Here we are folks.
The end. Finis!
This is my final Moby-Dick chapter post. There will also be, in the next few days, my final book response post, when I can work out how on earth to sum up this extraordinary reading experience.
For now, let me say just how much I’ve enjoyed this #slowread journey.
To Reese, Rick, Denise, Laurie, Katherine and Ruth for staying the course, you earn the Golden Salty Tar Doubloon! Your regular tweets, photos and comments made this cruise a pleasure and kept me going when times got tough.
To Deb, Chris, Meredith, Silvia, Fanda, Marian, Sharon and Lisette for coming along for part of the journey – a silver doubloon for your top-notch efforts. Whether you abandoned ship, #fastread or took the extra long cruise, your company and comments were always appreciated.
Ch 131: The Pequod Meets the Delight
- The Captain and the crew of the Delight have seen Moby-Dick.
- In fact, they are about to bury the fifth member of their crew who was killed in their encounter with the white whale.
- More Shakespearean moments as Ahab declares:
- “here in this hand I hold his death! Tempered in blood, and tempered by lightning are these barbs; and I swear to temper them triply in that hot place behind the fin, where the white whale most feels his accursed life!”
- The Delight believe the Pequod is doomed ‘you sail upon their tomb‘.
- Ahab hurries them away so that they are not splashed by the flying bubbles from this burial at sea, their ghostly baptism.
- The crew of the Delight take great delight at the sight of the coffin life-buoy on the Pequod’s stern.
Ch 132: The Symphony
- A beautiful day at sea ‘that glad, happy air, that winsome sky.’
- Even Ahab is touched by the moment and ‘dropped a tear into the sea.’
- He talks to Starbuck about his whaling life
- ‘forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep! Aye and yes, Starbuck, out of those forty years I have not spent three ashore.’
- the loneliness of a captain’s life, his poor wife left at home.
- ‘Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God.’
- Ahab insists that Starbuck should stay on board the Pequod when it’s time for Ahab to give chase to Moby-Dick.
- Starbuck tries one last time to convince Ahab to turn towards home.
- But Ahab looks away.
- ‘Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.’
- Starbuck leaves him alone.
- Ahab moves to the other side of the ship, where Fedallah is waiting for him.
- The choice is clear.
Ch 134: The Chase – First Day
- That night, Ahab smells that peculiar odour given off by a nearby living whale.
- At daybreak, Ahab calls all hands on deck.
- Ahab is again hoisted into the royal mast-head, but two thirds of the way aloft, he cries out “There she blows!—there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!”
- Finally! After 133 chapters and 630 pages, we finally sight Moby-Dick.
- Ahab claims the doubloon as his.
- Finally we have lots of action.
- Ahab gives chase in his boat, leaving Starbuck to captain the ship. Flask and Stubb also give chase.
- There’s a dramatic face off as Ahab attempts to throw his blood forged harpoon.
- But Moby Dick bites the boat in two.
- Moby Dick swam swiftly round and round the wrecked crew; sideways churning the water in his vengeful wake, as if lashing himself up to still another and more deadly assault. The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him.
- Stubb’s boat rescues Ahab and his harpoon from the wreckage.
- They all return to the Pequod to give chase again.
- Stubb cracks a bad joke over the wrecked boat, while Starbuck claims it as a solemn sight, an omen. Ahab is annoyed by both.
- Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck; and ye two are all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors!
- As night approaches, they slow their pace so as not to run over Moby Dick in the dark.
Ch 135: The Chase – Second Day
- As day breaks, the lookout for Moby Dick is raised once again. Before long he is spotted and Ahab, Stubb and Flask put to sea for the chase.
- The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past night’s suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled along. The wind that made great bellies of their sails, and rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of that unseen agency which so enslaved them to the race.
- A beautiful, majestic description of a whale breaching –
- Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.
- Moby Dick appears to hunting the three crews.
- They hurl harpoons, a number of them stick.
- The lines get tangled.
- Moby crushes two of the boats together – ‘cedar chips of the wrecks danced round and round, like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirred bowl of punch.’ – before disappearing.
- He reappears underneath Ahab’s boat –
- Ahab’s yet unstricken boat seemed drawn up towards Heaven by invisible wires,—as, arrow-like, shooting perpendicularly from the sea, the White Whale dashed his broad forehead against its bottom, and sent it, turning over and over, into the air; till it fell again—gunwale downwards—and Ahab and his men struggled out from under it, like seals from a seaside cave.
- Ahab looses his harpoon, boat and splinters his stump.
- Starbuck rounds up the survivors.
- Fedallah is missing.
- But Ahab is determined to continue the chase.
- Starbuck is beyond frustration at this fool of a man. He calls to God, Jesus, angels and reason, to no avail –
- “Great God! but for one single instant show thyself,” cried Starbuck; “never, never wilt thou capture him, old man—In Jesus’ name no more of this, that’s worse than devil’s madness. Two days chased; twice stove to splinters; thy very leg once more snatched from under thee; thy evil shadow gone—all good angels mobbing thee with warnings:—what more wouldst thou have?—Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish till he swamps the last man? Shall we be dragged by him to the bottom of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the infernal world? Oh, oh,—Impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!”
