Moby Dick

Moby Dick Summary and Analysis of Chapters 101-120

Chapter One Hundred and One: The Decanter:

Ishmael describes the ship that the Pequod encountered in the previous chapter. The Enderby hails from London, and is named after the late Samuel Enderby, a merchant of that city, the original of the famous whaling house of Enderby and Sons. That company was the first to send ships out to pursue the Sperm Whale. The Pequod and the Enderby had a gam that consisted of a fine meal between the two ships, and Ishmael praises their generosity.


Shifting from the mechanics of the plot to historical details, Melville (through the narrator Ishmael) uses the incidents from the previous chapter to provide a segue into a dissertation on British whaling history. This is one of the most smoothly rendered transitions in Moby Dick; while Melville often moves awkwardly from plot mechanics into historical or scientific details, this particular transition grows relatively easily from the material and serves to enlighten the reader without jarringly abandoning the plot of Moby Dick.

Chapter One Hundred and Two: A Bower in the Arsacides:

Ishmael devotes this chapter to the internal construction of the Sperm Whale, for he has had the opportunity to dissect the Sperm Whale in miniature. Ishmael credits Tranquo, king of the Tranque, one of the Arsacides, for his knowledge of the bones of the Leviathan. A Sperm Whale had washed ashore on the Arsacides, and the Tranque had brought its bones to a glen and made a grand temple of it. Ishmael found it surprising that the king should regard it as a chapel.


Whereas the previous chapter signaled a smooth segue into historical material not particularly relevant to the chase for the great whale, in this chapter Melville does not accomplish the same feat. This chapter is an uneasy return to the detailed scientific accounts of the Sperm Whale and the history behind it. The detail that has the most relevance in this chapter is the use of the Sperm Whale as a temple; in this anecdote Melville gives additional material relating to the theme of the whale as a religious symbol.

Chapter One Hundred and Three: Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton:

A Sperm Whale of the largest magnitude is between eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and less than forty feet in its fullest circumference. A whale will weigh at least ninety tons. The vast, ivory-ribbed chest of the whale resembles the hull of a great ship.


Another in a string of chapters designed primarily to give facts concerning the sperm whale, chapter one hundred and three does include one significant bit of information: the chapter essentially states that a whale is an equal match for a whaling ship in size and in weight. Melville thus foreshadows that the eventual conflict with Moby Dick may place the Pequod in great danger from a formidable foe that could not only defeat Ahab but his entire crew.

Chapter One Hundred and Four: The Fossil Whale:

The whale, from this mighty bulk, cannot be compressed. According to Ishmael, "by good rights he should only be treated of in imperial folio." Ishmael complains about authors who inflate their subjects, however ordinary, and asks how he could deal with a subject so definitively grand such as the Sperm Whale. Ishmael recalls references to whales in Egyptian tablets. Ishmael deems the Sperm Whale as something that has come down from before mankind and will outlast it.


Ishmael's complaint that authors often use hyperbole in reference to their subjects is a grand irony concerning this chapter, in which he claims that the Sperm Whale will triumph over mankind and deserves only the most lofty treatment. The irony of Ishmael's complaint signals a divergence between the narrator and the author; for the first time in the novel, the viewpoint of Melville seems separate from the viewpoint of Ishmael, whose lavish praise for the whale is at last given gentle criticism. By doing this, Melville subordinates the narrator to a more secondary position, asserting his own voice and criticism of Ishmael for his effusive language and praise.

Chapter One Hundred and Five: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? ­ Will He Perish?:

Ishmael ponders the question of whether the whale has degenerated from the original bulk of his sires, and finds that the present day whales are superior in magnitude. Ishmael deems the pre-adamite whales, the largest of which was found in Alabama, slightly smaller than a large present-day Sperm Whale. However, Ishmael cites accounts by Pliny of the magnitude of whales. Ishmael accounts the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in the individual.


