Saturday 21 September 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 26 - 30

Goodness gracious me! This book is consuming me.
Have I become like the manic Melville or the obsessive Ahab?
Can I possibly maintain this level of enthusiasm and effort?

Who knows!

Like Ishmael, all I can do is go along and go along, to see how this things ends...and hope that I'm one of the ones still left standing at the end.

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires
  • Starbuck - chief mate and all round good guy. A Quaker, a Nantucketeer, 'long and earnest.'
    • His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength.
    • interior vitality
    • staid, steadfast man
    • hardy sobriety and fortitude
    • uncommonly conscientious
    • superstitious
    • "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale."
    • lost his father & brother to whaling.
    • a man who acknowledges his own limitations and is guided by his own inner compass.
  • An utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.
  • Melville waxes lyrical about ideal man 'so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature.' 
    • It's nice to have a dream Herman. But I fear that 'democratic dignity' is even further away from our lives than it was in 1851.
    • Three examples - John Bunyan, Miguel de Cervantes & Andrew Jackson - three men who rose above their disabilities and circumstances, with God's help, of course. Free will or destiny? Melville's Calvinistic upbringing would have him believe in predestination (i.e. that God will save some souls but not others), but Melville's life experiences were moving him away from this belief. Ishmael is clearly striving to create his own fate; Ishmael has free will and uses it with intelligence and a sense of self-awareness. Whereas Ahab believes that his fate is predetermined by a force outside his control and that everything that has happened to him is for a reason and all he can do is follow it to it's (logical) end point. 
    • Is Starbuck's name meant to suggest that he is someone who can 'buck' fate? That his future is not written in the stars, but of his own making?

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires
  • Take two!
  • The title of these 2 chapters made me think of Don Quixote, so I was delighted to see that Melville also went there with his reference to Cervantes. 
    • These men are not just mates and harpooners; they are grander, more heroic, more noble than mere sailors or whalers - they are sailing nobility!
  • Stubb - second mate, happy-go-lucky guy. A Cape-Cod-man who loved to smoke his pipe.
    • good-humoured, easy and careless
    • impious good-humour
    • his non-stop smoking kept him healthy, chilled and relaxed - I wonder if tobacco was all he smoked?
  • Flask - third mate, who hated whales with a passion. From Martha's Vineyard.
    • pugnacious
    • seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him.
    • ignorant, unconscious fearlessness
    • waggish
  • Flask is reckless and passionate compared to Starbuck's steady, cautious, calm. Stubb is the 'whatever' guy in the middle.
  • Each mate is accompanied by a 'boat-steerer or harpooner'.
    • Starbuck and Queequeg
    • Stubb and Tashtego 
      • 'an unmixed Indian from Gay Head' (on Martha's Vineyard).
      • from a long line of 'daring harpooners'.
    • Flask and Daggoo
      • a volunteer from Africa
      • a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage
      • with 'two golden hoops' in his ears.
      • erect as a giraffe
      • imperial
  • For all of the democratic dignity and equality idealism of the previous chapter, Melville (or Ishmael) reveals the strict class system that actually exists on board the Pequod.
    • The rest of the crew 'not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast...are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are.'
    • the native [white] American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles.
  • Black Little Pip - poor Alabama boy  
    • Melville suggests we will get to hear more about this lad before he is 'sent for'.
    • called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

Chapter 28: Ahab
  • Finally!
    • Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
  • Ishmael is clearly our narrator again. The last 2 chapters felt like Melville getting in the way of Ishmael's story. Who has the authorial ascendancy?
  • Ahab
    • seemed made of solid bronze
    • a huge lividly whitish scar ran down one side of his face and neck
    • how he got this scar has become an old sea-tradition
    • overbearing grimness
    • barbaric white leg
    • firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness
    • as the weather warms up, Ahab spends more and more time on deck
    • more than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb
  • Our first complex chapter heading.
  • A few days have gone by & we are now sailing near the Equator
    • the warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, over-flowing, redundant days
    • such winsome days and such seducing nights
    • the calm before the storm?
  • Ahab is 'wakeful' and views his cabin as a tomb.
  • Most nights he is considerate of his shipmates and refrains from 'patrolling the quarter-deck' to avoid the 'reverberating crack and din of that bony step.'
  • But one night he forgets and Stubb is unable to sleep.
  • with 'a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness', Stubb hinted to Ahab about ways to muffle the noise.
    • Ah! Stubb, thou did'st not know Ahab then.
  • Ahab calls him a dog in no uncertain terms.
  • Stubb is offended...and says so.
  • "Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!"
    • I know this is a clear case of work-place bullying, but it's also rather funny!
  • Stubb wonders for the first, is Ahab mad?
    • Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out.
  • Stubb philosophy: 
    • Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.

Chapter 30: The Pipe
  • Ahab gives up smoking:
    • this smoking no longer soothes
    • a sign of an unquiet soul?
    • Can what happens next be blamed on nicotine withdrawal?


  1. I like the comparisons with DQ and how well you have comprised all we see in this chapters. This are the best notes on the book I could be reading
    I love having them, they enhance my experience of this book I am loving

    1. Thanks Silvia, I would love to have the time, energy and patience to read all the great classics this way, but i know that's possible. So I'm really enjoying doing it for just this one. Maybe one day I will tackle War & Peace again and read it this way too :-)


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