Moby Dick

Moby Dick Summary and Analysis of Chapters 81-100

Chapter Eighty-One:

The Pequod Meets the Virgin: The Pequod meets the ship Jungfrau (Virgin), a German ship whose captain, Derick De Deer, begs for oil from the Pequod. Ahab immediately asks about the White Whale, and De Deer claims complete ignorance of the White Whale. Ahab supplies the ship with oil, then the Pequod departs from the German ships. The boats then come upon a large whale and compete for it. Derick De Deer taunts the Pequod as the ships rush after the whale, and he would have prevailed if his boat had not nearly capsized. The Pequod's boats bump the Germans aside and reach the whale. They kill the whale, which begins to sink as the crew of the Pequod attempts to secure it. Sperm Whales usually stay afloat because of their great buoyancy.


After a long hiatus interrupting the progression of the novel, Melville returns to the main narrative as the Pequod meets with another ship. This chapter creates greater momentum than any of the recent chapters, as the Jungfrau becomes a competitor with the Pequod in pursuit of a whale. This competition exists partially upon lines of nationality, as shown by Ishmael's dismissal of the German fleet, and elicits a metaphorical comparison between the ships and the countries that they represent. Each ship is a microcosm that can represent different segments of society, and in this instance the two ships represent their specific nationalities. Melville demonstrates the sense of patriotic competition through the chase for the whale, in which Ishmael uses the superiority of the Pequod as evidence of a general American superiority, both specifically in whaling and generally in all respects.

Chapter Eighty-Two: The Honor and Glory of Whaling:

According to Ishmael, the gallant Perseus, a son of Jupiter, was the first whaleman; those were the "knightly days" of the profession when "we bore arms to succor the distressed, and not to fill men's lamp-feeders." Akin to the adventure of Perseus is the famous story of St. George and the Dragon, which Ishmael maintains to have been a whale. Ishmael calls the "great gods themselves" whalemen, citing the story of Vishnoo, who became incarnate in a whale and rescued the sacred volumes from the bottom of a sea. He calls Vishnoo a whaleman even as a man who rides a horse is a horseman.


While previous chapters have regarded the history of whaling and the study of whales from a more realistic perspective, this chapter regards the whale as a mythological object that better aligns with the general tone of the novel. Once again, Melville aligns the business of whaling with stories from a number of different cultures in order to instill some sense of universality to the quest for the whale.

Chapter Eighty-Three: Jonah Historically Regarded:

Many Nantucket whalers distrust the story of Jonah. One Sag-Harbor whaleman cites his chief reason for doubting the story to be the pictorial representation of Jonah's whale with two spouts, and this type of whale is not large enough to swallow a person. Another reason why Sag-Harbor doubts the story is the whale's gastric juices, but the whale that swallowed Jonah may have been dead at the time. Ishmael calls Sag-Harbor's arguments foolish and lacking reason.


The scholastic and the epic mythological tones of Moby Dick collide during this chapter, in which Ishmael attempts to analyze the Biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale from a scientific perspective, justifying this Biblical tale by attempting to fit it into a plausible mode of intellectual study. The effect of this is jarring and somewhat tonally inconsistent, in contrast to the normally smooth flow of tones throughout the chapters of Moby Dick. While Melville can move effortlessly from the different styles that he employs throughout the chapters, within this individual chapter the move is strained.

Chapter Eighty-Four: Pitchpoling:

Queequeg strongly believes in anointing a boat in order to make it move more quickly. One of the most wondrous strategies that a whaleman has is called pitchpoling, a move with a lance in which a long lance is accurately darted from a violently rocking boat under extreme headway. A harpoon is seldom pitchpoled like a lance.


In this chapter, Melville returns to the practical details of the whaling industry, describing yet another detail of the hunt for the whale.

Chapter Eighty-Five: The Fountain:

The Sperm Whale breathes only about one seventh as much as a human, and it is when it rises to the surface to breathe that it exposes itself to hooks or nets. The whale spout is dangerous for the whale hunter, forming a fountain that will feverishly smart one's skin and is rumored to be poisonous. Ishmael hypothesizes that the spout is nothing but mist.


This chapter, detailing yet another aspect of the whale's anatomy, is significant primarily for the symbolism surrounding the spout of the whale. Once again, an aspect of the whale contributes to the idea that the whale is actually an object incapable of independent definition; Ishmael believes that the spout is nothing but a mist, thus downgrading a seemingly dangerous aspect of the whale to essential nothingness.

Chapter Eighty-Six: The Tail:

The largest Sperm Whale's tail comprises an area of at least fifty square feet. The entire tail seems a dense webbed bed of welded sinews, but there are three distinct strata that compose it: upper, middle and lower. It is an organ of subtle elasticity and has five special characteristics. The first is that it never wriggles. The second is that it uses the tail contemptuously when it conflicts with man. The third is that it seems that the sense of touch in the whale is centered in the tail. The fourth is that the whale often uses its tail to play "kitten-like" in the sea. The fifth is the peaking of the whale's flukes, perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature. Ishmael finds the mighty tail almost inexpressible.


