is the baleen through which the whale feeds on tiny crustaceans.)
    • There are many fables about these slats of bone, and they’re often used to structure women’s undergarments.
    • Ishmael thinks they make the whale’s mouth look like a huge pipe organ.
    • Ishmael reviews the anatomical differences between the sperm whale and the right whale and advises the reader to look at them closely now—because they’ll be sinking into the ocean soon.
    • Ishmael also tries to analyze the whales’ facial expressions: he thinks the sperm whale looks indifferent to death, while the right whale looks resolved.
  • Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram

    • Ishmael returns to the sperm whale’s head to draw the reader’s attention to something else that may be significant later: in the very front of its face, the head broad and flat, boneless, without any of its important organs.
    • The blubber is harder and more resilient, leading Ishmael to conclude that the front of the sperm whale’s head is designed to be an enormous battering ram, without too many nerve endings.
    • This "dead, impregnable, uninjurable wall" comes between the whale and anything else (76.4).

  • Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

    • The next stage in butchering the whale is the Baling of the Case. Ishmael explains the anatomy of the sperm whale’s head in more detail to make this step understandable.
    • The sperm whale’s head can be divided into two wedge-shaped pieces: the upper is an oily boneless mass, and the lower is the bony skull and jaw.
    • The upper part can be divided horizontally again into the bottom half, which is called the "junk." The junk is like a honeycomb of sperm oil.
    • The very top part is called the "case." The case is like a wine barrel—except it’s filled with spermaceti, the purest and most valuable of the whale’s waxy oils.
    • While the whale is alive, these oils are liquid, but after it dies, they congeal.
    • Ishmael compares the whale’s case to the Heidelburgh Tun, a famous, enormous wine cask. The case contains around 500 gallons of spermaceti, making it more valuable by far than any barrel of wine.
    • In the next chapter, Ishmael tells us, they’ll open up the whale’s head as carefully as possible and remove the spermaceti.
  • Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets

    • Tashtego climbs carefully onto the sperm whale’s head and cuts a hole into the case with a spade.
    • Sailors pass him a bucket on a whip, which Tashtego lowers into the hole with a pole and then signals to the sailors to raise.
    • Each time it comes up full of spermaceti and is hauled over to the deck and emptied into a tub.
    • Eventually, Tashtego is lowering the bucket as far as twenty feet into the whale’s head.
    • After several tubs have been filled with spermaceti, Tashtego slips and falls down into the whale’s case.
    • Daggoo climbs onto the head after him.
    • One of the two hooks by which the head is suspended tears out of the whale’s flesh. Everything is now hanging from one hook. Daggoo lowers the bucket, hoping Tashtego will be able to grab it.
    • The last hook gives way and the head falls into the ocean. Daggoo is left clinging to a rope, while Tashtego remains lodged in the head.
    • Queequeg dives into the ocean and rescues Tashtego, bringing him back to the ship. It takes a long time to revive him.
    • Queequeg performs the rescue by using his sword to make a hole in the bottom of the head and then thrusting his arm into it to pull Tashtego out – making sure to grasp him by the head, the way you’re supposed to deliver a baby.
    • Just in case the concern reader objects that, without the spermaceti, the head should have sunk too fast for this rescue, Ishmael explains that the case was still attached to the rest of the head, which, honeycombed with oil less dense than water, kept it afloat longer.
    • Ishmael imagines how dainty and holy it would be to drown inside a whale’s oily head—like drowning in honey.
  • Chapter 79: The Prairie

    • Ishmael attempts to use physiognomy, the nineteenth-century pseudoscience of reading facial features to determine character (think of it as palm-reading for your face), to learn something about the head of the sperm whale.
    • The most important thing about the whale’s head, Ishmael decides, is that it doesn’t have a nose—but this ends up being good, because a nose on a whale would be "impertinent" (19.2).
    • The whale’s brow is royal and majestic, its forehead broad and high, which gives it a royal dignity. (A high forehead was considered a sign of intelligence by many physiognomists.)
    • Ishmael knows the reader will object and say that the sperm whale can’t be a "genius," but he thinks the whale’s silence is its greatest genius.
    • After all this, though, Ishmael decides that it’s impossible to really use a face and skull to decipher a creature’s nature.
    • He dismisses physiognomy as "a passing fable" and, presenting the whale’s brow to the reader, says "Read it if you can" (79.6).
  • Chapter 80: The Nut

    • Since physiognomy doesn’t teach us anything about the whale, Ishmael tries phrenology—a similar nineteenth-century pseudoscience in which you assess character according to the shape and bumps of the skull.
    • Unfortunately, the whale’s brain is tucked away in an odd part of its head, and the exterior appearance of the head isn’t related to the shape of the brain at all.
    • If you were to remove all the sperm oil from the whale’s head and then look at it from behind, it would look like a human skull, says Ishmael.
    • For a phrenologist, this skull would indicate an individual with "no self-esteem, and no veneration" (80.3)—in other words, no ego and no superego, no self-interest and no awe for others.
    • Next, Ishmael tries to develop his own form of phrenology based on the shape of the creature’s spine: the whale’s long, strong spine, he theorizes, might make up for its tiny brain.
    • The whale’s hump is caused by one of its larger vertebrae, and Ishmael makes this vertebrae represent the whale’s "indomitableness" (80.6).
  • Chapter 81: The Pequod meets the Virgin

    • The Pequod encounters a German whaling ship, the Jungfrau (which translates as "Virgin"), commanded by Captain Derick De Deer.
    • Captain De Deer comes aboard the Pequod with an oilcan in hand, begging for some sperm oil.
    • He says that his ship has completely run out of the oil it brought with it from harbor, and they haven’t found any whales yet to replenish their oil supplies. The Jungfrau is completely clean, totally empty... a real whaling virgin.
    • Captain Derick goes back to his own ship, but before he manages to get back on board, the lookouts on both ships cry out that they’ve spotted whales. Both ships launch their boats, and the German boats have a serious head start.
    • The group of whales—there are eight—start fleeing the vicinity.
    • Trailing the main pod is a huge old whale missing a fin on one side, which can’t keep up with the others.
    • All the German boats are following this old whale, since the other whales are moving almost too fast to catch and the enormous whale is the best target anyway.
    • The Pequod’s boats overtake all the German boats except Captain De Deer’s.
    • The Captain looks back over his shoulder at them, shaking the can they filled with oil for him and mocking them with a grin, which pisses off all the Nantucketers.
    • Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask urge their rowers to move faster.
    • Captain De Deer throws his lamp-feeder back toward the Nantucket boats, trying to lighten his own boat and slow down his rivals.
    • The Nantucket boats pull nearly even with the German ones. One of the German rowers accidentally catches a crab with his oar (which means he screws up and gets it stuck in the water for a moment), which slows him down. The mates from the Pequod pull even.
    • Ishmael feels many different things as he watches the massive old whale trying to run from them, including pity for its fear and suffering and awe at its mass and strength.
    • Captain De Deer orders his harpooneer to throw his dart at the whale, but as the German harpooneer stands up, Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo all leap up and throw their own harpoons. All three strike the whale.
    • In the chaos that follows, the Nantucket boats slam into the German one, and Captain De Deer and his harpooneer are thrown into the water.
    • The whale sounds (dives), and each of the boats is strained by the rope going down into the water. All the harpoons stick fast in the whale and everyone waits while, completely undetectably from above, the whale exhausts itself underwater.
    • Suddenly the lines shake in the water as the whale starts to rise. The men haul the ropes in and the whale breaks the surface of the ocean nearby, exhausted.
    • The boats draw closer to the whale, darting lances into him and creating new wounds.
    • Flask notices a discolored swelling on one side of the whale, obviously an old infected wound of some kind.
    • Before Starbuck—"humane Starbuck"—can stop him, Flask darts his lance into this old wound (81.39). The whale heads angrily for Flask’s boat, showering everyone with gore, before it rolls over and dies.
    • The Pequod sails over to the boats.
    • Meanwhile, Starbuck arranges for a series of lines from all three boats to be tied to the huge whale to keep it afloat.
    • When they first cut into the whale, they find a whole harpoon in the old wound, but plenty of whales have harpoons stuck in them, so the infection was probably caused by something else.
    • They also find a stone lance, possibly very old.
    • The huge whale’s carcass keeps sinking and starts to pull the ship over. Starbuck is reluctant to let it go, but it pulls the ship to such a steep angle that they have to cut it loose as it snaps the chains they’re using to hold it up.
    • Ishmael explains that the sinking of slaughtered whales is something that only happens occasionally, but does happen sometimes for reasons they don’t really understand. It happens more to other kinds of whales, though; sperm whales usually float.
    • After the carcass sinks, the Jungfrau lowers its boats in pursuit of another whale spout, but the men on the Pequod can tell it’s just the spout of a Fin-Back, not a sperm whale, so they let the Jungfrau go unchallenged.
  • Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling

    • Bragging about his "careful disorderliness" (82.1), Ishmael (or maybe this is Melville’s other narrator) takes another time-out to compare his hunting and storytelling about whales to the long history of whales in literature.
    • Ishmael retells the story of Perseus and Andromeda, in which Perseus rescues the princess from a sea-monster, and claims that the Romans found a skeleton of a whale in Joppa that the local people claimed came from the monster Perseus slew.
    • Ishmael also retells the story of St. George and the dragon. He thinks the dragon must have been a whale, and revises the story to make St. George’s horse a seal, the setting for the fight the beach, and so on. This means that the patron saint of England was a whaler, and all whale-hunters should become knights of the order of St. George.
    • Ishmael isn’t sure if Hercules counts as a whale-hunter, because he was swallowed and vomited up by a whale, but never threw a harpoon at one, but in the end Ishmael accepts his legend as a version of the biblical story of Jonah.
    • Ishmael also lists an actual god as a whaleman—the Hindu god Vishnu, who was incarnated as a whale at one point,
    • Thus, the group of whalemen throughout history of which Ishmael proposes himself as a member includes Perseus (a hero), St. George (a saint), Hercules (a demigod), Jonah (a prophet), and Vishnu (a god). Not a bad turnout, really.
  • Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