After Melville reasserts his narrative position through the irony of the previous chapter, he allows Ishmael to continue lavishing praise upon the whale as a species. This chapter lends itself well to symbolic interpretations of the whale in general and Moby Dick in general by posing questions of whether the whale has become larger or smaller throughout time and whether it will thrive or perish. Melville does not affix any particular symbolic meaning to whales in this chapter, but the vague nature of the chapter allows for the whale to stand for any number of particular concepts.

Chapter One Hundred and Six: Ahab's Leg:

Ahab sometimes did suffer because of his ivory leg, once falling to the ground when the leg gave out. Ahab, before and after sailing with the Pequod, would hide himself away with "Grand-Lama-like" exclusiveness and once did seek speechless refuge.


Without actually introducing the great whale until the final chapters of the novel, Melville dramatizes the conflict between Moby Dick and Ahab through the internal agony that plagues Ahab throughout the course of the novel. In a not insignificant respect, the conflict is between Ahab and the idea of Moby Dick as well as the actuality of the whale, for even apart from the whale's physical presence Ahab is so tormented by the whale that he falls into a state of catatonia. In this chapter, Melville indicates that Ahab's leg serves as a constant reminder of the whale and its power over him, giving an additional rationale for his constant obsession with Moby Dick.

Chapter One Hundred and Seven: The Carpenter:

Ishmael appraises the "high, abstracted" man to be "a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe," but takes mankind in mass as a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary. However, the carpenter of the Pequod is no duplicate, according to Ishmael, who finds him singularly efficient in the nameless mechanical emergencies continually occurring. Ishmael finds him most remarkable for his impersonal stolidity, which Ishmael calls the same "discernible in the whole visible world" which is pauselessly active, yet peaceful, yet ignores you. Ishmael claims that the carpenter's work involves a sort of unintelligence, for he does not seem to work by reason or by instinct or even by teaching, but by some spontaneous literal process.


In the beginning of this chapter, Melville delves into the psyche of his narrator as he has rarely done throughout Moby Dick. Ishmael emerges in this chapter as a man who views the world best in terms of concepts and abstractions while disdaining the actuality of life around him. In essence, Ishmael places greater value on humanity than on actual humans. While this character detail is explicit for the first time in the novel, Melville has certainly provided the foundation for Ishmael's view. Ishmael speaks grandly about historical concepts and gives lavish detail when discussing scientific advances, but as a narrator he devotes only fleeting attention to most of the personages on the journey. In this respect, Melville gives his best indication that the narrator may be, to some extent, an unreliable one and his account of the journey is not the entirely objective one that the reader may have heretofore assumed.

Chapter One Hundred and Eight: Ahab and the Carpenter:

Ahab approaches the carpenter at work to see about fixing his leg. Ahab laments that he is "proud as a Greek god," yet indebted to such a "blockhead" for a bone to stand on. The carpenter thinks about how strange Ahab appears and how Ahab looks on him with such scorn.


The relationship between Ahab and the carpenter is a fascinating one, for the two characters instantly have a mutual animosity that Melville never fully explains. In fact, the carpenter may be the only character in Moby Dick who stands on an equal footing with Ahab, able to criticize him and counter his complaints without having to humor the captain or behave diplomatically toward him, as Starbuck must do. The rationale for this relative equality between Ahab and the carpenter remains in necessity; Ahab must depend on the carpenter for his wooden leg, whereas with others Ahab finds them entirely unnecessary. Melville will return to the character of the carpenter in later chapters.

Chapter One Hundred and Nine: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin:

During the morning, Starbuck learns that the casks have sprung a bad leak and reports the news to Ahab. Starbuck advises that they "up Burtons and break out" or else lose more oil in a day than they may make in a year. Ahab dismisses Starbuck's advice, saying that they should let it leak, for he himself is leaking. Starbuck becomes more angry, and Ahab pulls a musket on him. He tells Starbuck that "there is one God that is Lord over the Earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod." Starbuck tells Ahab not to beware of Starbuck, for he is no threat to Ahab, but to beware of himself instead. Ahab finally consents to Starbuck's advice.