The significant detail of this chapter concerns the relationship between the whale and the humans who hunt it. Melville approaches this chapter from the perspective of a single facet of the whale, its tail, and places it in direct opposition to human hunters. According to Melville, the mere tail of the whale has such significance and power that it can relate to the hunters only with contempt. Yet again, Melville elevates the whale to a majestic state.

Chapter Eighty-Seven: The Grand Armada:

The Pequod reaches the Indian Ocean into the Javan Sea to reach waters known to be frequented by the Sperm Whale. Ahab does not stop for water. The Pequod chases after a large group of whales. Queequeg leads the boats and they attempt to capture or maim as many of the Sperm Whales as they can. They use druggs, which are ball-and-chain type instruments, to maim the numerous whales. The crew of the Pequod sees under the surface the nursing mothers of young whales, which seem to eye the crew themselves. The crew remains entranced by the activity they see. The Pequod captures only one of the drugged whales, and all the rest contrive to escape.


Returning to the narrative, Melville employs the metaphor of a grand armada, the title of this chapter, to describe the school of whales that the Pequod encounters in the Indian Ocean. However, yet again the bombastic exaltation of the whales seems undeserved; the "grand armada" that Melville describes is in fact a collection of nursing mothers of baby whales. While yet again elevating the status of the whales to epic proportions, Melville exceeds the grasp of his metaphor and allows it to reach absurd proportions.

Chapter Eighty-Eight: Schools and Schoolmasters:

Among a school of female whales there is invariably a male of full grown magnitude, but not old. Ishmael dubs this whale " a luxurious Ottoman" accompanied by his harem. A harem of whales is called a school and the lord is technically known as the schoolmaster. Schools comprising only young and vigorous males are a different matter, for these are the most pugnacious of all Leviathans and the most dangerous to encounter.


Melville uses this chapter purely to examine further metaphors between whales and humans. Melville personifies the groups of whales in this chapter, describing them in terms of human relationships. This is significant in terms of its relationship to Moby Dick itself; operating under the assumption that whales can be compared to human and human behavior, this allows for the title whale to exhibit human characteristics akin to those of Ahab and Ishmael.

Chapter Eighty-Nine: Fast-Fish and Loose Fish:

It frequently happens that when several ships are cruising in company, a whale may be struck by one vessel, escape, and finally be killed and captured by another. This is problematic, but perhaps the only formal whaling code was that of Holland, which defined Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it, and a Loose-Fish is fair game. A Fast-Fish is a fish, dead or alive, connected with an occupied ship by any medium at all controllable by the occupant. There are often disputes over possession of a whale, as have come to the British courts. Ishmael compares the Rights of Man and Liberties of the World to Loose-Fish.


Melville examines the subject of whaling from a legal perspective in this chapter, one which foreshadows later plot developments concerning the chase for a whale. Once again, Melville stretches the limits of his metaphors in comparing the Rights of Man and general liberties to Loose-Fish in an attempt to show the intangibility and disputability of these rights.

Chapter Ninety: Heads or Tails:

Ishmael details a story about a Fast-Fish secured by whalemen that the Lord Warden attempted to take as his own under the law, despite the whalemen's poverty. Ishmael inquires on what principle the Sovereign is invested the right to part of the whale. According to Plowdon, the whale belongs to the King and Queen because of its superior excellence.


This chapter considers yet another anecdote concerning the whaling industry. As has been established repeatedly before, the whale is an animal of particular excellence and this fact has been bolstered by royal decree and intellectual inquiry.

Chapter Ninety-One: The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud:

The Pequod comes upon a French ship, the "Bouton-de-Rose." Starbuck asks about Moby Dick, but the sailor on the ship has not even heard of the notorious whale. The crew of the Rose-Bud has two whales that appear to have oil, but Stubb notices that one of the whales may have ambergris. Stubb concocts a plan in which he tells the captain of the Rose-Bud that his whales are useless and should be left behind lest they damage their ship. The captain of the Rose-Bud takes Stubb's advice ,and after the Rose-Bud departs from the Pequod, Stubb secures the whale carcass with the ambergris for the Pequod.


The journey along the Pequod continues in this chapter, as the ship meets another boat in its search for Moby Dick. The trick that the crew of the Pequod plays on the Rose-Bud serves primarily to elucidate the character of Stubb, who reveals himself to be crafty and even a bit deceptive through this ruse. However, Melville approaches the trick on the Rose-Bud playfully. The incident does not necessarily darken Stubb's character; he remains at worst a prankster and not a man whose intentions seem overtly wicked.

