MELVILLE: Moby Dick [Chapters 93-101]

Welcome to Part 14 of this series on Moby Dick. In this lecture we will discuss Chapters 93-101.

In Chapter 93, a boy named Pip is enlisted to Stubb’s boat crew because one of the crew members sprained his hand. During a whale chase, Pip jumps out of the boat after a whale frightens him by slapping the boat with its tail. Instead of retrieving Pip, Stubb orders his boat to pursue the whale. Stubb remarks that Pip, who is a black boy, is worth less in an Alabama slave market than the whale. “Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.” Though the Pequod eventually saves Pip, the young boy is never the same. He stares into space and talks incoherently.

In Chapter 94, Ishmael explains that spermaceti congeals into a solid after a short period of time, and that the sailors must squeeze it to revert it to its liquid state. Ishmael’s description is filled with puns, and has an overtly sexual tone. “Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

In Chapter 95, Ishmael describes the whale’s penis – “longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg.” He humorously calls it a cassock, which is the wardrobe of clergymen, because the whaler’s mincer wears the skin of the whale’s penis while cutting the whale’s blubber because it protects him from the sharp tools and boiling oil.

In Chapter 96, Ishmael recounts a night on the Pequod when he was at the helm of the ship observing the other crew members at work cutting and boiling the whale’s blubber. Ishmael describes the hellish scene, and how it inspired fearful hallucinations of hell within him. But he recovers from his reverie; and concludes that fire is deceitful. “Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!”

In Chapter 97, Ishmael compares a whaling ship to a sacred temple. He notes that both structures are continuously lighted. “Had you descended from the Pequod’s try-works to the Pequod’s forecastle, where the off duty watch were sleeping, for one single moment you would have almost thought you were standing in some illuminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. The whaleman, as he seeks the food of light, so he lives in light.” Light is often used in literature as a symbol of Truth. Thus, Melville likens whalers to philosophers who seek Light/Truth.

In Chapter 98, Ishmael discusses the pristine condition of a whaling ship after a crew processes a whale. The spermaceti and oil from the whale act as cleaning agents, rendering the ship spotless. However, Ishmael notes that just as soon as one whale is processed, another one is spotted, and the crew gives chase yet again. “Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from this world’s vast bulk its small but valuable sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul; hardly is this done, when—There she blows!—the ghost is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life’s old routine again.”

In Chapter 99, several members of the crew analyze the doubloon which Ahab fastened to the main mast; and which Ahab will reward to the sailor who spots Moby Dick. “On its round border it bore the letters, REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes’ summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libra.” Each crew member expresses his own interpretation of the coin; and Stubb reflects that the coin is like the world – people interpret the meaning of the world, just as they interpret the meaning of the coin.

In Chapter 100, the Pequod encounters another ship called the Samuel Enderby of England. The captain recently lost his arm to Moby Dick, and Ahab eagerly greets the captain. “Aye, aye, hearty! let us shake bones together!—an arm and a leg!—an arm that never can shrink, d’ye see; and a leg that never can run.” Unlike Ahab, however, the captain does not plan to seek vengeance against Moby Dick. In fact, he spied Moby Dick several weeks after he lost his limb, but refused to chase it, considering himself lucky to have lost only a limb. The contrast between Ahab and the Captain of the Enderby demonstrates that tragedy often ensues from desire for revenge.

In Chapter 101, Ishmael explains that the Samuel Enderby is named after an English whalemen who led the first whaling expedition into the South Seas. Ishmael notes that the English whalers are very friendly and generous with food and drink. “For, say they, when cruising in an empty ship, if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.” The English disposition emphasizes the contrast between Ahab and the English Captain. While the English Captain is content to consider life as a gift, and something to be enjoyed, Ahab considers life as a burden, and something during which one must achieve something.

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Chapter 93
“Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind, and don’t jump any more.” Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.

“Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! who can tell it? Mark, how when sailors in a dead calm bathe in the open sea—mark how closely they hug their ship and only coast along her sides.”

“The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”

Chapter 94
“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

Chapter 95
“Not the wondrous cistern in the whale’s huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone,—longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol, indeed, it is; or, rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which, King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the First Book of Kings.”

Chapter 96
“Here be it said that in a whaling voyage the first fire in the try-works has to be fed for a time with wood. After that no wood is used, except as a means of quick ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames. Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body. Would that he consumed his own smoke! for his smoke is horrible to inhale, and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in it for the time. It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.”

“Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!”

“Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, nor Rome’s accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “All is vanity.” ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.”

“But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (i.e., even while living) “in the congregation of the dead.” Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”

Chapter 97
“The whaleman, as he seeks the food of light, so he lives in light.”

Chapter 98
“Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from this world’s vast bulk its small but valuable sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul; hardly is this done, when—There she blows!—the ghost is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life’s old routine again.
Oh! the metempsychosis! Oh! Pythagoras, that in bright Greece, two thousand years ago, did die, so good, so wise, so mild; I sailed with thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage—and, foolish as I am, taught thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!”

Chapter 99
“There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here,—three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, ‘t is fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.”

“My father, in old Tolland county, cut down a pine tree once, and found a silver ring grown over in it; some old darkey’s wedding ring. How did it get there? And so they’ll say in the resurrection, when they come to fish up this old mast, and find a doubloon lodged in it, with bedded oysters for the shaggy bark. Oh, the gold! the precious, precious, gold!”

Chapter 100
“Aye, aye, hearty! let us shake bones together!—an arm and a leg!—an arm that never can shrink, d’ye see; and a leg that never can run. Where did’st thou see the White Whale?—how long ago?”

Chapter 101
“For, say they, when cruising in an empty ship, if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.”

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