The omnipresent conflict between Starbuck and Ahab comes to a climax in this chapter, which places the values of these respective characters in direct conflict for the first time. Melville makes explicit in this chapter that Ahab will make nearly any sacrifice during the Pequod's voyage in order to pursue his objective against Moby Dick, while Starbuck remains the voice of reason and practicality, arguing for the long-term gains of the voyage over Ahab's personal vendetta.

Although the moral conflict between Ahab and Starbuck will continue through the remaining chapters of Moby Dick, this chapter signals a shift in the lines of conflict. The values of the respective characters remain a source of contention, but Melville changes the struggle from an external one between Starbuck and Ahab to an internal one within Ahab. Starbuck, having abandoned hope of convincing Ahab himself, essentially abandons his attempts to change Ahab in hopes that Ahab will be able to successfully battle between his obsessive quest against Moby Dick and his more rational nature.

Chapter One Hundred and Ten: Queequeg in his Coffin:

Queequeg begins to suffer from a fever and approaches death. He wastes away, but as he does his eyes seem fuller and fuller, a "wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him which would not die." Queequeg shudders at the thought of being buried in a hammock, and desires a canoe like those of Nantucket. The carpenter is commanded to do Queequeg's bidding, and he measures Queequeg for his coffin. Queequeg gets in his coffin with his harpoon, and asks for his little god, Yojo. The delusional Pip wishes to make a game of Queequeg's burial. But just as every preparation for death is made, Queequeg suddenly rallies and returns to health. Queequeg believes that a man could make up his mind to live and sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale or a violent, ungovernable force could destroy a man in such a condition. Queequeg continues to use his coffin as a sea chest, and carves into the lid the tattoos on his body.


Among the various characters in Moby Dick, the one that Melville endows with the most heroic qualities is Queequeg, a nearly idealized figure who faces almost any adversity with bravery and a serene confidence. Despite the onset of a seemingly fatal fever, Queequeg faces his fate stoically and even emerges in stature because of his illness. Ishmael's admission that Queequeg's eyes seem fuller through his illness is another example of his bias as a narrator, considering his idealization of Queequeg definitively founded during the early stages of the voyage. However, even if the perspective of the narrator gives a bias in Queequeg's favor, the plot details of this chapter attest well enough to Queequeg's heroism without any extraneous detail. Queequeg essentially wills his own life through his extraordinary control. This juxtaposes sharply with Ahab; while Queequeg is so completely in control of himself that he can will himself cured, Ahab is so subject to his obsessions that he cannot make any decisions independent of them.

Interestingly, Melville elicits this comparison between Ahab and Queequeg through the idea that only a whale or an ungovernable force could vanquish Queequeg. Melville thus suggests that there is something particular in the whale that gives him power over Ahab, without fully elucidating the reason behind this. Significantly, Melville states that the only things that could vanquish Queequeg are a whale or a violent, ungovernable force. This seemingly makes the distinction between the physical power of a whale and more general violent threats, and gives additional evidence that the whale is formidable in Moby Dick not for its mere power, but for metaphoric implications behind it.

Chapter One Hundred and Eleven: The Pacific:

Ishmael is overjoyed to reach the Pacific, which he finds has a "sweet mystery." While Ishmael finds it peaceful and contented, few such thoughts stir Ahab's brain, for Ahab thinks only of Moby Dick.


This short chapter exists simply to place the voyage of the Pequod in perspective: from its departure from Nantucket, the ship has traveled around the world, yet Ahab remains locked in the same psychological state as before and, in contrast with Ishmael, he cannot enjoy the changes or pleasure in the journey.

Chapter One Hundred and Twelve: The Blacksmith:

The blacksmith retains Ahab's leg, altering and conforming it to Ahab's design. The blacksmith is an old man who had found ruin. He lost his home and his family, in essence losing his life. However, instead of committing suicide he decided to go out to sea, "another life without the guilt of intermediate death."


