Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head – Contrasted View

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head – Contrasted View

  • Ishmael guides the reader through contrasting examinations of the two whale-heads hanging on either side of the Pequod.
  • The two heads are both enormous, but otherwise quite different. The sperm whale’s head looks more noble and dignified in its coloring and structure.
  • The two whale heads are also similar in the situation of their ears and eyes.
  • The whale’s eyes are on the sides of its head, near the corners of its mouth, and very small; the whale, Ishmael theorizes, must be able to see on either side of its body, but not directly in front. It has "two backs" and "two fronts," as far as vision is concerned. It also sees two entirely different pictures of the world on either side of it, and Ishmael is amazed that it can think about them both at the same time.
  • The whale’s ears are tiny holes just behind its eyes, hardly visible on the sperm whale and invisibly covered by a flap of membrane on the right whale. The size of whales’ eyes and ears, however, doesn’t lessen their perception of the world.
  • In a move that seems to anticipate the way the camera maneuvers around in a film, Ishmael encourages the reader to go up through the bottom of the whale’s head into its throat and look at the world from inside its mouth, covered in glossy white membranes.
  • Ishmael pulls the reader outside the whale’s mouth to look at the huge, hinged lower jaw. After a few days, the three harpooneers cut off the lower jaw and bring it on deck to cut out the teeth and bone for carving.

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