    • Ishmael expands on the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. He explains that many Nantucketers don’t really believe the story in all its detail.
    • One whaler in particular, a man from the port of Sag-Harbor who was called by the name of his hometown, distrusted the story because the illustration in his Bible showed a whale with two spouts, and the whaler knew that only right whales have two spouts.
    • This man, "Sag-Harbor," also objected to the story because he thought the whale’s gastric acids would have eaten away at Jonah. Ishmael suggests perhaps Jonah’s whale was dead, or something other than an actual whale.
    • Sag-Harbor’s final objection to the story is that the whale swallowed Jonah in the Mediterranean and spat him out near Nineveh (a city in ancient Assyria, now Iraq), which is more than a three-day journey. Ishmael suggests the whale might have gone around the Cape of Good Hope instead of across the Mediterranean… which is a longer route anyway!
    • Since Ishmael can’t refute Sag-Harbor’s arguments, he condemns the man for having too much "pride of reason" (83.5).
  • Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

    • Ishmael explains that some whalemen like to grease the bottom of their boats, because they think it makes them move faster on the water; he decides that this might not be true, but it doesn’t hurt.
    • After the encounter with the Jungfrau, Queequeg oils the bottom of his boat, seeming to expect something.
    • Around noon, the Pequod sights whales and lowers boats in pursuit. Tashtego gets one harpoon into the whale, but it keeps rushing away from them, and the harpoon is gradually slipping out. They can’t use the rope to pull the boat up to the whale, because that would pull the harpoon out completely and they’d lose it.
    • Luckily, the whalemen have a maneuver especially for this problem—pitchpoling, in which the harpooneer throws an extra-long, extra-thin spear made of lightweight pine.
    • Stubb, because he’s so calm and collected, is chosen to do the pitchpoling.
    • He gathers up the rope attached to the spear in one hand; then he holds the spear with one hand pointed at the whale, and presses the end of it into the palm of his other hand.
    • In one motion he throws and strikes the whale, drawing blood. He pulls the spear back and repeats this over and over, and the whale dies.
  • Chapter 85: The Fountain

    • Ishmael thinks it’s surprising that, even though whales have been spouting and men have been watching them spout for 6,000 years, nobody really knows whether they spout water or air. He proposes to look into the matter.
    • Ishmael explains a little basic cetacean biology: whales have lungs like human beings instead of gills like fish, and they need to surface to breathe—but instead of breathing through their mouths, each whale breathes through a spiracle on top of its head.
    • Instead of breathing in and out constantly, the whale can get enough oxygen at once to last for a long time—and it can live without breathing until it needs to surface again.
    • Ishmael thinks this is partly the result of the labyrinthine system of veins and capillaries in the whale, which carry a supply of oxygenated blood the way a camel’s hump stores water.
    • As a result of its biology, the whale takes the same number of "breaths" (visible to the seamen as jets) each time it surfaces, and then it stays underwater ("sounds") for a set amount of time.
    • If hunters interrupt the whale and force it to "sound" before it’s taken enough breaths to completely oxygenate its blood, it won’t be able to stay under very long because it has to keep surfacing for air.
    • The whale’s respiratory system therefore makes it vulnerable to hunters.
    • Ishmael thinks about the limitations that this respiratory system has for whales: they have (as far as he can tell) no sense of smell and no voice. (Melville and other nineteenth-century whalemen didn’t know about whale song.)
    • But Ishmael still wants to know whether the whale’s breathing tube is just for air or also for water—perhaps it needs to discharge the water it takes in by mouth while feeding?
    • He knows it seems ridiculous to say he’s seen whales and can’t tell, but when there’s water splashing everywhere during a hunt, he really can’t, and even when the whale is calm, there is probably some water on top of the whale’s head.
    • Ishmael says that whalemen believe it’s dangerous to get too close to a whale’s spout—they think it blows out caustic acid.
    • Ishmael’s own hypothesis is that the spout blows out mist—a hilarious answer, because mist is by definition both air and water.
    • The mist that blows out of the whale’s head seems to Ishmael like the steam coming out of the ears of a philosophical genius.
  • Chapter 86: The Tail

    • Now Ishmael "celebrate[s]" the whale’s tail (86.1). Hey, everyone’s got their fetish.
    • The first problem, of course, is where the whale’s tail actually begins, considering that its body just tapers until the flukes (fins). Ishmael decides that the beginning of the tail is the point at which the whale is about as thick as a man’s waist.
    • To Ishmael, the tapered tail of the whale is a graceful and compact version of all its strength and power.
    • Ishmael identifies five different ways that whales move their tails: using them as fins to move forward; using them as weapons in a fight (against human beings only − whales fight each other with their heads and jaws); "sweeping," which is using the sense of touch in the tail to search for foreign bodies in the ocean; "lobtailing," which is smacking the water with the tail flat on a playful manner; and "peaking flukes," which is when the whale rises almost entirely out of the water before diving.
    • Ishmael notices that he’s compared the whale’s tail to the elephant’s trunk quite a bit, but he insists that the tail is more dignified.
    • Ishmael laments the inscrutability of the whale’s tail. Sometimes it seems to make meaningful gestures that he can’t interpret, and no matter how much he analyzes different parts of the whale’s anatomy, he’ll never fully understand it.
  • Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

    • The Pequod moves into the sea around the islands of Southeast Asia, a long archipelago filled with little ports that can be used by whales and ships alike.
    • These islands seem to Ishmael like a gateway to the riches of the East—although he’s also aware that there are Malay pirates in the area that might attack the ship.
    • Ahab doesn’t let his crew land on any of the islands. He’s planned to sail through the Javan Sea, past the Philippines, to the east coast of Japan, so that he can go through all the important whaling grounds.
    • Neither Ahab nor the whaling ship needs anything extra for sustenance—Ahab doesn’t land the ship anywhere to rest, and the whale-ship never carries any cargo except tools for, or the harvest of, the whale-hunt.
    • The area around Java is a good hunting ground for whales, and soon the Pequod sights a group of them.
    • Ishmael explains that sperm whales used to be solitary creatures, but since whale hunting has become more common, the whales have started traveling in large pods for mutual protection.
    • What the ship has sighted is a long, crescent-shaped chain of whales along the horizon about two or three miles away; as the whales spout, it looks like a thousand chimneys spewing spoke on the horizon of a city.
    • While the Pequod is stalking the whales, they spot a Malayan pirate ship stalking them.
    • Ahab is driven wild by the idea that he’s speeding toward his fatal encounter with Moby Dick both chasing and being chased, but the rest of the crew are just concerned with trying to catch up to the whales.
    • The Pequod leaves the pirate ship behind and gets close enough to the whales to justify launching boats. The whales put on speed again, and for hours the crew must row with all their strength to keep up.
    • Eventually, the whales are so frightened—Ishmael calls them "gallied"—by the hunters that they start to panic and behave erratically, either floating paralyzed or swimming in chaotic circles.
    • The three boats (Ahab’s isn’t among them) separate so that each can chase a different whale.
    • Queequeg throws his harpoon and strikes a whale; the whale plunges right into the middle of a group of whales, endangering the boat that’s being pulled along behind.
    • Queequeg steers the boat around the whales as best he can, while Starbuck uses his lance to stab at the whales that are too close.
    • The boat carries three "druggs," which are harpoons attached to thick pieces of wood.
    • When a boat finds a large group of whales, the harpooneer can impale several of the whales that aren’t being chased at the moment with these druggs, and either kill or just wound other whales to capture and harvest at their leisure.
    • The men on Ishmael’s boat successfully throw two druggs; the third drugg is thrown, but the block of wood catches under a seat and tears it out, creating a hole in the bottom of the boat that they have to stuff with cloth.
    • Queequeg’s harpoon gets pulled out of the whale they’re chasing, meaning that the boat is no longer being tugged along by the fleeing animal.
    • The boat slides to a halt in a strange calm area, like the eye of the storm, in the middle of two or three square miles of frenzied whales.
    • There’s no space to row out, so the crew waits for an opening.
    • While the boat sits motionless, young whales come up to it curiously, almost like puppies sniffing around something unfamiliar. Queequeg pats their heads and Starbuck scratches them gently with his lance.
    • More intimate still is the sight the men have of the pregnant whales and nursing mothers with their infants.
    • One whale mother is still attached to her baby by the umbilical cord.
    • Ishmael makes the whale pod a metaphor for his own soul—even when the outside is a wild, fearful tumult, the center is calm and peaceful.
    • From their becalmed place at the middle of the pod, the men in Ishmael’s boat can see the other two boats still fighting some whales and using "druggs" on others.
    • One of the other boats tries to attack a whale by throwing a cutting-spade at its tail.
    • The whale breaks away, but its wound is deep and painful, and now it’s thrashing around entangled in the harpoon-line, unintentionally throwing the still-attached harpoon around it and striking other whales.
    • Most of the whale herd responds to this by drawing into a tighter and tighter group—with Ishmael’s boat in the center.
    • Starbuck, Queequeg, Ishmael, and the rest of the crew fight their way out of the middle of the group of whales, which now takes off swimming for the horizon, again, too fast to be pursued.
    • The men collect one of the drugged whales and a whale that Flask killed and "waifed" (marked as his with a special pole).
    • All the others escape for the time being.
  • Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

    • 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 they're 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 it's 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.
  • Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

