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American Literature books summary

motions (throwing a long lance from a jerking boat to secure a running

whale). He then goes into a discursive explanation of how whales spout with

some attempt at scientific precision. But he cannot define exactly what the

spout is, so he has to put forward a hypothesis: the spout is nothing but

mist, like the "semi- visible steam" that proceeds from the head of

ponderous beings such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and

himself! In the next chapter, he celebrates a whale's most famous part: his

tail. He likes its potential power and lists its difierent uses.

When the Pequod sails through the straits of Sunda (near Indonesia) without

pulling into any port, Ishmael takes the opportunity to discuss how

isolated and self- contained a whaleship is. While in the straits, they run

into a great herd of sperm whales swimming in a circle (the "Grand

Armada"){ but as they are chasing the whales, they are being chased by

Malay pirates. They try to "drugg" the whales so that they can kill them on

their own time.

(There are too many to try to kill at once.) They escape the pirates and go

in boats after the whales, somehow ending up inside their circle, a placid


But one whale, who had been pricked and was oundering in pain, panics the

whole herd. The boats in the middle are in danger but manage to get out of

the center of the chaos. They try to "waif" the whales{that is, mark them

as the Pequod's to be taken later. Ishmael then goes back to explaining

whaling terms, staring with "schools" of whales. The schoolmaster is the

head of the school, or the lord. The all-male schools are like a "mob of

young collegians." Backtracking to a reference in Chapter 87 about waifs,

Ishmael explains how the waif works as a symbol in the whale fishery. He

goes on to talk about historical whaling codes and the present one that a

Fast- Fish belongs to the party fast to it and a Loose-Fish is fair came

for anybody who can soonest catch it. A fish is fast when it is physically

connected (by rope, etc.) to the party after it or it bears a waif, says

Ishmael. Lawyer- like, Ishmael cites precedents and stories, to show how

dificult it is to maintain rules. In Heads or Tails, he mentions the

strange problem with these rules in England because the King and Queen

claim the whale. Some whalemen in Dover (or some port near there, says

Ishmael) lost their whale to the Duke because he claimed the power

delegated him from the sovereign.

Returning to the narrative, Ishmael says they come up on a French ship

Bouton de Rose (Rose-Button or Rose- Bud). This ship has two whales

alongside: one "blasted whale" (one that died unmolested on the sea) that

is going to have nothing useful in it and one whale that died from


Stubb asks a sailor about the White Whale? Never seen him, is the answer.

Crafty Stubb then asks why the man is trying to get oil out of these whales

when clearly there is none in either whale. The sailor on the Rose-Bud says

that his captain, on his first trip, will not believe the sailor's own

statements that the whales are worthless. Stubb goes aboard to tell the

captain that the whales are worthless, although he knows that the second

whale might have ambergris, an even more precious commodity than

spermaceti. Stubb and the sailor make up a little plan in which Stubb says

ridiculous things in English and the sailor says, in French, what he

himself wants to say. The captain dumps the whales. As soon as the Rose-Bud

leaves, Stubb mines and finds the sweet- smelling ambergris.

Ishmael, in the next chapter, explains what ambergris is: though it looks

like mottled cheese and comes from the bowel of whales, ambergris is

actually used for perfumes. He uses dry legal language to describe

ambergris and discuss its history even though he acknowledges that poets

have praised it.

Ishmael then looks at where the idea that whales smell bad comes from. Some

whaling vessels might have skipped cleaning themselves a long time ago, but

the current bunch of South Sea Whalers always scrub themselves clean. The

oil of the whale works as a natural soap.

Chapters 93-101


These are among the most important chapters in Moby- Dick. In The Castaway,

Pip, who usually watches the ship when the boats go out, becomes a

replacement in Stubb's boat. Having performed passably the first time out,

Pip goes out a second time and this time he jumps from the boat out of

anxiety. When Pip gets foul in the lines, and his boatmates have to let the

whale go free to save him, he makes them angry. Stubb tells him never to

jump out of the boat again because Stubb won't pick him up next time. Pip,

however, does jump again, and is left alone in the middle of the sea's

"heartless immensity." Pip goes mad.

A Squeeze of the Hand, which describes the baling of the case (emptying the

sperm's head), is one of the funniest chapters in the novel. Because the

spermaceti quickly cools into lumps, the sailors have to squeeze it back

into liquid. Here, Ishmael goes overboard with his enthusiasm for the

"sweet and unctuous" sperm. He squeezes all morning long, getting

sentimental about the physical contact with the other sailors, whose hands

he encounters in the sperm. He goes on to describe the other parts of the

whale, including the euphemistically-named "cassock" (the whale's penis).

