Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Whaling Philosophy: Moby Dick Chapter 48 – 66

Finally…some actions!

When the first sign of whales came, the crew looked at five mysterious strangers besides Ahab, but had no time to mind it, as they must immediately lower their boats for the whale hunt. Unfortunately thick mist fell upon the sea, and through the mist and the increasing wind before a storm, they went nearer to the whale. Starbuck instructed Queequeg to attack, but the whale escaped, only with a scratch from Queequeg’s harpoon. Their boat collapsed and drenched all the crew before help from other boats came, and took them return to the ship. This was Ishmael’s first experience in whale hunting, and after the life and death moment, now he realized and was much prepared for the great risk of the voyage.

It was clear now that Ahab has snuggled those five crews on board. Fedallah, the Oriental hair-turbaned, was the most interesting mystery around. Meanwhile, for several nights a single white jet often appeared within the waves, seemed to taunt the Pequod to sail further to follow it. It felt ghostly, and everyone thought it was Moby Dick. Ahab often stayed sleeplessly for nights because of that, and on the whole, it created a ghastly aspect for the crew.

One morning the Pequod’s men had an apparition of a giant white creature which they thought at first was the White Whale, but it turned out to be a giant squid. Nonetheless the apparition has struck them. And finally, their first catch was done by Stubb, who caught and killed a Sperm Whale.

Have any other ships met Moby Dick?

The Pequod met another whaling ship, the Albatros, and on their question about the White Whale, Captain Ahab suddenly looked terrified. Ishmael then told the strange affair of the Town-Ho whaling ship that has once had an encounter with Moby Dick, and it turned out to be a divine moment in their trouble.

The fishery handling system

Ishmael criticized the fishery system invariably used in whaling ships, where harpooners, not only were they needed to pitch darts to the whales with all their power, they were also responsible to pull the oar during a chase, which often exhausted them already before the fight. Ishmael believed that harpooners must be relieved from pulling the oar job in order to save their energy. He also pointed up the danger of using the second (back up) harpoon which was connected to the first one with a line.

Consumption vs cannibalism

Ishmael also remarked sailors who ate sea creatures he has just killed as outlandish. He questioned whether this was not—in a way—a cannibalism. He also criticized how sharks were massacred only to get its skin (?).

The whale’s anatomy

It is difficult to draw the exact structure of a whale, and for centuries people have failed to do that. They could never catch the majestic and noble aspect of whale, and thus it remained unpainted, unless in whaling voyage though with a very high risk. (to be continued in next chapter post)

My random thoughts

Chapter 51 is my most favorite chapter so far! It makes me quite shudder to imagine the serene atmosphere on Pequod at those nights when the single white jet appeared. I wanted to quote some phrases here, but it’s impossible to get the exact feeling without reading the whole chapter. I believe I haven’t read one so intense chapter like this one, of which, every words and sentence brings deep meanings.

Melville’s point of view about cannibalism is early interesting. I have been wondering why he described Queequeg’s savage side very detailed, but now I understand his real aim. I think he wanted to highlight the irony of how civilized people despised cannibalism, while they often do worse things than that. They perhaps don’t eat their own kind, but couldn’t rapaciousness and brutality in killing innocent creatures be regarded as savagery?



  1. So true. I remember reading MD was like the "calm before the storm." How long it takes to get to the climax!

    1. Yes, and along the waiting, how the air seems to grow darker and darker...

  2. I agree this was an intense chapter with the sudden action. I also remember that it was the first time I realized I didn't want any whales to be killed. Do you have a favourite character at this stage of the book?

    1. So far, Starbuck is my favorite, for he is the only one with moral conscience (and I think he's Melville voice here), and who bravely stood against Ahab, although he couldn't do anything extreme as his chance was limited by the voyage.

      You're right, I hate seeing the way they hunt and kill the whales... In the end, it's just about business and human greediness.

  3. Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your post! Moby Dick is on my to-read list but it is number two on my list of "classics that I am hesitant/scared to read" (right behind Ulysses). Have you found it a difficult read or is it much easier than you thought?

    1. Thanks! I used to be dreading Moby Dick too, until I challenged myself to read it. And, it turns out to be very enjoyable. It's much easier than I thought. Yes, in several chapters there are long description about whaling history or anatomy. Sometimes I just skip these parts, and jump to the conclution in the end of each chapters. But overall, it's very enjoyable. Sometimes Melville wrote it Shakespearish-ly too, just like reading play in novel. And Melville's philosophy from the whaling things is very deep. You must give it a try, Cleo! :)


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