Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

By Herman Melville

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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.

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