This chapter is also very funny, blasphemously likening the whale's organ

to the dress of clergymen because it has some pagan mysticism attached to

it. It serves an actual purpose on the ship: the mincer wears the black

"pelt" of skin from the penis to protect himself while he slices the horse-

pieces of blubber for the pots.

Ishmael then tries to explain the try-works, heavy structures made of pots

and furnaces that boil the blubber and derive all the oil from it. He

associates the try-works with darkness and a sense of exotic evil: it has

"an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the

vicinity of funereal pyres." Furthermore, the pagan harpooneers tend it.

Ishmael also associates it with the red fires of Hell that, in combination

with the black sea and the dark night, so disorient him that he loses sense

of himself at the tiller. Everything becomes "inverted," he says, and

suddenly there is "no compass before me to steer by."

In a very short chapter, Ishmael describes in The Lamp how whalemen are

always in the light because their job is to collect oil from the seas. He

then finishes describing how whale's oil is processed: putting the oil in

casks and cleaning up the ship. Here he dismisses another myth about

whaling: whalers are not dirty. Sperm whale's oil is a fine cleaning agent.

But Ishmael admits that whalers are hardly clean for a day when the next

whale is sighted and the cycle begins again.

Ishmael returns to talking about the characters again, showing the

reactions of Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, the Manxman, Queequeg, Fedallah,

and Pip to the golden coin fixed on the mainmast. Ahab looks at the

doubloon from Ecuador and sees himself and the pains of man. Starbuck sees

some Biblical significance about how man can find little solace in times of

trouble. Stubb, first saying he wants to spend it, looks deeper at the

doubloon because he saw his two superiors gazing meaningfully at it. He can

find little but some funny dancing zodiac signs. Then Flask approaches, and

says he sees "nothing here, round thing made of gold and whoever raises a

certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So what's all this staring

been about?" Pip is the last to look at the coin and says, prophetically,

that here's the ship's "navel"{ something at the center of the ship,

holding it together.

Then the Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby, a whaling ship from London with a

jolly captain and crew. The first thing Ahab asks, of course, is if they

have seen Moby Dick. The captain, named Boomer, has, and is missing an arm

because of it. The story is pretty gory, but Boomer does not dwell too much

on the horrible details, choosing instead to talk about the hot rum toddies

he drank during his recovery. The ship encountered the white whale again

but did not want to try to fasten to it. Although the people on board the

Enderby think he is crazy, Ahab insists on knowing which way the whale went

and returns to his ship to pursue it.

In the next chapter, Ishmael backtracks, to explain why the name Enderby is

significant: this man fitted the first ever English sperm whaling ship.

Ishmael then exuberantly explains the history behind Enderby's before

telling the story of the particular whaler Samuel Enderby. The good food

aboard the Enderby earns the ship the title "Decanter."

Chapter 102-114


Ishmael now tries another tactic for interpreting the whale. In the chapter

called A Bower in the Arsacides, he discusses how he learned to measure a

whale's bones. When he was visiting his friend Tranquo, king of Tranque, he

lived in a culture in which the whale skeleton was sacred. After telling

how he learned to measure, he goes on to tell the results of the

measurements. He begins with the skull, the biggest part, then the ribs,

and the spine. But these bones, he cautions, give only a partial picture of

the whale since so much esh is wrapped around them. A person cannot still

find good representation of a whale in its entirety.

And Ishmael continues to "manhandle" the whale, self- consciously saying

that he does the best he knows how. So he decides to look at the Fossil

Whale from an "archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of

view." He can't be too grandiloquent with his exaggerated words and diction

because the whale itself is so grand. He ashes credentials again, this time

as a geologist and then discusses his finds. But, again, he is unsatisfied:

"the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape of his

fully invested body." But this chapter does give a sense of the whale's age

and his pedigree.

Ishmael finally gives up, in awe, deconstructing the whale- -now he wants

to know if such a fabulous monster will remain on the earth. Ishmael says

that though they may not travel in herds anymore, though they may have

changed haunting grounds, they remain. Why? Because they have established a

new home base at the poles, where man cannot penetrate; because they've

been hunted throughout history and still remain; because the whale

population is not in danger for survival since many generations of whales

are alive at the same time.