In this chapter, Melville once again uses the voyage at sea as a metaphor for death through the character of the blacksmith, who goes on the whaling voyages precisely as an escape from his life on land. Compounded with the imagery of Queequeg in this coffin, this elaborates on a persistent theme of the novel, the idea of the ship's voyage as a transitory state between life and death.

Chapter One Hundred and Thirteen: The Forge:

Ahab interrogates Perth the blacksmith concerning his talents, then asks him if he can make a harpoon that "a thousand yoke of fiends could not part . . . something that will stick in a whale like his own fin-bone." Ahab rejects several because of flaws, but the blacksmith vows to remain to work. Finally, he fashions a harpoon for Ahab, who demands that it be tempered with the blood of Tashtego, Queequeg and Daggoo. Ahab howls "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli."


Melville equates the forging of the harpoon against Moby Dick with religious ceremony in this chapter, which is quite explicit with its implications. Ahab's howl in Latin translates directly as "I do not baptize you in the name of the father, but in the name of the devil." Through this incantation, which in its Latin form certainly recalls Catholic religious ceremony, Melville officially breaks Ahab from God and aligns him with the devil. Since Ahab equates the harpoon with a part of Moby Dick himself, this gives additional credence to the interpretation of Moby Dick as a metaphor for Satan. Ahab's use of the blood from Tashtego, Queequeg and Daggoo certainly adds to the Christian relevance of the ceremony; Ahab significantly uses the blood of the three explicitly pagan characters and thus gives an additional rejection of Christianity.

Chapter One Hundred and Fourteen: The Gilder:

The Pequod reached the heart of the Japanese cruising ground, where the crew would spend up to twenty hours at a time in the boats searching for whales. It is at these moments when the rover on a whale boat feels a special regard for the sea. Such pleasant times even have a positive effect on Ahab.


After the violent imagery of the previous chapter, Melville retreats from the hysterical blasphemy to adopt a more calming tone that will be necessarily short-lived. Although this respite is calming for the characters, even Ahab, the constant building of doom renders this momentary calm a futile respite before the eventual tragedy.

Chapter One Hundred and Fifteen: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor:

The Pequod comes upon another ship from Nantucket, the Bachelor, which had met with surprising success in whale fishing. Ahab asks the captain of the Bachelor whether he has seen the White Whale, but the captain says that he has only heard of him, but does not believe that Moby Dick exists. Ahab mutters at the foolishness of the Bachelor.


The skeptics on the Bachelor confirm the status of Moby Dick as a mythic figure. The captain of the Bachelor disbelieves the existence of the whale, considering him in terms of a fairy tale creation. In consideration of the religious parallels that pervade the novel, one may consider the captain of the Bachelor as not only a skeptic but as an atheist, denying the existence of God (and by extension, Satan).

Chapter One Hundred and Sixteen: The Dying Whale:

The day after the Pequod met the Bachelor, the Pequod comes upon four whales and slays them. Even Ahab himself slaughters one. Ahab watches the dying whale intently, but with a deep gloom. Ahab considers the nature of the dying whale, and considers the death of the whale a lesson in mortality.


This chapter makes clear that mortality is becoming an increasing concern of the crew of the Pequod, most particularly Ahab, who philosophizes over death upon killing a whale. This signals an increasing awareness in Ahab of the severity of his situation; he considers the implications of death fully aware of an impending death, whether his own or that of Moby Dick. Melville definitively indicates that a mortal conflict is impending, and foreshadows its nearly imminent arrival.

Chapter One Hundred and Seventeen: The Whale Watch:

The waif-pole remains in the slain whale and a lantern hangs from its top, casting a flickering glare on the back of the whale. Ahab awakens that night and tells Fedallah that he has "dreamed it again," of hearses. Ahab pledges that he will slay Moby Dick and survive it, but Fedallah tells him to take up another pledge, for hemp (the gallows) only can kill him. Ahab thus derisively laughs that he is immortal on land and on sea.