    • Ishmael decides to explain the reason that Flask "waifed" a whale (in Chapter 87) by sticking a special marker-pole called a "waif" into it.
    • Because whaling ships often cross paths, and sometimes one whaling ship will attack but fail to kill a whale that’s later killed by someone else, some basic rules have developed among American fishermen about how to decide who has the right to the whale.
    • The rules are simple: "A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it" and "A Loose-Fish is fair game" (89.4-5).
    • A Fast-Fish can be alive or dead as long as it’s attached somehow to something belonging to the ship or boat that lays claim to it—by a harpoon, a rope, or a marker pole like a waif.
    • Ishmael describes a court case from "fifty years ago," in which one group of men set out to hunt a whale but had to abandon their boat, and then a second ship came along and slaughtered the whale and collected it, along with their boat and equipment.
    • The crew of the first boat sued.
    • The counsel for the defense, Mr. Erskine, argued that this whaling case was just like the divorce case he’d argued recently, comparing the men who were forced to abandon their whale because it was too vicious to the husband who abandoned his wife because of her vile temper.
    • The judge didn’t quite buy this, and awarded most of the possessions at stake in the case to the defendants.
    • Ishmael regards this decision as just. After all, he says, all the laws of the world pretty much come down to this issue of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: the world usually supports those who, through greater strength, can take possession of something, be it a slave, money from a sinecure (an office or job with little or no actual responsibility), or even land.
    • What was America, he argues, but a Loose-Fish for Columbus to waif with the Spanish flag?
  • Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

    • Ishmael quotes an obscure English law that states the King should have the head and the Queen the tail of any whale captured on the English coast—a curious exception to the laws about Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish that he explained in the previous chapter.
    • Ishmael recounts a story about some men from Dover who hunted, captured, and beached a whale, which was then seized as the property of the Lord Warden, the local Duke who had all the royal rights of the area.
    • Ishmael tries to make sense of the injustice of this. Why should the King and Queen have a special right to the whale anyway?
    • Supposedly, it’s because the whale is a noble, regal animal.
    • But why should the Queen have the tail? He can’t come up with a good reason for that one... but maybe the King gets the head because he’s fish-faced.
  • Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

    • The Pequod meets another ship, which it smells before it sees: a French whaling ship which is towing two whale carcasses, one of a rotten whale that died of natural causes, and another, even more rotten whale, which died of what Ishmael describes as "indigestion."
    • Stubb thinks that he can see his cutting spade-pole tangled in the lines around the tail of the first whale and is irritated that the other ship is picking up the Pequod’s leavings.
    • Then he realizes that the second whale might be full of ambergris (read on to find out what that is) and comes up with an idea.
    • Stubb lowers his boat and rows across to the other ship, discovering that its bow is carved and painted in a fanciful pattern of roses. The stench-ridden ship is (ironically) called the "Bouton de Rose" or "Rose-bud."
    • Stubb finds a man from Guernsey (an island in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy) who speaks English.
    • Stubb asks if the crew of the Rose-bud have seen the White Whale; they say they haven’t, and Stubb relays this message to Ahab.
    • Returning to the Guernsey-man, who turns out to be first mate on the Rose-bud, Stubb asks if they realize they won’t get any decent oil from either of the rotten whales, and the man says he does know, but the captain, who has never been on a whaling voyage before, won’t believe him.
    • Stubb agrees to come on board to try and convince the captain to release the rotten corpses.
    • On board the Rose-bud, Stubb sees the men working slowly and reluctantly to start butchering the disgusting whales.
    • The ship’s doctor, locked in the Captain’s privy, shouts out his objections.
    • Stubb chats a little with the Guernsey-man, and discovers that he doesn’t know anything about ambergris.
    • They plan to go see the captain: Stubb will say whatever he likes, and the Guernsey-man will pretend to translate, but actually say whatever he wants about the rotten whales.
    • While Stubb freely insults the captain of the Rose-bud, the Guernsey-man, acting as though he’s translating, explains to the captain that the whales are disease-ridden and have to be cast aside.
    • The captain agrees to abandon the whale corpses. Stubb returns to his boat, offering to help by towing the whales away from the Rose-bud a little bit.
    • Stubb pretends to release the whale and the Rose-bud sails away. Then the Pequod sails between the Rose-bud and Stubb’s boat, blocking the view of the whale while Stubb harvests ambergris from its body—a substance that he finds behind the side fin and that looks like "ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old cheese" (91.49).
    • This ambergris is worth "a gold guinea an ounce," and Stubb gets about six handfuls of it before Ahab insists he return to the Pequod.
  • Chapter 92: Ambergris

    • Ishmael explains ambergris a bit more: it’s a "soft, waxy... highly fragrant and spicy" substance that is "largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious candles, hair-powders, and pomatum" (92.1)
    • It’s found in the bodies of sick whales, although nobody’s sure if it’s the cause or the effect of the illness.
    • Ishmael develops a metaphor about finding this fragrant and precious substance in the decaying corpse of a sick animal—it’s like what St. Paul says about the soul being "sown in dishonor" and "raised in glory."
    • Ishmael concerns himself with making the point that whaling isn’t usually a gross, unclean business, the way the Rose-bud made it appear.
    • He claims that, if everything is done properly, whales’ corpses and their oil are "nearly scentless" (92.7) or at least just have a pleasant musk and perfume.
  • Chapter 93: The Castaway

    • A few days after the Pequod meets the Rose-bud, something happens to the little black boy Pip, whom you might remember as the tambourine-player in Chapter 40.
    • Pip and Dough-Boy look relatively similar, except for their different skin colors, but Pip is a much jollier, in-love-with-life, sparkling young man.
    • Unfortunately, being on the whaling voyage seems to dampen his enthusiasm a bit—and it’s going to affect him even more before the end of the story, Ishmael hints.
    • In the affair of the ambergris, one of Stubb’s oarsmen strains his hand, and so Stubb enlists Pip as a substitute rower for a while.
    • Pip does okay the first time he goes out in the boat, although Stubb can tell he’s not very brave.
    • The second time Pip goes out, Tashtego harpoons a whale, and the whale strikes the boat right under Pip’s seat.
    • Pip freaks out and jumps out of the boat, getting himself so entangled in the line that it looks like he’s going to be strangled in the water.
    • Tashtego and Stubb are forced to cut the line to save Pip and the whale escapes.
    • All the sailors curse Pip’s foolishness.
    • Stubb tries to explain to Pip when it’s okay to abandon the boat, but he gives up and just orders Pip to stay in the boat no matter what.
    • He reminds Pip that the whale is worth more than Pip would be if sold as a slave in the South.
    • Unfortunately, next time Pip goes out in the boat, he leaps out again, although this time he doesn’t get tangled up in the line.
    • Stubb and Tashtego ignore Pip and keep pursuing the whale, leaving Pip stranded in the middle of the ocean.
    • Stubb didn’t really mean to endanger Pip’s life—he assumed that one of the other boats, which were behind, would pick him up—but those boats sight other whales and go after them.
    • The Pequod itself rescues Pip, merely by chance, and he’s never the same again.
  • Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand

    • Stubb and his men bring back the whale they captured on the outing where they abandoned Pip, and the crew butcher the whale using the methods that Ishmael explained in previous chapters.
    • The men on board the ship drag away the barrels filled with spermaceti from the whale’s case. Outside of the whale’s warm body, the spermaceti cools and forms fatty lumps.
    • The men stick their hands into the gooey white mass (think of half-congealed bacon fat) and "squeeze the lumps back into fluid" (94.3).
    • All morning Ishmael works with his hands in the sperm, squeezing it, forgetting about Captain Ahab’s insane quest for revenge, just experiencing the aromatic oils and squeezing lumps of spermaceti and even squeezing the hands of other men who are doing the same job.
    • The experience becomes almost transcendent, and Ishmael ends with a vision of "long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti" (94.6).
    • Ishmael describes some of the other oily substances, besides spermaceti, that come from the whale, which include white-horse, chunks of flesh marbled with fat from the tail end of the whale); plum-pudding, chunks of flesh mottled golden and purple that are attached to the blubber in different places; slobgollion, an oozy stringy mass of membranes left over after the squeezing of the spermaceti; gurry, the dark goo scraped off the outside of the whale; and nippers, strips of tendon cut from the tail.
    • All of these substances are dealt with in the blubber-room below decks, where a man with a hook called a "gaff" holds each piece of blubber still while another man stands on it and cuts it into pieces with a spade—trying not to cut his toes off in the process.
  • Chapter 95: The Cassock

    • Ah, Chapter 95: less than a page long, but still one of our favorites.
    • In this chapter, the men cut off the whale’s giant jet-black penis, skin it, and turn the skin into a sleeveless robe for the sailor called the "mincer" to wear. The mincer’s job is to finely chop pieces of blubber for the pot in the try-works. (See next chapter.)
    • Let’s just savor this one more time: there is actually a robe made out of a whale penis in this chapter.
    • Imagine what would happen if Stacey London and the What Not to Wear crew found that in someone’s closet.
  • Chapter 96: The Try-Works

    • All American whaling ships, the Pequod included, have a sort of kiln in the middle of the deck, which is made out of bricks called "try-works," in which there are two huge "try-pots" (remember the name of that inn in Nantucket, back in chapter 15?) with iron furnaces underneath them.
    • At nine o’clock on the evening Stubb killed the whale, the sailors fire up the try-works.
    • At first they use wood shavings as fuel; later they’ll use the blubber left over from the try-works processing.
    • By midnight, the try-works are going full steam, and the ship, carrying a strange sooty fire, seems like some demon come to sail around on the ocean.
    • Here’s what happens at the try-works: the harpooneers use poles to throw huge pieces of whale-blubber into the hot pots, where the oil in the blubber liquefies and is separated from the rest of the whale’s flesh so that it can be stored in a relatively pure form.
    • Ishmael thinks that the sight of the ship "freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness" is a symbol of Ahab’s "monomaniac" (i.e., totally obsessed) soul (96.7).
    • Ishmael, who is at the helm steering the ship during this process, drifts off into strange dreams.
    • He starts awake and can’t see the compass to steer by; he feels like the ship is rushing, not toward, but away from all points of safety. He grabs the tiller, but it’s strangely inverted. He’s confused and horrified.
    • Finally, Ishmael realizes that, in his sleep, he turned around and he’s grasping the wrong side of the helm with his back to the prow and compass.
    • Ishmael turns around just in time to keep the ship from capsizing.
    • Ishmael reminds himself (and us) that, in the morning natural sunshine, will fall on the deck of the ship and make everything seem less sinister.
    • Yet, he knows that, given the way the world works, it’s wise to embrace sorrow and woe.
    • Still, you can’t embrace woe too much or it will drive you crazy.
  • Chapter 97: The Lamp

    • Ishmael notes that all the sailors use lots of whale oil for their lamps, so their sleeping quarters are bright at night.
    • On other types of ships, the men aren’t allowed much oil or light because it’s expensive, but since the whaling ship harvests oil, there’s plenty on board.

