Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

  • The Pequod meets another ship, which it smells before it sees: a French whaling ship which is towing two whale carcasses, one of a rotten whale that died of natural causes, and another, even more rotten whale, which died of what Ishmael describes as "indigestion."
  • Stubb thinks that he can see his cutting spade-pole tangled in the lines around the tail of the first whale and is irritated that the other ship is picking up the Pequod’s leavings.
  • Then he realizes that the second whale might be full of ambergris (read on to find out what that is) and comes up with an idea.
  • Stubb lowers his boat and rows across to the other ship, discovering that its bow is carved and painted in a fanciful pattern of roses. The stench-ridden ship is (ironically) called the "Bouton de Rose" or "Rose-bud."
  • Stubb finds a man from Guernsey (an island in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy) who speaks English.
  • Stubb asks if the crew of the Rose-bud have seen the White Whale; they say they haven’t, and Stubb relays this message to Ahab.
  • Returning to the Guernsey-man, who turns out to be first mate on the Rose-bud, Stubb asks if they realize they won’t get any decent oil from either of the rotten whales, and the man says he does know, but the captain, who has never been on a whaling voyage before, won’t believe him.
  • Stubb agrees to come on board to try and convince the captain to release the rotten corpses.
  • On board the Rose-bud, Stubb sees the men working slowly and reluctantly to start butchering the disgusting whales.
  • The ship’s doctor, locked in the Captain’s privy, shouts out his objections.
  • Stubb chats a little with the Guernsey-man, and discovers that he doesn’t know anything about ambergris.
  • They plan to go see the captain: Stubb will say whatever he likes, and the Guernsey-man will pretend to translate, but actually say whatever he wants about the rotten whales.
  • While Stubb freely insults the captain of the Rose-bud, the Guernsey-man, acting as though he’s translating, explains to the captain that the whales are disease-ridden and have to be cast aside.
  • The captain agrees to abandon the whale corpses. Stubb returns to his boat, offering to help by towing the whales away from the Rose-bud a little bit.
  • Stubb pretends to release the whale and the Rose-bud sails away. Then the Pequod sails between the Rose-bud and Stubb’s boat, blocking the view of the whale while Stubb harvests ambergris from its body—a substance that he finds behind the side fin and that looks like "ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old cheese" (91.49).
  • This ambergris is worth "a gold guinea an ounce," and Stubb gets about six handfuls of it before Ahab insists he return to the Pequod.

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