Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy

By Herman Melville

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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?

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