  • Chapter 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up

    • Ishmael describes some of the last stages of the whale hunt and butchering: pouring off the extracted oil into casks and stowing them in the hold.
    • It’s strange, Ishmael tells us, that for a day or two while the whale is being butchered, the entire ship seems covered in oil and bits of whale; but as soon as the oil is stowed, the deck is scrubbed incredibly clean (and the oil helps with this scrubbing) and the ship seems almost like an ordinary merchant ship.
    • The sailors even joke about starting to put in nice furnishings.
    • Of course, it seems like they’ve just barely gotten the deck scrubbed, the soot brushed out of the sails, and the casks stored when they sight another whale and go off on the hunt again, ready to drench the deck in blood and oil yet once more.
    • This cycle, Ishmael admits, is either depressing, symbolic, or both.
  • Chapter 99: The Doubloon

    • Ishmael tells us that, when pacing the quarter-deck, Captain Ahab tends to stop and stare creepily at whatever’s directly in front of him at either end of the deck.
    • At one end, he stares at the compass; at the other, he stares at the gold doubloon that he nailed to the mast.
    • One morning, Ahab gets more interested in the doubloon than ever before, and starts trying to analyze its symbolism.
    • The doubloon, Ishmael tells us, is a gold coin from Quito, Ecuador, a country near and named for the equator, associated with the center of the world and the bright tropical sun.
    • On the coin are images of three peaks of the Andes, superimposed upon which are pictures of a flame, a tower, and a crowing cock. Across the top of the coin, in the sky above the mountains, are astrological symbols, and the sun is depicted as entering Libra (the scales).
    • Ahab mutters an interpretation of the coin to himself: he believes that the tower, volcano, and the cock all represent himself, and the coin represents the world mirroring himself back to him. (He’s interpreted the mountain with the flame on it as a volcano.)
    • Ahab retreats.
    • Starbuck, watching Ahab leave, goes over to the coin and analyzes it himself.
    • He sees the three mountains as the Trinity, but he also focuses on the dark valley at their base.
    • The sun overhead he interprets as God, who is a beacon of hope, but impossible to see if you look down—or if it’s midnight.
    • Then Starbuck retreats.
    • Stubb, who saw both Ahab and Starbuck analyze the doubloon, goes over to the coin and tries to analyze it himself.
    • He doesn’t really see why it’s so different from other doubloons, but he notices the zodiac and gets out his almanac to read about the meanings of the different star-signs.
    • He uses the almanac to turn the twelve symbols into a comical archetype of man’s life from birth to death. The sun moves through this series of symbols every year and comes out of it bright and jolly —which is how Stubb sees himself.
    • Stubb sees Flask coming and hides behind the try-works to listen to what he has to say about the coin.
    • Flask says he sees nothing but a round golden coin worth $16, which is up for grabs by whoever sees a certain whale.
    • $16 would buy Flask 960 cigars so he gets fired up to look for whales.
    • Stubb wonders whether Flask’s interpretation is wise or foolish, and then hides again because he sees the Old Manx sailor coming to interpret the coin.
    • The Old Manx sailor says that, if they see the white whale, it will happen in a month and a day from now, when the sun is in Leo.
    • Stubb continues to hide as the Old Manx sailor leaves and Queequeg comes up. Queequeg doesn’t say anything, but seems to be comparing the symbols on the doubloon to the tattoos on his body.
    • Queequeg leaves and Fedallah comes before the coin, to which he bows.
    • Stubb theorizes that Fedallah may be a fire-worshipper bowing before the symbol of the sun on the coin.
    • Finally, Pip, who has watched all of these interpreters, comes up to the coin.
    • Pip is half-crazy after his unpleasant near drowning, and at first he repeats verb conjugations out of an elementary grammar textbook.
    • Pip’s conjugations turn into a strange commentary on Stubb, and Stubb is so saddened and creeped out by the method in Pip’s madness that he has to leave.
    • With Stubb gone, Pip continues his weird rant.
    • Pip interprets the doubloon as the ship’s navel and suggests that everyone trying to find the White Whale and win the doubloon is trying to unscrew its navel and destroy the ship.
    • He predicts that someday, the mast of the Pequod will be pulled out of the ocean with the doubloon still attached, and men will wonder how it got there.
  • Chapter 100: Leg and Arm • The Pequod, of Nantucket, meets the Samuel Enderby, of London

    • (This is another chapter that could be from Ishmael’s perspective or, perhaps more likely, from the perspective of an omniscient narrator—Ishmael’s not in it anywhere and probably wouldn’t be witness to the scenes that take place on the Samuel Enderby.)
    • The Pequod encounters a British whaling ship called the Samuel Enderby, and Captain Ahab asks his usual question: have they seen the white whale?
    • When Ahab sees that the captain of the ship is missing one arm and has a whalebone prosthetic in its place, that’s all he needs to decide to go aboard and have a little chat.
    • With some difficulty, since the Samuel Enderby isn’t specially adapted for his bone leg, Ahab goes aboard the other ship.
    • Instead of shaking hands with the other captain, Ahab crosses bone prosthetics with him.
    • With plenty of interruptions from Ahab, the other captain tells his story:
    • A year before, he goes south of the Equator for the first time.
    • He hasn’t even heard of Moby Dick when, one day, while the crew of the Samuel Enderby is out in their boats hunting a small group of whales, the White Whale appears from the bottom of the sea.
    • Moby Dick tries to bite the harpoon-line connecting the captain’s boat to one of the whales and gets the line stuck in his teeth.
    • When the captain pulls on the line, the boat bounces up onto Moby Dick’s hump.
    • Seeing what a magnificent whale Moby Dick is, the captain resolves to capture him.
    • The captain jumps into the boat led by his first mate, Mr. Mounttop, snatches up a harpoon, and stabs at Moby Dick.
    • The White Whale goes crazy and smashes the boat in half with his tail.
    • The captain grabs for the harpoon sticking out of Moby Dick’s side to escape the whale’s violence.
    • The force of the water breaks the captain’s grip and the whale dives with the harpoon still in him.
    • The second harpoon, the sharp end of which is loose but which is still tied to the harpoon in Moby Dick, catches the captain just below his shoulder, sticks there, and begins to drag the captain down into the depths.
    • Luckily for the captain (we guess), the harpoon tears all the way down the length of his arm, and he floats to the surface of the water with a nasty gash from shoulder to wrist.
    • Here, the captain of the Samuel Enderby, whose name is Captain Boomer, stops his part of the narrative and refers Ahab to the ship’s surgeon, Dr. Bunger, for the rest.
    • Dr. Bunger, who is apparently a jolly man and a heavy drinker, tells Ahab that he tried to treat the wound, but it festered so badly that he had to amputate Captain Boomer’s arm and replace it with an ivory club.
    • The Englishmen joke about how Captain Boomer uses his new ivory arm to hit people.
    • Ahab is impatient to hear about Moby Dick.
    • Captain Boomer says that they saw Moby Dick two more times, but didn’t hunt him—he doesn’t want to lose another arm, and he thinks the White Whale is best left alone.
    • Ahab agrees that he is… but still intends to hunt Moby Dick to the end of the world. His erratic behavior and intense rage at the White Whale both alarm the good-natured Englishmen, who ask Fedallah if Ahab is insane.
    • Fedallah just puts his finger to his lips.
    • Ahab gets back into his boat and rows away without another word, despite the hails of the Samuel Enderby.
  • Chapter 101: The Decanter

    • Ishmael recounts some stories connected with the Enderby family, the first major English whaling family which has been sponsoring voyages since 1775—although he’s careful to assert that the American families based in the Nantucket area were hunting whales for 50 years before the English (since 1726).
    • In 1788, the Enderbys launched a ship called the Amelia, which was the first to round Cape Horn and hunt whales in the South Sea, opening that whole area to ships of whaling and exploration.
    • The Enderbys also sent the first European whaling ship, the Syren, commanded by a Nantucketer, into the waters near Japan.
    • The ship called the Samuel Enderby, which the Pequod has just encountered, is an excellent ship.
    • Ishmael tells us that, at some point long after his voyage on the Pequod, he boarded the Samuel Enderby for a wild Gam, in which everyone drank a lot and, when a storm hit, accidentally caught their clothes in the rigging while trying to reef the sails.
    • The men on the Samuel Enderby were generous with the food at this Gam—even though the beef was tough, the dumplings rock-solid, and the bread full of weevils or maggots.
    • Ishmael thinks that the unfailing good cheer and hospitality of English whaling ships are due to the fact that English whalers take their cue from the Hollanders, Zealanders, and Danes, instead of from English merchant ships.
    • Ishmael pores over a (supposed) list of provisions from a Dutch whaling ship; he’s smacking his lips as he thinks about the tens of thousands of pounds of meat and cheese—and especially as he considers the more than 10,000 barrels of beer.
  • Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