Additional harbingers of doom fill this chapter, most prominently Fedallah's prophetic dream of hearses, yet from the perspective of both Ahab and Fedallah the only possible conclusion is that Ahab will defeat Moby Dick. Ahab conceives of himself as immortal, yet another example of his grand, godlike hubris. It is this arrogance that Melville suggests will be Ahab's downfall, leading him to attempt a quest against Moby Dick that he cannot possibly achieve. The previous suggestions that Fedallah is a diabolical figure become significant in this chapter; here Fedallah builds Ahab's hubris and suggests that Ahab can assume to be immortal. .

Chapter One Hundred and Eighteen: The Quadrant:

Ahab calculates the exact latitude of the Pequod at the moment, and wonders where Moby Dick is. He finally gazes into the quadrant, the device to measure latitude, and calls it a "foolish toy" and a "plaything of haughty admirals." Starbuck watches Ahab and laments that the "old man of oceans" will remain only "one little heap of ashes," but Stubb replies that Ahab will be "sea-coal ashes . . . not your common charcoal."


Even among the crew of the Pequod, Ahab's death is imminent; Starbuck and Stubb can make no other conclusion than that Ahab will die during the struggle with Moby Dick. This is a far different conclusion than that of the previous chapter, in which Fedallah and Ahab boasted of Ahab's immortality. Still, Stubb describes Ahab in exalted terms; his death during a conflict with Moby Dick is an unavoidable one, but one that has a heroic grandeur. Melville thus indicates that the mates on the ship, despite their pessimistic attitude to their voyage, do not consider Ahab as an evil or Satanic figure, despite his seeming belief in that very interpretation. Stubb views Ahab better than Ahab actually views himself.

Chapter One Hundred and Nineteen: The Candles:

The canvas of the Pequod tears and the ship is left bare-poled to fight a typhoon. During this dangerous time, Stubb remains jovial and singing, but Starbuck asks him to desist. Stubb claims that he sings because he is a coward and he must keep up his spirits. Starbuck notes that the Pequod has two choices: an easy route past the Cape of Good Hope back to Nantucket, or a difficult route opposing the winds to search for Moby Dick. Ahab believes that he sees a light that leads to the White Whale. There are repeated flashes of lightning that seem to lead Ahab to Moby Dick. Starbuck cries out for Ahab to look at the boat. There are hints of mutiny among the crew, but Ahab says that all of their oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as his own.


Ahab faces an explicit choice in this chapter between life and death and, in choosing to pursue Moby Dick, easily makes the obvious choice of death. Melville describes this choice with explicit imagery: by abandoning the quest for Moby Dick, the Pequod will take the route past the Cape of Good Hope, while the journey against the winds has the Pequod traveling through darkness in pursuit of a distant light, thus recalling common imagery of death and the afterlife.

Melville never fully resolves the status of the crew of the Pequod during this chapter; there seems to be little doubt among the crew, in particular Stubb and Starbuck, that the quest against Moby Dick is little more than a suicide mission, yet rumblings of mutiny are easily dismissed through Ahab's forceful demeanor. Melville essentially dismisses the crew of the Pequod as irrelevant to Ahab's quest, and assumes that their possible objections to Ahab do not contain enough power to overcome the great will of the captain. While this view of the Pequod's crew is somewhat problematic, it certainly pares down the novel to its essential conflicts between Ahab and Moby Dick and, perhaps just as importantly, Ahab and his obsessions. However unrealistic it may be, the crew of the Pequod is a mere pawn in the greater scheme of these conflicts.

Chapter One Hundred and Twenty: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch:

Ahab stands by the helm and Starbuck approaches him. Ahab dismisses Starbuck's concern over the great winds that they face.


This chapter begins a series of several chapters devoted to a massive storm that the Pequod faces during its journey. Melville breaks these chapters into short, descriptive passages that imbue the storm with a sense of urgency; instead of a slowly building momentum, the tempo of these chapters is choppy and disconcerting, reflecting the progress of the storm itself.