Ahab asks the carpenter to make him a new leg because the one he uses is

not trustworthy. After hitting it heavily on the boat's wooden oor when he

returned from the Enderby, he does not think it will keep holding. Indeed,

just before the Pequod sailed, Ahab had been found lying on the ground with

the whalebone leg gouging out his thigh. So the carpenter, the do-it-all

man on the ship, has to make Ahab a new prosthetic leg. They discuss the

feeling of a ghost leg. When Ahab leaves, the carpenter thinks he is a

little queer.

A sailor then informs Ahab, in front of Starbuck, that the oil casks are

leaking. The sailor suggests that they stop to fix them, but Ahab refuses

to stop, saying that he doesn't care about the owners or profft. Starbuck

objects and Ahab points a musket at him. Says Starbuck, "I ask thee not to

beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab;

beware of thyself, old man." In cleaning out the stowed oil casks, Queequeg

falls sick. Thinking he is going to die, Queequeg orders a coffn made. He

lies in it and closes the cover, as Pip dances around the coffn. Soon,

Queequeg feels well again and gets out. Ishmael attributes this to his

"savage" nature.

In The Pacific, Ishmael gets caught up in the meditative, serene Pacific

Ocean. At the end of the chapter, he comes back to Ahab, saying that no

such calming thoughts entered the brain of the captain. Ishmael then pans

over to the blacksmith whose life on land disintegrated. With

characteristic panache, Ishmael explains that the sea beckons to broken-

hearted men who long for death but cannot commit suicide. The Forge

dramatizes an exchange between the blacksmith and Ahab in which the captain

asks the blacksmith to make a special harpoon to kill the white whale.

Although Ahab gives the blacksmith directions, he takes over the crafting

of the harpoon himself, hammering the steel on the anvil and tempering it

with the blood of the three harpooneers (instead of water). The scene ends

with Pip's laughter.

In The Gilder, Ishmael considers how the dreaminess of the sea masks a

ferocity. He speaks of the sea as "gilt" because it looks golden in the sun-

set and is falsely calm. The sea even makes Starbuck rhapsodize, making an

apostrophe (direct address of an absent or imaginary person or of a

personified abstraction, especially as a digression in the course of a

speech or composition) to the sea; Stubb answers him by surprise and, as

usual, makes light of the situation.

Chapters 115-125


These chapters show how badly off the Pequod really is. The somber Pequod,

still on the lookout for Moby Dick, runs into the Bachelor, a festive

Nantucket whaler on its way home with a full cargo. The captain of the

Bachelor, saying that he has only heard stories of the white whale and

doesn't believe them, invites Ahab and the crew to join his party. Ahab

declines. The next day, the Pequod kills several whales and the way that a

dying whale turns towards the sun spurs Ahab to speak out to it in wondrous

tones. While keeping a night vigil over a whale that was too far away to

take back to the ship immediately, Ahab hears from Fedallah the prophecy of

his death. Before Ahab can die, he must see two hearses, one "not made by

mortal hands" and one made of wood from America; and only hemp can kill the

captain. Back on the ship, Ahab holds up a quadrant, an instrument that

gauges the position of the sun, to determine the ship's latitude. Ahab

decides that it does not give him the orienteering information he wants and

tramples it underfoot. He orders the ship to change direction.

The next day, the Pequod is caught in a typhoon. The weird weather makes

white ames appear at the top of the three masts and Ahab refuses to let the

crew put up lightning rods to draw away the danger. While Ahab marvels at

the ship's three masts lit up like three spermaceti candles, hailing them

as good omens and signs of his own power, Starbuck sees them as a warning

against continuing the journey. When Starbuck sees Ahab's harpoon also

ickering with fire, he says that this is a sign that God is against Ahab.

Ahab, however, grasps the harpoon, and says, in front of a frightened crew,

there is nothing to fear in the enterprise that binds them all together. He

blows out the ame to "blow out the last fear. "In the next chapter,

Starbuck questions Ahab's judgment again{this time saying that they should

pull down the main-top-sail yard. Ahab says that they should just lash it

tighter, complaining that his first mate must think him incompetent. On the

bulwarks of the forecastle, Stubb and Flask are having their own

conversation about the storm and Ahab's behavior. Stubb basically dominates

the conversation and says that this journey is no more dangerous than any

other is even though it seems as if Ahab is putting them in extreme danger.

Suspended above them all on the main-top-sail yard, Tashtego says to

himself that sailors don't care that much about the storm, just rum. When

the storm finally dies down, Starbuck goes below to report to Ahab. On the

way to Ahab's cabin, he sees a row of muskets, including the very one that

Ahab had leveled at him earlier. Angry about Ahab's reckless and selfish

behavior, he talks to himself about whether he ought to kill his captain.