Chapter Ninety-Two: Ambergris:

Ambergris is a curious substance, "gray amber," a fine delicacy that the Turks use for cooking and in the same manner as frankincense. Stubb finds certain hard, round plates in the ambergris. Ishmael rebuts the charge that all whales always smell bad, which is traceable to the first arrival of Greenland whaling ships in London. In truth, whales are by no means creature of ill odor.


This chapter of Moby Dick is merely explanatory, giving the rationale behind Stubb's behavior in the previous chapter while detailing the properties and explaining the value behind the ambergris.

Chapter Ninety-Three: The Castaway:

Several days after encountering the French boat, a lamentable event occurs on the Pequod. In a whale ship, not everyone goes in the boats, and a few hands remain on the ship while the boats pursue a whale. A young black man named Pippin, Pip by abbreviation, is one of these ship-keepers. Pip is a jovial fellow who loves life, tender-hearted and bright. In the aftermath of the ambergris affair one of Stubb's oarsmen sprains his hand, and Stubb places Pip in his place. When on a lowering after a whale, Pip becomes so frightened that he jumps from the boat and becomes entangled in the whale line, which wraps around his chest and neck. The line is cut, and Pip is saved but chastised severely for his cowardice and told that he will be left at sea if he jumps again. Pip, however, does jump again and Stubb remains true to his word. However, a nearby boat saves Pip. The event "drowned the infinite of his soul."


The fate of Pip in this chapter is one worse than mere death, as the poor and pathetic character is essentially condemned to death but by mere chance escapes this fate. The psychological weight of the event is so great that it pushes Pip into insanity, for he cannot effectively grasp the fact that the crew members of the Pequod would have let him die. Melville will return to the repercussions of this event later in the novel when Pip comes into contact with Captain Ahab, yet until then the significance of this chapter is that it demonstrates that the crew members of the Pequod are perfectly able to sacrifice others in order to perform their whaling tasks. The main tragedy of this chapter is that Pip learns that his life is not worth the success of the Pequod's whaling ventures, and that Stubb will sacrifice him for it. Along this same vein, this chapter provides an interesting comparison between Stubb, and by extension the other ship's mates, and Ahab. To some degree Ahab is merely an extreme extension of his mates; while Stubb would sacrifice a single man if necessary, Ahab is willing to sacrifice himself and the entirety of his crew for a solitary objective.

Chapter Ninety-Four: A Squeeze of the Hand:

The crew of the Pequod squeezes the sperm from the whale caught by Stubb. Ishmael feels an "abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling" at this avocation, and wishes that he could "keep squeezing that sperm forever." Ishmael then describes the particular process of preparing the whale sperm for the try-works.


Chapter Ninety-Four provides an interesting mix of dry facts concerning the whaling industry (preparing the whale sperm) and jarringly unsubtle symbolism. This chapter is certainly the culmination of any homoeroticism found in Moby Dick, in which the crew of the Pequod feels its greatest sense of community when they squeeze sperm from the whale and Ishmael displays his most acute sense of satisfaction. Although Melville develops little more than a strong and blatant subtext from this chapter, for the remainder of the story allows little room for developing the character of Ishmael, the obvious implications of this chapter certainly recall the nearly marital relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. To develop any definitive conclusion about Ishmael's sexuality from this chapter is nearly impossible and amounts to severe revisionism, yet Melville builds a strong foundation for innuendo and conjecture without building it into anything concrete.

Chapter Ninety-Five: The Cassock:

If one had stepped on board the Pequod during the "post-mortemizing" of the whale, one would see a strange, enigmatic object: an unaccountable cone, the ebony idol of Queequeg. The mincer has as his duty the mincing of horse-pieces of blubber for the pots, an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse planted against the bulwarks. The mincer occupies "a conspicuous pulpit" and cries out "Bible leaves" in order to keep his work diligent.


In this chapter, Melville juxtaposes the pagan religious iconography of Queequeg with the Christian religious symbolism exemplified by the mincer. The ebony idol is jarringly out of place among the dominant Christian iconography of the ship, much like Queequeg himself. Melville describes the mincer in terms of a preacher at a pulpit, and even keeps at his work through Biblical references. The comparison between Christianity and the workings of the whaling industry is a prominent theme in the book and one that Melville consistently develops; the author equates the mincer, as well as the carpenter of the novel, with particularly Christian religious practices and imbues them with strong Christian symbolism.

Chapter Ninety-Six: The Try-Works:

The try-works of the boat are a distinguishing feature of an American whale ship. While manning the try-works, Ishmael becomes aware that he had lost consciousness and was turned around. He realizes this just in time to prevent the boat from capsizing.