    • Having already considered most of the different external aspects of the whale, Ishmael peels back his skin and flesh to examine his skeleton.
    • Ishmael explains that he knows about the skeletal construction of the whale because, on one ship, he sees a small cub sperm whale brought on board and dissects it with his own knife.
    • Furthermore, Ishmael says, he learned about the skeleton of the full-grown sperm whale from his friend Tranquo, the king of a Melanesian island where Ishmael once spent some time on leave from another ship.
    • Tranquo has a collection of rare and precious artifacts, including the skeleton of a sperm whale that was found stranded on a local beach.
    • The natives preserved it in a green and luscious glade, decorating it with trophies, carvings, and even a sacred flame inside the skull.
    • The sight of the sun coming through the leaves and tendrils of the forest made Ishmael think of God as a great weaver, and he wonders about the workings of fate.
    • The skeleton of the sperm whale rests in this glen, getting covered gradually with green vines—life twining around death.
    • Ishmael examines this skeleton, wandering around inside it, even measuring it with a rod that he made for the purpose from a nearby tree, even though the local priests objected to him measuring their god.
    • Ishmael tells us the size of the whale, reminding us that he can’t lie about this—if we wanted, we could go to one of the museums that has actual whale skeletons and check his details.
    • The comparison of the whale in the grove in Melanesia and the whale in Yorkshire owned by Sir Clifford Constable is a remarkable one: both men seize the whales and turn them into spectacles.
    • Ishmael claims that he’s copying down his measurement of the whale’s skeleton from a tattoo on his arm, where he preserved the numbers.
    • He admits that he didn’t worry about making the dimensions exact to the inch.
  • Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

    • Ishmael tells the reader that, according to Captain Scoresby, the largest Greenland whale on record was about 70 tons and 60 feet long.
    • Ishmael calculates that the largest Sperm Whales are 85-90 feet long and nearly 40 feet around, and probably weigh at least 90 tons.
    • The skeleton of the sperm whale possessed by Ishmael’s friend Tranquo was about 72 feet long and Ishmael estimates that the complete whale was probably 90 feet long when it was alive.
    • Ishmael surveys the whale’s ribs, noting that they don’t encompass the same amount of bulk that he thinks the living animal would have—where the ribs are 8 feet apart, Ishmael assumes the whole whale would have been 16 feet thick. Sounds a little fishy (ha!) to us.
    • Ishmael realizes that the dead skeleton alone doesn’t convey the whale’s real nature—only facing it in the battle of the hunt can do that.
    • Surveying the whale’s spine, Ishmael notices how the gigantic monster tapers off into tinier and tinier pieces… hmm, maybe that’s a metaphor of some kind.
  • Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale

    • Ishmael, still attempting to be comprehensive in his examination of all things whale, considers fossil whales discovered by archaeologists.
    • Writing about the magnificent, massive whale encourages Ishmael to rise to new heights of florid language.
    • He uses the weightiest dictionary he can find and begins writing in capital letters.
    • His quill and inkstand swell to mighty proportions.
    • His arms seem to encircle the globe as he writes about his enormous subject.
    • Ishmael claims that he’s qualified to write about geology because he’s dug ditches before.
    • Surveying the cetacean fossil record, Ishmael realizes just how ancient whales really are; they’ve existed since prehistoric times and it appears that they’ll persist long after mankind is gone. (More on that in Chapter 105.)
    • Ishmael also describes other ancient archives of whale lore beyond the fossil record, citing writing on Egyptian tablets and the existence of an ancient temple in Africa, where it’s rumored that the whale spat out Jonah.
  • Chapter 105: Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish? – Will He Perish?

    • Ishmael ponders whether whales have grown smaller over the ages, but decides, based on the fossil record, that they are actually slowly getting larger.
    • Of course, the whales of Ishmael’s time are still much smaller than some of the sea monsters described by ancient Roman naturalists, but Ishmael doesn’t trust these accounts.
    • Next, Ishmael explores the possibility that the whale could be hunted to extinction. He compares schools of whales to the herds of North American buffalo that have been decimated by the mid-nineteenth century.
    • However, Ishmael believes that the ratio of hunters to killed whales is small enough that the whale population isn’t radically decreasing.
    • Ishmael admits that whaling ships used to find more whales more easily, but he thinks this is because the whales used to roam in many smaller groups, and now they move around in a few large ones.
    • The other reason Ishmael thinks whales won’t become extinct is that there are two places they go— the North and South poles—where hunters can’t follow.
    • He admits that around 13,000 whales are slaughtered each year by the Americans alone, but he says that far more elephants than this are killed in hunts every year and have been since ancient times, and they’re not endangered yet. (Oh, wait…)
    • Taking all these things into account, Ishmael considers the whale virtually immortal.
  • Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg

    • When Ahab disembarks from the Samuel Enderby, he splinters his ivory leg.
    • One of Ahab’s peculiarities is that he tends to take very careful care of his whalebone leg—because right after the Pequod set sail, he had an accident in which it stabbed him in the groin.
    • He blamed all the pain caused by this wound on Moby Dick, who, of course, caused him to lose his leg in the first place.
    • This groin-stabbing accident was the reason that Ahab stayed in his cabin like a hermit during the beginning of the Pequod’s voyage.
    • Ahab gets the ship’s carpenter to make him a new leg out of some of the sperm whale jawbone the Pequod has collected so far on its voyage.
  • Chapter 107: The Carpenter

    • The carpenter of the Pequod is, Ishmael assures us, a unique individual.
    • He’s also a workman experienced in a variety of woodworking techniques necessary on board ship.
    • He works on deck at a huge carpentry bench kept against the try-works at all times except when they’re actually slaughtering a whale.
    • The carpenter’s duties on the ship are wide-ranging and include dentistry, ear-piercing, dispensing medicines, and pretty much anything else anybody needs.
    • But, despite this variety of duties, the carpenter’s not an especially brainy guy.
    • In fact, the carpenter seems strangely unaffected by things—Ishmael describes him as a rolling stone that not only didn’t gather moss, but also rubbed off everything else it originally had on it. The carpenter seems disconnected from the world.
    • Still, the carpenter has something like a soul—enough for him to have a soliloquy, anyway.
  • Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter

    • The novel returns to a playbook-style format with stage directions.
    • In the evening, the carpenter is working on Ahab’s new ivory leg by lantern-light.
    • The blacksmith is working, too, in the background.
    • The carpenter murmurs to himself about the leg as he works on it.
    • Ahab visits the carpenter so the length of the leg can be measured.
    • He asks the carpenter what the blacksmith is doing, and the carpenter explains that the blacksmith is making the buckle-screw.
    • Ahab describes the blacksmith as a second Prometheus, and jokes that he’s going to order him to forge a completely mechanical man.
    • Ahab begins to talk to about creation, and the carpenter doesn’t know whether he’s talking to himself or not.
    • Then Ahab asks the carpenter if, in addition to making the new bone leg, he can make Ahab stop feeling the old leg in its place, which, of course, he can’t.
    • Ahab laments the fact that he must depend on the carpenter’s help, when he’d rather feel himself entirely free and independent.
    • The carpenter resumes his work, reminding himself that Stubb always calls Ahab "queer" and feeling the truth of that label.
  • Chapter 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin

    • In the morning, the men pump out the small amount of water that accumulates in the ship each day, and they find that that oil is coming up with it—some of the barrels are leaking badly.
    • Starbuck goes to Ahab’s cabin to report the leaking oil and to recommend that the ship stop so they can bring the oil casks on deck and repair them.
    • Ahab refuses; he’s more interested in pursuing Moby Dick than anything else.
    • Starbuck implores Ahab to think of the owners of the ship, but Ahab insists that possession is the only real law, and as commander he can do whatever he wants.
    • He threatens Starbuck with a loaded musket and orders him back on deck.
    • Starbuck returns to the deck, but warns Ahab to beware of himself.
    • Ahab ponders the truth of this warning, and then suddenly decides to follow Starbuck’s advice, stop the ship, and fix the casks.
  • Chapter 110: Queequeg in his Coffin

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

    • To find the leaking casks, the crew of the Pequod have to unpack everything in the hold, bringing barrels of oil, food stores, and bundles of iron on deck and searching back into the corners of the ship.
    • In the course of working in the cold, damp hold, Queequeg gets very sick and nearly dies.
    • While on his (almost) deathbed, Queequeg calls someone (probably Ishmael, but the text is ambiguous) to him and asks him to arrange for Queequeg to have a coffin made out of a Nantucket canoe—a nice combination of his tribe’s custom of burying men at sea in their canoes, and the Nantucket tradition of using similar canoes for coffins.
    • From some dark tropical wood they have on board, the carpenter makes a canoe coffin for Queequeg. The coffin is made-to-measure.
    • When the coffin is finished, Queequeg insists that it be brought to him and that his harpoon, a paddle, some provisions, and a few other things be placed in it. Then he lies down in it to try it for size.
    • After a moment, he asks the "one" friend (again, probably Ishmael) to bring his statue of Yojo to him, and to put the coffin lid on top. He’s satisfied.
    • Pip comes to Queequeg, takes his hand, and offers to play a death-march for him on his tambourine.
    • Starbuck comments that madmen often seem to be tapping into some source of genius and prophecy.
    • Pip continues to comment on Queequeg’s death, comparing it to his own "death" as a coward. Pip thinks he’s not really himself, and that the real Pip died when he jumped out of Stubb’s boat.
    • Queequeg suddenly recovers from his illness, saying he has changed his mind about dying and insisting he can choose whether or not to live.
    • Queequeg uses the coffin as a chest to store his clothes and carves the lid with symbols that he copies from his body.
    • We learn that Queequeg’s tattoos are as much a mystery to him as they are to us—a holy man carved him with symbols that he himself can’t read.
  • Chapter 111: The Pacific

