Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 132: The Symphony

By Herman Melville

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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.

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