I only have 35 more Moby-Dick chapters to write up and a handful of chapters left to read.
I’m going to miss these posts and my time with Ishmael. But the end is in sight. Soon Ishmael and I will part company, and I will have to find a new obsession!
Perhaps this is the post we will finally meet the White Whale?
Ch 101: The Decanter
- Ishmael loves a good aside!
- After our brief gam with the Samuel Enderby in chapter 100, Ishmael decides to give us a potted history of Enderby & Sons, ‘the famous whaling house‘ of London, who have been in the business since 1775.
- As it turns out, Ishmael spends some time on board the Sammy ‘long, very long after old Ahab touched her planks with his ivory heel.’ A reminder that whatever happens in this mad quest for Moby-Dick, Ishmael at least lives to tell the tale.
- Ishmael philosophy – if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.
- The Arsacides are what we now call the Solomon Islands.
- Ishmael tells us that his intimate knowledge of the internal world of sperm whales came about thanks to his ability to dissect cub Sperm Whales and also thanks to the (fictional) king Tranque of the Arsacides.
- A whale once washed up on the beach, dead.
- After it had been skinned and the bones dried and bleached in the sun, they were ‘transported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it.’
- Ishmael returns to his weaving analogy –
- the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof.
- Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!—pause!—one word!—whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!—stay thy hand!—but one single word with thee! Nay—the shuttle flies—the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it.
- Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world’s loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.
- He takes this opportunity to measure the dimensions of the whale and its bones.
- He then commits these measurements to a tattoo on his right arm, ‘as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics.’
- The chapter where Ishmael reveals the measurements that he had tattooed on his arm!
- And where he discovers that no matter how much he measures, researches and gathers facts about the whale, he will never really understand it.
- How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled man to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely poring over his dead attenuated skeleton.
- No. Only in the heart of quickest perils; only when within the eddyings of his angry flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea, can the fully invested whale be truly and livingly found out.
- Turns out Ishmael is also a dab hand at geology and fossils!
- Is there nothing this man cannot do?
- Two questions that Ishmael is unable to answer.
- Has the whale increased or decreased in size over time?
- Will the whale be hunted into extinction?
- Back to the story.
- When Ahab returned on board the Pequod after his visit to the Sammy, he splintered his ivory leg.
- Which brings to mind an earlier accident that Ahab had with his leg, falling over one night, causing the ivory bone to pierce his groin.
- Ahab calls the carpenter to fix the leg from the supplies of Sperm Whale jaw-ivory that they had accumulated on the voyage.
- The carpenter remains unnamed.
- He was his job – he did not seem to work so much by reason or by instinct.
- Another chapter that reads like a play.
- The carpenter opens with a soliloquy, followed by dialogue with Ahab.
- Another reference to Prometheus.
- The carpenter finds Ahab’s talk about fire gods and Greek gods ‘queer.’
- He’s just a carpenter, plain and simple, doing his job and not fussed with all these interpretations and literary references.
- Starbuck discovers that some of the oil casks are leaking.
- Ahab, initially refuses to do anything about it.
- Starbuck insists as much as he is capable of doing and leaves Ahab with,
- let Ahab beware Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.
- Ahab realises that to maintain the respect of the crew, he needs to attend to this problem, after all the oil is the reason for going out on a whaling ship in the first place.
- Queequeg helps to empty the hold of the leaking oil casks and develops a bad fever.
- He languishes on his hammock for several days and everyone fears the worst.
- So much so, that Queequeg calls the carpenter to him and requests a coffin be made.
- he had learned that all whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes.
- But then he suddenly recalled a little duty ashore, which he was leaving undone; and therefore had changed his mind about dying: he could not die yet, he averred. They asked him, then, whether to live or die was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. He answered, certainly. In a word, it was Queequeg’s conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort.
- Another moment of rebirth or resurrection.
I’d love to hear about your progress through Moby-Dick and please remember to add any new posts about the book or Melville to the linky in the original post.
Extracts – Chapter 7
Chapters 12 – 16
Chapters 17 – 20
Chapters 21 – 25
Chapters 26 – 30
Chapters 31 – 34
Chapters 35 – 40
Chapters 41 – 44
Chapters 45 – 49
Chapters 50 – 60
Chapters 61 – 70
Chapters 71 – 80
Chapters 81 – 90
Chapters 91 – 100