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When Moby Dick attacks Ahab's boat for the first time, causing it to sink, Ahab narrowly escapes to Stubb's boat, where he asks whether or not his harpoon survived before asking if there were any casualties. The boats rush back toward the Pequod, and Ahab remains on deck watching for more glimpses of Moby Dick. Starbuck claims that today's loss of Ahab's boat is an ill omen, but Ahab simply claims that if the gods think of communicating to man, "they will honorably speak outright, not shake their heads and give an old wives' darkling hint." Ahab orders Starbuck to begin the search for Moby Dick again, but not to find him until morning.
After over one hundred chapters, at long last Melville allows the conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick to come to fruition. The thematic implications of this conflict thus recede as the pure action and mechanics of the plot come to the fore. Having established the particular persona of Ahab and the context of his quest, Melville shifts the style of the novel from that of previous chapters, which focused on creating mood and delving into the psyche of Ahab, to a style that better recalls adventure stories, albeit with a darker and more foreboding tone. Melville does continue the pattern of including ill omens and superstitions that foreshadow disaster, but in this case a more concrete threat does come in the form of Moby Dick. In fact, Ahab altogether rejects the idea of these portents, claiming that the gods will communicate directly to him and not through superstitious hints. This may be interpreted in several ways: one can view this passage as Ahab's rejection of religion (and thus another example of his blasphemy), or as greater evidence that Ahab can be cold, calculating and logical.