He decides he cannot kill Ahab in his sleep and goes up.

When Ahab is on deck the next day, he realizes that the storm has thrown

off the compasses. Ahab then pronounces himself "lord over the level

loadstone yet" and makes his own needle. Here Ishmael comments, "In this

fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride."

With all the other orienteering devices out of order, Ahab decides to pull

out the seldom-used log and line. Because of heat and moisture, the line

breaks and Ahab realizes that he now has none of his original orienteering

devices. He calls for Pip to help him and Pip answers with nonsense. Ahab,

touched by Pip's crazy speeches, says that his cabin will now be Pip's

because they boy "touchest [his] inmost center."

Chapters 126-132

Sailors are very superstitious. As the Pequod approaches the Equatorial

fishing ground, the sailors think that they hear ghosts wailing. The

Manxman (man from the Isle of Man) says that these are the voices of the

newly drowned men in the sea. Ahab says nonsense. When the Pequod's life-

buoy falls overboard and sinks, the sailors think it is a fulfillment of

evil that was foretold. The offcers decide to replace the life-buoy with

Queequeg's coffn.

Though the carpenter grumbles about having to transform the object, Ahab,

who is aware of the irony of the substitution, nevertheless calls the

carpenter "unprincipled as the gods" for going through with the


The Pequod encounters the ship Rachel while it is looking for Moby Dick in

these waters. Captain Gardiner of the , after afirming that he has indeed

seen Moby Dick, climbs aboard Ahab's ship and begs Ahab to help him find

his son, whose whaleboat was lost in the chase after the white whale. Ahab

refuses. Now that Ahab knows that the white whale is near, he spends a lot

of time walking the decks. As Ahab goes up one time, Pip wants to follow

him. Ahab tells him to stay in the captain's cabin, lest Pip's insanity

start to cure his own just when he's getting close to the whale and needs

to be a little crazy.

And so Ahab, shadowed everywhere by Fedallah, remains on deck, ever

watchful. This continuous watch sharpens Ahab's obsession and he decides

that he must be the first to sight the whale. He asks Starbuck to help him

get up the main-mast head and watch his rope. When he is there, a black

hawk steals his hat; Ishmael this considers a bad omen. The Pequod then

runs into the miserably misnamed ship Delight. The Delight has indeed

encountered Moby Dick, but the result was a gutted whaleboat and dead men.

As the Pequod goes by, the Delight drops a corpse in the water and

sprinkles the Pequod's hull with a "ghostly baptism."

In the chapter called The Symphony, disparage parts come together for a

crescendo. The pressure finally gets to Ahab and he seems human here,

dropping a tear into the sea. He and Starbuck have a bonding moment as Ahab

sadly talks about his continual, tiring whaling. He calls himself a fool

and thinks himself pathetic. Starbuck suggests giving up the chase, but

Ahab wonders if he can stop because he feels pushed on by Fate. But as Ahab

is asking these grand questions, Starbuck steals away. When Ahab goes to

the other side of the deck to gaze into the water, Fedallah, too, is

looking over the rail.

Chapters 133-Epilogue


Ahab can sense by smell that Moby Dick is near. Climbing up to the main

royal-mast head, Ahab spots Moby Dick and earns himself the doubloon. All

the boats set off in chase of the whale. When Moby Dick finally surfaces,

he stoves Ahab's boat. The whale is swimming too fast away from them and

they all return to the ship.

Saying that persistent pursuit of one whale has historically happened

before, Ishmael comments that Ahab still desperately wants to chase Moby

Dick though he has lost one boat. They do sight Moby Dick again and the

crewmen, growing increasingly in awe of Ahab and caught up in the thrill of

the chase, lower three boats. Starbuck stays to mind the Pequod. Ahab tries

to attack Moby Dick head on this time, but again, Moby Dick is triumphant.

He stoves Ahab's ship and breaks his false leg. When they return to the

Pequod, Ahab finds out that Fedallah is gone, dragged down by Ahab's own

line. Starbuck tells him to stop, but Ahab, convinced that he is only the

"Fate's lieutenant," says he must keep pursuing the whale.

. Still on the look out, the crew spots the white whale for a third time

but sees nothing until Ahab realizes, "Aye, he's chasing me now; not I,

him{ that's bad." They turn the ship around completely and Ahab mounts the

masthead himself. He sights the spout and lowers again. As he gets into his

boat and leaves Starbuck in charge, the two men exchange a poignant moment

in which Ahab asks to shake hands with his first made and the first mate

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