Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 119: The Candles

By Herman Melville

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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.

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