Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 61: Stubb kills a Whale

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 61: Stubb kills a Whale

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • And we return you to the plot of the novel, already in progress.
  • Starbuck may be freaked out by seeing the giant squid, but Queequeg is excited—seeing the squid means sperm whales are probably nearby.
  • The next day is hot and sleepy. Ishmael is on watch, and we know what that means—he falls asleep, noticing, just before he dozes off, that the other two seamen on watch are already napping.
  • Suddenly Ishmael jerks awake, just in time to see a huge sperm whale forty fathoms away. The whale spouts, and half the men on the ship, including the three watchmen, sing out.
  • The boats are lowered and the men set out to hunt the whale. They’re not sure if it’s aware of them, so they’re whispering and not using the oars, just paddling along as quietly as possible.
  • The whale shows its tail and sinks down into the water; sighting the "flukes" means it’s headed under for a while, so they wait for it to surface. Stubb smokes a pipe.
  • The whale resurfaces a bit further away—it’s clearly noticed the boats.
  • Stubb’s boat is closest, but everyone starts rowing furiously in pursuit of the whale, which is swimming away as fast as it can.
  • Stubb shouts encouragement to his men, Tashtego whoops, Daggoo and Queequeg scream wildly. Finally, they get close enough to the whale for Tashtego to throw his harpoon.
  • The line plays out rapidly, whizzing past everyone’s heads and slapping their wrists as it goes by. Stubb has dropped the cloth he usually uses to hold the rope, and it cuts into his hands.
  • Stubb calls for the line to be doused with water and secures it more firmly. It’s as tight as a harp string, and the whale is pulling the boat through the water with incredible speed.
  • Stubb and Tashtego change places. (There’s an explanation of why in Chapter 62.)
  • Stubb orders the men to haul the boat in; by pulling on the line, they draw the boat up to the whale’s side, where Stubb stabs it over and over with his lance until blood pours down in every direction.
  • They pull the boat even closer to the whale’s side; Stubb drives in his lance and churns it around the whale’s insides until it’s mortally wounded.
  • The men row the boat away from the whale’s death throes so they don’t get killed.
  • Finally, the whale spouts its own gory blood—its heart has burst. It’s dead.
  • Stubb’s only comment is that "both pipes" are "smoked out"—his own pipe, and the whale’s blow-hole (61.22).

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