    • The Pequod arrives in the Pacific Ocean, which Ishmael feels is the most serene, mysterious, and sacred of the seas.
    • Ahab, however, doesn’t feel any of this holiness; he’s getting more and more keyed up for his fight with the White Whale.
  • Chapter 112: The Blacksmith

    • The old blacksmith, Perth, has plenty of other work to do after he finishes his portion of Ahab’s new leg: he’s working constantly on new harpoons and lances and other weapons for the men.
    • Perth limps slightly, and the men pester him until he tells them his story: one winter night he was traveling on the road and had to take refuge in a barn, and the tips of both his feet were lost to frostbite.
    • For most of his life, Perth was a well-to-do artisan with a nice family, but he was robbed—by his own alcoholism.
    • His drinking weakened him until he could manage less and less blacksmithing.
    • Eventually, he had to sell his house, his wife and two of his three children died, and Perth began to wander the streets.
    • Perth escapes all this by joining a whaling ship.
  • Chapter 113: The Forge

    • One day, while Perth is working at his smithy, Ahab comes to him with a special commission.
    • Ahab is amazed that Perth can withstand the torment of the hot fires without going crazy, which Ahab claims is the best remedy for pain.
    • Ahab watches Perth weld a pike-head with deep seams and dents in it. He asks if Perth could smooth out the dents in his brow.
    • Ahab asks Perth to make him a harpoon out of the iron nail-stubs from horseshoes, which are some of the hardest, best metal Perth can use.
    • Ahab wants the harpoon made from twelve individual rods twisted together, and he insists on doing some of the hammering himself.
    • Fedallah passes by and seems to bless—or curse—Ahab’s labor.
    • Finally, the harpoon is finished and Perth cools it in water.
    • Ahab gives Perth his shaving razors (think big, vicious things that look like letter openers) to forge into the barbs of the harpoon.
    • Instead of cooling them in water, Ahab insists that the three harpooneers, Tashtego, Queequeg, and Daggoo, each contribute enough blood to cover them—so the harpoon that’s meant for the white whale is forged in human blood. Now that’s hardcore.
    • As if that weren’t creepy enough, Ahab recites a dark parody of the baptismal formula over the harpoon as it cools in the blood.
    • Ahab attaches a wooden pole to the harpoon head and barbs with a length of rope, and marches off with the demonic weapon.
  • Chapter 114: The Gilder

    • The Pequod is very busy hunting in the Pacific, just off the coast of Japan.
    • The ship spends long stretches floating on the tranquil, beautiful waves of the becalmed sea; the blue swells of water almost seem like meadows on the land.
    • Even Ahab feels the blessed serenity, but thinks that it can’t last; Starbuck finds fodder for his faith; and Stubb is simply jolly.

  • Chapter 115: The Pequod meets the Bachelor

    • A few weeks after Ahab forges his demonic harpoon, the Pequod encounters another whaling ship, the Bachelor, which has had a very successful cruise, collected many barrels of sperm oil.
    • The Bachelor is now engaged in sailing home while having one long party on board, with some native Polynesian girls who "eloped" with some of the sailors.
    • As the Bachelor passes, the captain calls to Ahab to come and join their bash, but Ahab persists in his ruthless quest, sailing into the wind.

  • Chapter 116: The Dying Whale

    • The next day, the crew of the Pequod kills four whales.
    • Ahab personally slays one of them.
    • Ahab watches the whale’s death throes as it instinctively turns its head toward the sun and marvels, almost worshipping it.

  • Chapter 117: The Whale Watch

    • Ahab’s boat stays beside the whale he killed all night, waiting for the ship to be able to pick it up. Everyone is asleep except Fedallah.
    • Ahab jerks awake and tells Fedallah he’s had the same dream again.
    • Fedallah explains the dream and Ahab’s fate in cryptic terms: before Ahab can die on the voyage, he will see two hearses on the sea, "the first not made by mortal hands" and the second made of American wood.
    • Fedallah also predicts that he will "go before" Ahab.
    • Plus, Ahab can only be killed by hemp—which he takes to mean being hanged on the gallows.
  • Chapter 118: The Quadrant

    • It’s now the season for whale-hunting along the equator—the "Line"—and the crew are eager to obey Ahab’s orders to turn in that direction.
    • Ahab spends long periods sitting on deck, using his quadrant (a navigational instrument) to take measurements of the ship’s position.
    • He keeps comparing the exact location of the ship to Moby Dick’s likely position.
    • Eventually, Ahab gets frustrated, because no matter how precisely he measures the ship’s location, he’ll never really know where Moby Dick is.
    • He throws the quadrant down and tramples on it with his living foot and his bone leg.
    • Starbuck and Stubb watch Ahab, worried about the eventual fate of the voyage.
  • Chapter 119: The Candles

    • Out of nowhere, a typhoon hits the Pequod, tearing away its sails. Thunder and lightning rage around the ship.
    • Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask do their best to secure the rigging and lash down the boats and other large, semi-loose objects.
    • Stubb tries to be cheerful in the midst of the chaos and sings a sea chanty to himself.
    • Starbuck tells Stubb to be quiet—he thinks that the storm blowing against the ship and the damage it’s caused to Ahab’s boat are further signs that they shouldn’t be on this voyage.
    • In a flash of lightning, Starbuck sees that Ahab has appeared at his elbow.
    • Starbuck realizes that the crew needs to drop the chain-linked ends of the ship’s lightning rods overboard and orders that this be done.
    • Starbuck, Stubb, Ahab, and the rest of the sailors watch as fiery balls of lightning called "corpusants" dance around overhead in the ship’s rigging. There’s one at the top of each of the three masts, making them look like three giant candles.
    • After a long moment, the lightning seems to subside.
    • Stubb insists on interpreting the "candles" as a good omen, and they flare up again wildly.
    • Ahab interprets the lightning, and the fires it causes, as leading the way to Moby Dick.
    • Taking the chain-link ends of the lightning rods in his hands and putting one foot on Fedallah, Ahab looks up to the burning masts and declares that he worships the fire with his defiance.
    • The flames burn twice as high.
    • Ahab is forced to close his eyes and press his hand over them, but he calls himself the child of the fire and continues a speech in praise and worship of it.
    • Starbuck points out a tongue of flame that has started burning on the tip of Ahab’s blood-forged harpoon.
    • As Starbuck tries to persuade Ahab to call off the voyage, the men begin to panic.
    • Ahab grabs the burning harpoon, waves it among them, and reminds them that they all took an oath to hunt Moby Dick.
    • Then Ahab blows out the flame.
  • Chapter 120: The Deck towards the End of the First Night Watch

    • Starbuck approaches Ahab and asks permission to stop the ship and strike the main-top-sail, which is working loose.
    • Ahab refuses, but orders that everything be lashed tightly in place.

  • Chapter 121: Midnight – The Forecastle Bulwarks

    • Stubb and Flask work to lash down the anchors hanging over the forecastle bulwarks to stop them swinging wildly loose.
    • Stubb teases Flask and insists that Flask ought to be less worried about what might happen to the ship: even though Ahab’s behavior is reckless, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad is going to happen to them.
    • Lots of ships get away with some reckless behavior.

  • Chapter 122: Midnight Aloft – Thunder and Lightning

    • Tashtego, lashing down the sail, calls to the heavens to stop their useless thunder and asks for rum instead.

  • Chapter 123: The Musket

    • The helmsman of the Pequod has been thrown to the deck many times by the force of the typhoon. He’s also seen the needles in the compasses spinning.
    • In the early hours of the next morning, the typhoon dies down.
    • Starbuck and Stubb are able, in the calm, to rig new sails.
    • The Pequod gets back on course—during the typhoon, the helmsman just steered as best he could as they weathered the storm.
    • The breeze changes, and the Pequod is now sailing with, instead of against, the wind.
    • Starbuck goes down toward the cabin to tell Captain Ahab.
    • Entering the cabin, Starbuck sees the loaded musket that Captain Ahab threatened him with before. (Ahab is behind a door in his stateroom.)
    • Starbuck pauses in front of the musket and gives a Hamlet-like soliloquy, trying to decide whether or not he would be justified in imprisoning or murdering Ahab in order to save the crew from his revenge quest.
    • Starbuck picks up the musket and holds it against the door; he knows the exact spot where Ahab’s hammock hangs, and he could shoot him in the head through the wall.
    • Starbuck tells Ahab the wind has shifted.
    • Ahab, waking, is excited to think that he’ll find Moby Dick at last.
    • (If that seems like an abrupt transition, it’s not on us; that’s how Melville wrote it.)
  • Chapter 124: The Needle

    • In the morning, the sea is still a little choppy as Ahab stands on the deck, imagining that the ship is "the sea-chariot of the sun" (124.3)—because of the direction the Pequod is headed, it looks like the ship is pulling the sun along behind it.
    • Suddenly, Ahab realizes what this means: the ship is headed west instead of east.
    • Starbuck and Ahab examine the compasses, which suggest that the ship is going east as it’s supposed to. The magnetism of the compass needles has been disturbed by the storm.
    • Ahab determines that the compasses have been exactly reversed, something not unheard of on long sea voyages, and orders the ship to turn around.
    • Ahab makes a new needle for one of the compasses by magnetizing one of the needles used for sewing the sails.
  • Chapter 125: The Log and Line