- But Ahab is Ahab ‘this whole act’s immutably decreed…I am the fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.’ Ahab does not have free will or choice. He believes his destiny is preordained. He is engaged in an age-old battle of man against nature, man against god.
- Another prophecy ‘The Parsee! gone, gone? and he was to go before: – but still was to be seen again ere I could perish – How’s that? – There’s a riddle now might baffle.’
Ch 136: The case – Third Day
- Another day slips by, waiting for Moby Dick to reappear ‘time itself now held long breaths with keen suspense.’
- Ahab reflects on his life; it’s meaning and purpose, before being lowered into his boat again.
- The sharks have arrived adding more danger and bad omens to the third day of the chase.
- Moby Dick reappears.
- He swims around them, dashing the two mates’ boats, but leaving Ahab’s ‘almost without a scar.‘
- He turns and exposes his flank.
- Daggoo and Tashtego cry out –
- Lashed round and round to the fish’s back; pinioned in the turns upon turns in which, during the past night, the whale had reeled the involutions of the lines around him, the half torn body of the Parsee was seen; his sable raiment frayed to shreds; his distended eyes turned full upon old Ahab.
- Fedallah drowned, tied to Moby Dick’s side.
- Ahab – Parsee! I see thee again.
- Where is the second hearse?
- Starbuck appeals one more time to reason – ‘Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!’
- But Ahab rows on, passing the ship, battling the sharks and chasing Moby Dick, until…
- At length as the craft was cast to one side, and ran ranging along with the White Whale’s flank, he seemed strangely oblivious of its advance—as the whale sometimes will—and Ahab was fairly within the smoky mountain mist, which, thrown off from the whale’s spout, curled round his great, Monadnock hump; he was even thus close to him; when, with body arched back, and both arms lengthwise high-lifted to the poise, he darted his fierce iron, and his far fiercer curse into the hated whale. As both steel and curse sank to the socket, as if sucked into a morass, Moby Dick sideways writhed; spasmodically rolled his nigh flank against the bow, and, without staving a hole in it, so suddenly canted the boat over, that had it not been for the elevated part of the gunwale to which he then clung, Ahab would once more have been tossed into the sea.
- An enraged Moby attacks the Pequod ‘the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship’s starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled.’
- Ahab sees the final prophecy come true – the hearse made of American wood is the Pequod.
- He throws one last harpoon at the white whale, but the line runs foul, Ahab stoops to clear it, but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and pulls him overboard – hung, then drowned.
- The boat’s crew call out for the ship, only to see it slowly sink, as it pulls the boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, into it’s spinning vortex.
- As the last mast sinks into the Pacific Ocean, Tashtego maintains his watch atop the mast-head.
- He attempts to hammer a flag to the top of the mast.
- A sky-hawk flies down and gets between his hammer and the wood and is impaled there ‘so that a bird of heaven…went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her.’
- All that is left is the sea rolling on as it has rolled on for thousands of years before.
Epilogue: ‘And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.’ Job.
- One survivor – Ishmael!
- It was Ishmael who fell from Ahab’s boat, left to float ‘on the margin of the ensuing scene.’
- The vortex of the sinking ship sucked him in, but slowly, so that it had subsided to a creamy pool by the time he reached the centre.
- A black bubble appeared, bursting to reveal the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side.
- After one whole day and night, floating on the buoyant coffin, orphaned Ishmael is rescued by the crew of the Rachel, still searching for her missing children.
- Ishmael’s story allows his shipmates to live on in our collective memories.
- Is Moby-Dick one of the first grief memoirs?
Afterword | Alfred Kazin
- An exuberant love letter to Moby-Dick.
- ‘The book is written with a personal force of style, a passionate learning, a steady insight into our forgotten connections with the primitive.’
- He sees it not just as a quest story but as an experience of a quest.
- More like a long heroic epic poem that is ‘being meditated and unravelled through a single mind.’
- ‘a single mind, from whose endlessly turning spool of thought the whole story is unwound.’
- ‘Ishmael is not merely an orphan; he is an exile, searching alone in the wilderness….He suffers from doubt and uncertainty far more than he does from homelessness. Indeed, this agony of disbelief is his homelessness. For him nothing is ever finally settled and decided; he is man, or as we like to think, modern man, cut off from the certainty that was once his inner world.’
- Ishmael is the thinker; Ahab the doer.
- ‘the world that tortures Ishmael by its horrid vacancy has tempted Ahab into thinking that he can make it over.’
- Man’s struggle to find meaning in a purposeless existence, in a world where nature dominates and overwhelms.
- ‘man tumbling over before the magnitude of the universe.‘
- What does it all mean?
- How on earth do I sum up this extraordinary reading journey?
- Hunt down a copy of Call Me Ishmael by Charles Olson – not only the best book of 1947 according to Chris Power of Granta, but the best book of literary criticism ever!
- And recently reviewed by Reese.
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