MELVILLE: Moby Dick [Chapters 66-73]

Welcome to Part 11 of this series on Moby Dick. In this lecture, we will discuss Chapters 66-73.

In Chapter 66, the Pequod’s crew kills the sharks that are feasting on the dead whale by stabbing them with harpoons. Ishmael describes how the sharks remain undeterred by the crew’s efforts; and even begin to eat their dead comrades and parts of themselves. “They viciously snapped, not only at each other’s disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound.” The nature of the sharks is similar to the nature of some humans. Both subjects feed on the energy of others, and sometimes consume themselves in self-destructive practices.

In Chapter 67, Ishmael describes how the crew harvests the blubber from the whale. “The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.”

In Chapter 68, Ishmael discusses the advantages of whale blubber. It keeps a whale warm in the frigid seas of the arctic, and keeps a whale cool in the warm waters of the tropics. Ishmael advises mankind to become resilient to external circumstances like the great whales. “Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”

In Chapter 69, Ishmael describes how the birds and sharks desecrate the whale carcass after the crew has processed and thrown it overboard. He remarks that the universe, which is symbolized by the birds and sharks, does not honor anything, even the mighty whale. “There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.”

In Chapter 70, Ahab speaks to the severed head of the sperm whale. His soliloquy is a meditation on the cruelty and indifference of the universe. Ahab asks the dead whale to reveal the meaning of suffering in the world; but he receives no response. According to Ahab, the problem of suffering is sufficient to compel even Abraham, the father of the monotheistic religions of the modern world, to rebel against the order of the universe. “Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

In Chapter 71, the Pequod encounters another ship called the Jeroboam. There is a plague on the Jeroboam, so the ship’s captain does not come aboard the Pequod; but he does tell Ahab that Moby Dick recently killed a member of their crew in accordance with the prophecy of another crew member who claims to be the archangel Gabriel. The prophet yells to Ahab to beware of Moby Dick. Ahab defies the warning, and then Gabriel proclaims that Ahab will suffer the same fate of the dead crew member.

In Chapter 72, Ishmael explains the process by which the blubber is removed from a whale. First, a crew member inserts a blubber-hook into the whale. In order to do this, one crew member lowers another over the side of the ship onto the whale. In the case of the Pequod, Ishmael lowers Queequeg onto the whale. Ishmael remarks that any mistake by either Queequeg or himself will result in both of their deaths. “I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die.”

In Chapter 73, Ahab commands the crew to kill a Right Whale. Stubb asks Flask why Ahab wants a Right Whale, considering that a Right Whale is far less valuable than a Sperm Whale. Flask tells Stubb that Fedallah convinced Ahab that a ship with the head of a Sperm Whale along one side of it, and the head of a Right Whale along the other side can never capsize. Stubb and Flask do not trust Fedallah. Stubb even asserts that Fedallah is the devil in disguise. “He’s the devil, I say. The reason why you don’t see his tail, is because he tucks it up out of sight; he carries it coiled away in his pocket.”

When the head of the Right Whale is attached to the Pequod on the side opposite to the head of the Sperm Whale, the ship returns to a natural balance. But Ishmael notes that the ship would sail better without the heads. He makes an analogy between this situation and that of a scholar who harbors the conflicting ideas of Kant and Locke within his mind. “As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.”

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Chapter 66
“They viciously snapped, not only at each other’s disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg’s hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw.”

Chapter 67
“The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.”

Chapter 68
“It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.
But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!”

Chapter 69
“There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.”

Chapter 70
It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

Chapter 71
“He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby he set himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and vicar-general of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with which he declared these things;—the dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real delirium, united to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority of the ignorant crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of him. As such a man, however, was not of much practical use in the ship, especially as he refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous captain would fain have been rid of him; but apprised that that individual’s intention was to land him in the first convenient port, the archangel forthwith opened all his seals and vials—devoting the ship and all hands to unconditional perdition, in case this intention was carried out. So strongly did he work upon his disciples among the crew, that at last in a body they went to the captain and told him if Gabriel was sent from the ship, not a man of them would remain. He was therefore forced to relinquish his plan. Nor would they permit Gabriel to be any way maltreated, say or do what he would; so that it came to pass that Gabriel had the complete freedom of the ship. The consequence of all this was, that the archangel cared little or nothing for the captain and mates; and since the epidemic had broken out, he carried a higher hand than ever; declaring that the plague, as he called it, was at his sole command; nor should it be stayed but according to his good pleasure. The sailors, mostly poor devils, cringed, and some of them fawned before him; in obedience to his instructions, sometimes rendering him personal homage, as to a god. Such things may seem incredible; but, however wondrous, they are true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedevilling so many others.”

“Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the horrible tail!”

Chapter 72
“So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die.”

“Well, well, my dear comrade and twin-brother, thought I, as I drew in and then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea—what matters it, after all? Are you not the precious image of each and all of us men in this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in, is Life; those sharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what between sharks and spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor lad.”

Chapter 73
“I take that Fedallah to be the devil in disguise. Do you believe that cock and bull story about his having been stowed away on board ship? He’s the devil, I say. The reason why you don’t see his tail, is because he tucks it up out of sight; he carries it coiled away in his pocket.”

“The old man is hard bent after that White Whale, and the devil there is trying to come round him, and get him to swap away his silver watch, or his soul, or something of that sort, and then he’ll surrender Moby Dick.”

“As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.”

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