    • With the compasses unreliable and the quadrant destroyed, Ahab turns to another navigational tool, the log and line.
    • (Quick Maritime Context Lesson: the log and line is a long cord wound on a reel and attached to a peg called a log. The log is thrown over the side of the ship and allowed to float while the line plays out. Then, an hourglass is used to time how long it takes for the line to play out completely. Knowing how long the line is, the sailors can calculate the velocity of the ship.)
    • Ahab orders two sailors, the old Manxman and the Tahitian, to throw the log overboard.
    • The old Manx sailor doesn’t trust the line; he thinks it’s too rotten to last. Ahab insists that it will hold and tells him to use it.
    • The sailors throw the log overboard and the line snaps. The log is lost.
    • Ahab orders them to haul in the line and have the carpenter make another log.
    • Pip appears on deck raving and scolding Ahab.
    • It becomes clear that Pip believes that he, Pip, was lost overboard when, like a coward, he jumped out of the boat.
    • Ahab asks Pip who he is if Pip has been lost.
    • Pip says that he’s the ship’s bellboy.
    • Ahab is touched and disturbed by Pip’s strangely intelligent madness and invites Pip to live with him in his cabin.
    • They join hands and Ahab leads Pip gently away.
  • Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy

    • The Pequod continues sailing towards the equator, directed only by the repaired log and line.
    • No other ships are visible for a long time, and everything seems calm—a little too calm, if you ask us.
    • When the ship arrives at the whaling grounds near the equator, the men on the night watch hear strange wailing noises. Some of them believe it’s mermaids, others think it’s ghosts.
    • When Ahab hears about this at dawn, he laughs and explains that it was the crying of seal orphans and mothers on some nearby islands.
    • At sunrise, one of the men goes up the mast to take his shift on the watch—the first watch for Moby Dick in his own "home" area—and somehow manages to fall overboard.
    • The ship throws out a life-buoy (a hollow wooden cask sealed shut so that it will float) for the man, but he’s gone forever.
    • Eventually, the sun and water cause the cask to sink.
    • To replace the missing life-buoy, Queequeg offers his coffin.
    • Starbuck orders the carpenter to nail it shut and seal the edges.
    • The carpenter is irritated because he went to a lot of trouble to make Queequeg’s coffin just perfect, and now he’s just going to seal it closed.
    • Besides, it seems a little, oh, sinister, to make a life preserver out of a coffin, doesn’t it?
  • Chapter 127: The Deck

    • Ahab comes on deck and discovers the carpenter turning Queequeg’s coffin into a life-buoy.
    • Ahab is disturbed by the extreme irony of this activity and by the way that the carpenter has made both life and death—he’s made a new leg for Ahab, but also a coffin for Queequeg.
    • Ahab muses that "in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality preserver" and goes back into his cabin to discuss this idea with Pip (127.21).
  • Chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel

    • The next day, the Pequod meets a ship called the Rachel, which has seen Moby Dick recently and is looking for a lost boat.
    • The captain of the Rachel, who is a Nantucketer, comes on board the Pequod.
    • The Rachel’s captain explains that, yesterday afternoon, three of his boats were hunting a group of whales when Moby Dick was sighted. They lowered their spare boat, which set off in pursuit of Moby Dick.
    • When the other boats went to look for the spare boat, it was nowhere to be seen.
    • The men of the Rachel found white water, suggesting that the whaling boat crew had harpooned Moby Dick, but he dragged them rapidly away.
    • The ship has been on the lookout for its missing boat ever since.
    • The captain of the Rachel asks Captain Ahab if the Pequod will help search for the missing men.
    • Stubb is surprised by the request and whispers a guess to Flask: there was something or someone especially valuable on board that missing boat.
    • The Rachel’s captain admits that his own son is on the missing boat and begs Ahab to help, even just for a day. He offers to charter the ship and pay for their help.
    • Ahab refuses to help the captain of the Rachel, whose name is Captain Gardiner, because he doesn’t want to lose any time in hunting Moby Dick.
    • He goes back into his cabin.
    • Captain Gardiner returns silently to his ship.
    • The men on the Pequod can see the Rachel moving slowly back and forth along the water in the distance, searching for the missing boat.
  • Chapter 129: The Cabin

    • Ahab starts to leave his cabin and Pip goes to follow him.
    • Ahab stops Pip and tells him that he must stay below in the cabin; Ahab himself is going to stay on deck.
    • Pip begs Ahab to let him follow to help Ahab, but Ahab refuses, saying that Pip’s speech and manner make Ahab doubt his own sinister purpose.
    • Ahab leaves, and Pip has a brief soliloquy lamenting the loss of his self and of Ahab’s company.
  • Chapter 130: The Hat

    • Now that Ahab is so close to the conclusion of his quest for vengeance, there’s something in the expression on his face that’s horrible to see.
    • The men and mates are mechanical and subdued.
    • While Ahab may frighten the crew, Fedallah seems to frighten Ahab: Fedallah stands still on deck for hours, watching for the white whale, never sleeping.
    • Ahab spends all his time on deck now, night and day, with his hat pulled low over his eyes; nobody is sure whether sometimes he drowses like this or whether he’s always awake.
    • Ahab doesn’t even go into the cabin for his meals. He has them brought out to him twice a day.
    • Fedallah and Ahab never speak to each other while they’re on watch; at the most they might exchange a word once a day.
    • Even though they’re doing the same thing, it’s clear that Ahab is the master and Fedallah the slave.
    • After a few days, when the watchmen on the Pequod haven’t sighted Moby Dick, Ahab starts to believe that all the Christian men are intentionally keeping quiet. He decides he’ll sight the whale himself.
    • Ahab attaches a basket of rope to the mast and has Starbuck hoist him up so that he can watch the sea for miles around.
    • Men keeping watch in the rigging usually have a partner on deck holding the rope that keeps them up, and it’s strange that Ahab has chosen Starbuck, the only member of the crew who opposes him, for this job.
    • The first time Ahab goes aloft like this, a black hawk steals his hat and drops it into the ocean—a strange symbol of something.
  • Chapter 131: The Pequod meets the Delight

    • The Pequod encounters another Nantucket whaling ship, the Delight. The Delight had a recent encounter with Moby Dick that left five men drowned, another dead, and a whaling boat destroyed.
    • All Ahab cares about is whether the Delight managed to kill Moby Dick, which it didn’t. He shows them his forged-in-blood harpoon and announces his quest.
    • The captain of the Delight commends Ahab to God.
    • Ahab notices that the Delight is about to bury the dead man at sea and orders the Pequod to turn away quickly—but Queequeg’s coffin is still attached to the side of the ship, so they can’t escape death.

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • Chapter 132: The Symphony

    • Ishmael rejoices in the beautiful day and imagines that the air and its creatures are feminine and the sea and its creatures masculine, with the two realms embracing each other like a married couple.
    • Ahab, keeping watch on deck, seems also to be affected by the "enchanted air" (132.7). He drops a single tear over the side of the ship into the sea.
    • Starbuck notices Ahab’s behavior and moves close to him, but doesn’t touch him or speak.
    • Noticing Starbuck, Ahab turns and reminisces about his life; he remembers a day like this forty years ago when, aged eighteen, he slew his first whale.
    • He remembers the hardship of the forty years he’s spent at sea, the loneliness.
    • Ahab tells Starbuck about his marriage: when he was older than fifty, he married a young girl and he’s only shared her bed once; he’s always been away at sea.
    • Ahab wonders what the use is of hunting whales and laments the loss of his leg.
    • He feels weighted down by the centuries of human history.
    • In Starbuck’s expression, Ahab seems to see his wife and child. He decides that, when they lower boats to hunt Moby Dick, Starbuck must stay with the ship.
    • Starbuck tries to convince Ahab that none of them should hunt Moby Dick and that they should simply return to Nantucket.
    • But Ahab can’t stop himself, and he can’t figure out what it is that drives him on—himself, God, or something else.
    • Once Ahab returns to his crazy ranting, Starbuck is deeply disturbed and has to sneak away.
    • When Ahab turns around, only Fedallah is there.
  • Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day

    • In the middle of the night, Ahab changes the ship’s course based on something he can smell in the air.
    • At dawn, the crew sea a long, smooth streak on the sea that suggests a whale is nearby.
    • Ahab sets Daggoo and Tashtego on watch and goes up in his basket.
    • At the same moment, Tashtego and Ahab call out that they can see Moby Dick.
    • Ahab claims that he called out first, and that he himself has won the golden doubloon.
    • They lower all the boats except Starbuck’s to pursue the White Whale. Starbuck stays with the ship.
    • The boats slowly close in on Moby Dick. The sea is peaceful and serene, the whale’s white hump standing out like something out of a Greek myth.
    • The White Whale lifts himself out of the water in an arch and then dives down into the ocean for a sounding. The boats wait for him to return.
    • Ahab predicts that the whale will stay under for an hour—but it reappears almost immediately, rushing toward the boat with its jaws open.
    • Ahab quickly steers his boat away from the whale, switches places with Fedallah, and takes his harpoon in hand.
    • Moby Dick rolls aside, takes the boat in his jaws from beneath, and shakes it the way a cat would shake a mouse.
    • One of the whale’s enormous teeth is right next to Ahab’s head, and they can’t stab at it with the harpoons because its body is under the boat.
    • Ahab tries to struggle with the whale, but Moby Dick bites the boat completely in half. Ahab is thrown out into the open sea.
    • Moby Dick moves in a strange manner that sperm whales sometimes adopt: he thrusts his head up and down and spins his body, churning the water into a frenzy.
    • Then Moby Dick starts circling the crew of the wrecked boat. All Ahab can do is keep afloat; it’s nearly impossible for him to swim in the melee.
    • The other boats nearby don’t dare to interfere for fear that it will cause the whale to attack Ahab instantly.
    • Starbuck, on the Pequod, has seen what has happened and brought the ship over to the hunt. Ahab calls for him to sail on the whale and drive him away, and he does.
    • The men of Stubb’s crew rescue Ahab, but he must lie underfoot, helpless, on the bottom of the boat.
    • Ahab asks Stubb if the special harpoon he forged in blood was rescued, and Stubb says it was. Only after that reassurance does Ahab ask whether any men were lost. Luckily, everyone was rescued.
    • Ahab sees Moby Dick’s spout in the distance and orders the two remaining boats to pursue him, but even with a double crew of oarsmen, Stubb’s boat can’t catch up with the White Whale.
    • The Pequod picks up the boats again and they pursue Moby Dick with the ship for a long time, through several soundings.
    • Ahab alternately paces on the deck and goes up into the rigging in his basket to watch the seas. As he paces, he goes back and forth past the wreck of his boat, which is lying on the deck.
    • Stubb approaches Ahab and makes a weird joke about the wrecked boat, and Ahab reprimands him.
    • Starbuck comes over and says that the boat is a bad omen and tries to get Ahab to call off the hunt.
    • Ahab rejects both Stubb and Starbuck as the opposite extremes of human reactions to the situation; he claims that he himself is unlike either men or gods.
    • Eventually, it gets too dark to see the whale’s spout. Ahab orders the crew to take down the Pequod’s sails so they don’t sail past Moby Dick in the dark.
    • Ahab leaves the gold doubloon nailed to the mast, saying that he will give it to whoever sees Moby Dick first on the day the whale is killed.
    • If he himself sees the whale that day, he’ll give ten times its worth to each of the crew.
  • Chapter 134: The Chase – Second Day

