Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

  • The Pequod moves into the sea around the islands of Southeast Asia, a long archipelago filled with little ports that can be used by whales and ships alike.
  • These islands seem to Ishmael like a gateway to the riches of the East—although he’s also aware that there are Malay pirates in the area that might attack the ship.
  • Ahab doesn’t let his crew land on any of the islands. He’s planned to sail through the Javan Sea, past the Philippines, to the east coast of Japan, so that he can go through all the important whaling grounds.
  • Neither Ahab nor the whaling ship needs anything extra for sustenance—Ahab doesn’t land the ship anywhere to rest, and the whale-ship never carries any cargo except tools for, or the harvest of, the whale-hunt.
  • The area around Java is a good hunting ground for whales, and soon the Pequod sights a group of them.
  • Ishmael explains that sperm whales used to be solitary creatures, but since whale hunting has become more common, the whales have started traveling in large pods for mutual protection.
  • What the ship has sighted is a long, crescent-shaped chain of whales along the horizon about two or three miles away; as the whales spout, it looks like a thousand chimneys spewing spoke on the horizon of a city.
  • While the Pequod is stalking the whales, they spot a Malayan pirate ship stalking them.
  • Ahab is driven wild by the idea that he’s speeding toward his fatal encounter with Moby Dick both chasing and being chased, but the rest of the crew are just concerned with trying to catch up to the whales.
  • The Pequod leaves the pirate ship behind and gets close enough to the whales to justify launching boats. The whales put on speed again, and for hours the crew must row with all their strength to keep up.
  • Eventually, the whales are so frightened—Ishmael calls them "gallied"—by the hunters that they start to panic and behave erratically, either floating paralyzed or swimming in chaotic circles.
  • The three boats (Ahab’s isn’t among them) separate so that each can chase a different whale.
  • Queequeg throws his harpoon and strikes a whale; the whale plunges right into the middle of a group of whales, endangering the boat that’s being pulled along behind.
  • Queequeg steers the boat around the whales as best he can, while Starbuck uses his lance to stab at the whales that are too close.
  • The boat carries three "druggs," which are harpoons attached to thick pieces of wood.
  • When a boat finds a large group of whales, the harpooneer can impale several of the whales that aren’t being chased at the moment with these druggs, and either kill or just wound other whales to capture and harvest at their leisure.
  • The men on Ishmael’s boat successfully throw two druggs; the third drugg is thrown, but the block of wood catches under a seat and tears it out, creating a hole in the bottom of the boat that they have to stuff with cloth.
  • Queequeg’s harpoon gets pulled out of the whale they’re chasing, meaning that the boat is no longer being tugged along by the fleeing animal.
  • The boat slides to a halt in a strange calm area, like the eye of the storm, in the middle of two or three square miles of frenzied whales.
  • There’s no space to row out, so the crew waits for an opening.
  • While the boat sits motionless, young whales come up to it curiously, almost like puppies sniffing around something unfamiliar. Queequeg pats their heads and Starbuck scratches them gently with his lance.
  • More intimate still is the sight the men have of the pregnant whales and nursing mothers with their infants.
  • One whale mother is still attached to her baby by the umbilical cord.
  • Ishmael makes the whale pod a metaphor for his own soul—even when the outside is a wild, fearful tumult, the center is calm and peaceful.
  • From their becalmed place at the middle of the pod, the men in Ishmael’s boat can see the other two boats still fighting some whales and using "druggs" on others.
  • One of the other boats tries to attack a whale by throwing a cutting-spade at its tail.
  • The whale breaks away, but its wound is deep and painful, and now it’s thrashing around entangled in the harpoon-line, unintentionally throwing the still-attached harpoon around it and striking other whales.
  • Most of the whale herd responds to this by drawing into a tighter and tighter group—with Ishmael’s boat in the center.
  • Starbuck, Queequeg, Ishmael, and the rest of the crew fight their way out of the middle of the group of whales, which now takes off swimming for the horizon, again, too fast to be pursued.
  • The men collect one of the drugged whales and a whale that Flask killed and "waifed" (marked as his with a special pole).
  • All the others escape for the time being.

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