Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day

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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.

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