    • At dawn, the Pequod mounts new lookouts.
    • Ishmael explains that it’s not unusual for a whaling ship to pursue the same whale over multiple days.
    • One of the lookouts calls out, sighting Moby Dick.
    • Stubb is bubbling with excitement, as is most of the crew; they seem to have forgotten all their fears, as though they were fated to be in this chase. The thirty men in the crew are united with one purpose—Ahab’s purpose.
    • It turns out that the sighting was a mistake, something else on the horizon, not the whale’s spout. Ahab goes up into the rigging to keep watch himself.
    • As soon as Ahab gets aloft, every member of the crew calls out at the same moment: Moby Dick breaches less than a mile away, throwing his body up into the air.
    • Ahab orders the men to lower three boats (he’s fixed up the spare boat for his own use). Starbuck, as before, stays behind with the ship.
    • As the whalers pursue Moby Dick, he turns and rushes toward them, putting the men on the defensive.
    • Ahab orders his crew to face the whale head on, but it rushes among them, snapping its jaws and lashing its tail, trying to destroy all three boats.
    • All the harpooneers strike Moby Dick, but the whale entangles their lines.
    • Ahab plays out more line, then jerks it back, hoping to get some of the kinks and knots out, but the loose harpoons and lances entangled in the line come flashing toward him. He reaches through the barbs to drag in the line, cuts the line on either side of the barbs, and then throws the bundle of extra weaponry overboard.
    • Moby Dick uses the harpoons and lines still attached to him to crash Stubb’s and Flask’s boats together, completely wrecking them. Then the whale dives down in a whirlpool.
    • Moby Dick comes up headfirst underneath Ahab’s boat and punches it up toward the sky. When it falls, it’s upside down and all the men spill out.
    • The whale pauses briefly beside the wreckage, moving his tail, occasionally smacking pieces of wreckage.
    • Then he turns and begins moving in his original direction again at a leisurely pace.
    • The Pequod arrives to rescue the crews of the boats. Some men are injured, but none have been killed or mortally wounded.
    • Ahab leans heavily on Starbuck when he’s brought back on board. His bone leg has been snapped off, but he dismisses this as superficial—nothing, not even the white whale, can really harm his true self.
    • Ahab wants to launch the spare boats immediately to continue the pursuit, but Starbuck gently reminds him that he needs to rest.
    • Ahab curses his frail body, which is restraining his spirit from getting its proper revenge.
    • Suddenly, the men discover that Fedallah is gone.
    • Starbuck says that he thought he saw Fedallah pulled under in the tangles of Ahab’s harpoon line.
    • Ahab, fearful and enraged, again wants to lower the remaining boats. Starbuck reminds him that they’ve tried to kill Moby Dick twice and both times their boats have been wrecked—and now Ahab has lost his leg again.
    • Starbuck is convinced that God is against this hunt and that it would be blasphemous to keep chasing Moby Dick.
    • Starbuck’s words are lost on Ahab, who is equally convinced that he is merely acting out a drama that has been fated.
    • Ahab is certain that tomorrow, the third day of the chase, they will destroy the White Whale.
    • Ahab exhorts the crew to remain brave, and Stubb cheers him on.
    • Ahab mutters to himself about Fedallah’s death.
    • Ahab remembers that Fedallah prophesied he would die before Ahab.
    • Yet, Ahab remains confused because Fedallah is supposed to be seen again before Ahab himself can die.
    • That evening, Ahab again orders the sails down so the ship doesn’t overtake the whale.
    • The carpenter makes Ahab a new leg out of the keel of his wrecked boat.
  • Chapter 135: The Chase – Third Day

    • The third day of the hunt is beautiful and fresh.
    • Ahab muses on the wind, which appears to be sweet and pure, but must have blown across vile scenes of horror and contamination in the past.
    • It frustrates him that the wind can strike men, but can’t be struck in return; he wishes it had a body.
    • Ahab realizes that they’ve sailed past the whale in the night—now, instead of chasing Moby Dick, Moby Dick is chasing him.
    • The crew turns the Pequod around and sails against the wind.
    • Starbuck helps Ahab aloft and an hour goes by as they wait for a sighting of the whale’s spout. Finally, they see it.
    • Before he comes down from the masthead, Ahab takes one final look around him at the sea, surveying everything he’s known his entire life.
    • Lowering in his boat to pursue Moby Dick for the third time, Ahab pauses to say goodbye to Starbuck.
    • He seems convinced he’s not going to come back from this voyage. Starbuck gets teary-eyed begging Ahab not to go.
    • Ahab pushes Starbuck’s arm away and orders the boat lowered.
    • Pip’s voice comes from the cabin, calling Ahab back and warning him about sharks, but Ahab doesn’t hear him.
    • As the oarsmen begin rowing toward Moby Dick, the boat is surrounded by sharks, which snap at the oars and swim alongside the ship, almost like vultures waiting for a kill.
    • Starbuck feels convinced that this third day of pursuit will be an ending; he feels calm, and his visions of the future are unreal.
    • Looking up, he sees a hawk pulling at the ship’s flag.
    • Moby Dick dives again. Waiting for him to reappear, Ahab gloats that he can only be killed by hemp.
    • Moby Dick bursts out of the sea, jumping high into the air, and then crashes back down into the water.
    • The boats close in on the whale, which in turn attacks Stubb’s and Flasks boats, disabling them both.
    • Everyone notices that Fedallah’s corpse is lashed to Moby Dick’s back by the remnants of some of the harpoon lines.
    • Ahab recognizes this as the first "hearse" he will see before his death; he also finally understands Fedallah going before him as his "pilot."
    • Moby Dick swims out to sea and away from confrontation with the Pequod, trying to escape.
    • Starbuck calls to Ahab from the ship, pointing out that the White Whale isn’t seeking this battle and it’s not too late for Ahab to give up his quest.
    • Ahab turns his boat to follow Moby Dick and orders Starbuck to follow with the Pequod.
    • Tashtego, Queequeg, and Daggoo, who no longer have boats to hunt from, go up onto the masts of the ship as lookouts.
    • Ahab notices that the flag is gone—the bird must have gotten away with it—and orders Tashtego to put up another one.
    • Ahab’s boat gains on the whale, with sharks circling all around.
    • Coming close up to Moby Dick, Ahab throws his cursed harpoon into the whale.
    • Moby Dick rolls against the boat and three men are thrown out into the sea. Two pull themselves back in and the third is left floating alone.
    • The whale pulls away with great strength and the harpoon line snaps.
    • The whale turns to face the boat, but, seeing the ship behind it, changes targets and charges at the Pequod itself.
    • Ahab is distraught and orders his men to row quickly after Moby Dick, trying to save the ship. Before they get very far, some of the planks in the boat, damaged by the whale earlier, snap, and they’re forced to stop.
    • Starbuck orders the crew to raise the helm and encourages himself to die bravely.
    • Stubb grins back at the whale and wishes for a taste of cherries before he dies.
    • Flask just hopes that his mother has already taken out an advance on his salary, because after this she’s not going to get much more.
    • All the men on the ship are motionless, simply watching the whale rush toward them.
    • Moby Dick strikes the starboard bow of the ship with his forehead; some of the men are knocked over, and water rushes into the breach.
    • Ahab realizes that the ship itself is the second "hearse" that he will see before he dies.
    • Moby Dick returns to the vicinity of Ahab’s boat and remains there calmly.
    • Ahab laments that he is denied the chance to go down with his ship and, putting all his hatred and rage into his harpoon, throws it at the whale.
    • It hits the whale, but the line catches Ahab around the neck and pulls him from of the boat. Harpoon, rope, and Ahab all disappear underwater.
    • The crew of the boat stares at the sea where Ahab has disappeared, and then they turn toward the ship, which is sinking into a whirlpool as the harpooneers cling to their lookout perches.
    • Tashtego is still in the act of nailing a new flag to the mast. A hawk comes and tries to pull the flag away, and Tashtego pins the hawk down with the hammer.
    • As the ship sinks, the shrieking hawk is drowned along with it.
  • Epilogue

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)

    • Ishmael, clinging to Queequeg’s coffin-turned-life-buoy, is the only survivor of the wreck of the Pequod.
    • The Rachel collects Ishmael as it cruises back and forth searching for its own missing crew and its captain's son.

    (Click the summary infographic to download.)