MELVILLE: Moby Dick [Chapters 22-31]

Welcome to Part 6 of this series on Moby Dick. In this lecture, we will discuss Chapters 22-31.

In Chapter 22, the Pequod departs from Nantucket on Christmas Day. Bildad and Peleg pilot the ship out of the harbor, and then reluctantly return to shore on another ship. Ishmael and the crew are happy that the voyage is finally under weigh, “We gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone Atlantic.”

In Chapter 23, Ishmael honors the memory of a sailor named Bulkington, who was the quiet sailor that Ishmael saw in the Spouter-Inn at the beginning of the novel. Ishmael watches Bulkington steer the Pequod, and reflects that Bulkington had just landed in New Bedford from a 4 year journey. Ishmael concludes that Bulkington was destined to die at sea, which is the best sort of death. “As in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!” According to Ishmael, Bulkington is the epitome of a hero because he chose to live independently upon the unbounded sea rather than die cowardly on the slavish shore.

In Chapter 24, Ishmael defends the profession of whaling against those who criticize it. He asserts that anything heroic or significant he does in his life is a result of whaling. “I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

In Chapter 25, Ishmael continues his defense of whaling. He notes that when the kings and queens of England are crowned, they anoint their heads with whale oil. “Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!”

In Chapter 26, Ishmael introduces Starbuck, who is the first mate of the Pequod and a native of Nantucket. Starbuck is a practical and reliable sailor. He believes that whalers ought to have a healthy fear of whales because “an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.” Despite his practical fear of whales, Ishmael writes that Starbuck never suffered a complete loss of courage. Even if Starbuck did, Ishmael argues that he would not write about it because “It is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valour in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!”

In Chapter 27, Ishmael introduces the other officers of the Pequod. “Stubb was the second-mate. He was a native of Cape Cod. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he thought of death itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of it at all, might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his mind that way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor, he took it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir themselves there, about something which he would find out when he obeyed the order, and not sooner.” Ishmael also notes that Stubb continually smokes tobacco – perhaps to “operate as a sort of disinfecting agent against all mortal tribulations.”

“The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha’s Vineyard. A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honour with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger from encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil.”

Next, Ishmael introduces each officer’s harpooner. Queequeg is Starbuck’s harpooner. Tashtego, who is a Native American from the New England region, is Stubb’s harpooner. And Daggoo, who is a gigantic 6 foot 5 inch negro from Africa, is Flask’s harpooner. Ishmael reflects upon the composition of the crew. He states, “the Americans liberally provide the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplies the muscles.”

In Chapter 28, Captain Ahab finally appears on deck. Ishmael describes Ahab’s appearance as austere and intimidating. Ahab has a white scar on one side of his face that looks as if lightning had struck him. It is also plain to Ishmael that Ahab is suffering. “Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.”

In Chapter 29, Ahab paces on-deck during the night. He reflects that he does not like to retire to his cabin. “It feels like going down into one’s tomb,—he would mutter to himself—for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth.” The second-mate Stubb, awoken by the noise produced by Ahab’s pacing, requests Ahab to stop walking about during the night. Ahab angrily calls Stubb a dog, and threatens to hit him. Stubb sulks away.

In Chapter 30, Ahab is upset to discover that smoking no longer soothes him. “What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapours among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more.”

In Chapter 31, Stubb tells Flask about a dream he had the night before. In the dream, Ahab kicks him with his peg leg. Then, a merman appears and tells Stubb that it is an honor to be kicked by such a noble man like Ahab. Flask tells Stubb that the dream is nonsense. Then Ahab shouts a command to the crew to be on the lookout for a white whale. “A white whale—did ye mark that, man? Look ye—there’s something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask. Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind.”

Chapter 22
“Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone Atlantic.”

Chapter 23
“The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!”

“Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?”

“But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!”

Chapter 24
“And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Chapter 25
“Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!”

Chapter 26
“Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organizations seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance. Outward portents and inward presentiments were his. And if at times these things bent the welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domestic memories of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. “I will have no man in my boat,” said Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.” By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”

“I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs; and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom was his own father’s? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?”

“And brave as he might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible in some intrepid men, which, while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.”

“It is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valour in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!”

Chapter 27
“Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangement of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box. When close to the whale, in the very death-lock of the fight, he handled his unpitying lance coolly and off-handedly, as a whistling tinker his hammer. He would hum over his old rigadig tunes while flank and flank with the most exasperated monster. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he thought of death itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of it at all, might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his mind that way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor, he took it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir themselves there, about something which he would find out when he obeyed the order, and not sooner.”

“This continual smoking must have been one cause, at least, of his peculiar disposition; for every one knows that this earthly air, whether ashore or afloat, is terribly infected with the nameless miseries of the numberless mortals who have died exhaling it; and as in time of the cholera, some people go about with a camphorated handkerchief to their mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal tribulations, Stubb’s tobacco smoke might have operated as a sort of disinfecting agent.”

“The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha’s Vineyard. A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honour with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger from encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil.”

“Tashtego’s long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek bones, and black rounding eyes—for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression—all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main. But no longer snuffing in the trail of the wild beasts of the woodland, Tashtego now hunted in the wake of the great whales of the sea; the unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the infallible arrow of the sires. To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe snaky limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans, and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego was Stubb the second mate’s squire.”

“Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at him; and a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to beg truce of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man beside him.”

Chapter 28
“He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say.”

“Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.”

Chapter 29
“The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ’twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights.”

“It feels like going down into one’s tomb,”—he would mutter to himself—”for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth.”

“Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.—Down, dog, and kennel!”

Chapter 30
“This smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring—aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble. What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapours among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more.”

Chapter 31
“A white whale—did ye mark that, man? Look ye—there’s something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask. Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind.”

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