This chapter, like many in the middle section of Moby Dick, is simply a mix of mundane details of the Pequod's journey and more general details about the whaling industry in general. The primary effect of this chapter is to reinforce the idea that the crew of the Pequod is under constant danger and even Ishmael himself faces possibly fatal moments at every point.

Chapter Ninety-Seven: The Lamp:

In merchantmen, oil for the sailor is more scarce than the milk of queens, but for a whaleman, light illuminates the ship. The whaleman can take freedom with lamps, burning the purest of oil from the whale.


This chapter exists simply to give further distinction between the whaling ships and other merchant ships in an additional attempt to display the superiority of the whaling profession.

Chapter Ninety-Eight: Stowing Down and Clearing Up:

While still warm, the oil from the whale is stored in six-barrel casks. When the oil is cool, the oil goes to the bowels of the ship and the casks are tossed in the sea. The sperm oil has a cleansing quality that removes all traces of the blood and mess that occurs before the oil is finally released. Three watchmen continue to spy out more whales that may be in the distance.


Melville continues to describe the various workings of the entire whaling process. While such chapters certainly interrupt the momentum of the plot, in this case driving it into a nearly complete stop, they do serve two important purposes. First, Melville creates for the reader the full and detailed world of the whaling industry that lends the novel a sense of verisimilitude. The story, which in its barest outline is an adventure story, becomes more real and concrete. Second, Melville not only creates the world of whaling but recreates the momentum of the whaling journey. The search for Moby Dick is thus not a simple and short quest, but a long journey with several digressions and even periods of stasis.

Chapter Ninety-Nine: The Doubloon:

Ahab often paces about the quarter-deck and during this walk will often eye a particular object before him, a gold doubloon with strange figures and inscriptions stamped on it. One morning, Ahab looks at these inscriptions, judging the doubloon to be from the Republic of Ecuador. Starbuck notices how there's "something ever egotistical" about Ahab, "the volcano," "the courageous." Stubb compares Ahab to the "old Mogul." Ahab himself looks at the doubloon, promised to whoever catches the whale, and decides that the whale must be raised in a month and a day.


Melville abandons the strict perspective of the narrator Ishmael to frame chapter ninety-nine from the point of view of Ishmael. From Starbuck's perspective, Melville portrays the captain partially in the conventional terms which have prevailed throughout the novel: Starbuck is consistent in framing Ahab as an egotistical and unstable man. However, from the perspective of Starbuck, Melville endows Ahab with a tragic, if outdated grandeur. The metaphors for Ahab are telling: whenever Melville describes him in respectful terms, he employs anachronistic terms relating to fallen societies. This cements Ahab's place as a tragic figure; he is a man surrounded by legend but still destined for an inevitable fall.

Chapter One Hundred: Leg and Arm. The Pequod, of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London:

The Pequod comes upon yet another ship, the Samuel Enderby, which he asks for news about Moby Dick. This ship is an English ship, and a member of the crew claims to have seen the White Whale on the Line last season. Moby Dick had taken the arm off of the Englishman. The Englishman tells about his encounter with Moby Dick, telling how the whale snapped at the ship's fast line, and got caught. The crew of the ship attacked the whale, but Moby Dick bit the Englishman's arm off. The Englishman turns the story over to Dr. Bunger, the ship's surgeon, who tells about this severe injury and how the wound kept getting worse. Dr. Bunger and the Englishman argue over the lost arm, until Ahab becomes annoyed and demands to know about Moby Dick. Bunger tells Ahab that "what you take for the White Whale's malice is only his awkwardness. For he never means to swallow a single limb; he only thinks to terrify by feints." Bunger warns Ahab that the whale is best left alone. The English captain wonders whether Ahab is crazy.


Continuing a pattern of interaction between the Pequod and other ships that it passes during its journey, Melville introduces the Samuel Enderby, a British ship that bears news of Moby Dick. Among the various ships that the Pequod meets, the great whale assumes a legendary, nearly mythic quality. Dr. Bunger even gives Ahab the stern warning that he should leave Moby Dick alone. Nevertheless, Melville approaches the as-yet unseen whale from a different perspective during this chapter; Dr. Bunger does not frame Moby Dick as a formidable and entirely malicious opponent, but instead places the whale in a more animalistic framework. For perhaps the first time in the novel, a character treats Moby Dick as an animal without forethought and premeditation instead of an actual character or symbol for an abstract concept. Despite Dr. Bunger's lack of metaphor for Moby Dick, however, his conclusion concerning the whale is the same: Ahab faces a certain death if he persists in his quest against Moby Dick.

This chapter effectively demonstrates the particular greatness of Moby Dick. Melville allows the titular whale to assume a number of vastly conflicting interpretations, yet he remains consistent with regard to the concrete characterizations of Moby Dick. Melville allows a number of symbolic possibilities for the whale, ranging from the religious to the political or social, yet the formidability of the whale is never in question.