Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

  • Ishmael quotes an obscure English law that states the King should have the head and the Queen the tail of any whale captured on the English coast—a curious exception to the laws about Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish that he explained in the previous chapter.
  • Ishmael recounts a story about some men from Dover who hunted, captured, and beached a whale, which was then seized as the property of the Lord Warden, the local Duke who had all the royal rights of the area.
  • Ishmael tries to make sense of the injustice of this. Why should the King and Queen have a special right to the whale anyway?
  • Supposedly, it’s because the whale is a noble, regal animal.
  • But why should the Queen have the tail? He can’t come up with a good reason for that one... but maybe the King gets the head because he’s fish-faced.

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