Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 70: The Sphynx

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 70: The Sphynx

  • Ishmael realizes he forgot to tell us something: before the ship throws the whale’s carcass overboard, they cut off its head.
  • Complicating the whale’s decapitation is the fact that, like an over-muscled wrestler, it doesn’t have any neck, so it’s hard to say where the head ends and the body begins—and the whale’s at its thickest right there anyway.
  • Once someone (in this case Stubb) manages to cut off the whale’s head, they attach it to a cable and hang it over the side of the ship.
  • After doing this, everybody goes to lunch. While the deck is mostly empty, Captain Ahab does something that’s not creepy at all: he comes on deck, grabs a spade, and stabs the back of the whale’s head so that he can hold it close and stare at it.
  • Ahab conjures the whale’s head to speak and tell him the secrets of the deep ocean that it has seen. It seems like the enigmatic head of the Sphynx.
  • Conveniently, before anyone has to explain to Ahab that the whale is dead, and that it can’t talk anyway, the Pequod’s lookout sees another ship and notices that the breeze is picking up.
  • Ahab is unnaturally excited by this news. He feels like the new ship and the increasing wind are renewing his soul.

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