Moby Dick

Moby Dick Summary and Analysis of Chapters 41-60

Chapter Forty-One: Moby Dick:

Ishmael was one of the crew that cheered, and feels that Ahab's struggle is his own. Wild rumors surface of the whale that fail to exaggerate the deadly encounters with Moby Dick. The rumors of the White Whale incorporate with all manner of morbid hints and half-formed suggestions of supernatural agencies. There are some who are ready to give chase to Moby Dick despite the warnings against such an undertaking. The body of Moby Dick is so streaked and spotted and marbled that in the end it has gained his distinctive appellation of the White Whale. Ahab had piled on all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down into the whale. Ahab has a "special lunacy" that storms his general sanity and carries it.


Even Ishmael is not immune to the hysteria and jubilation with regard to Moby Dick, as he readily admits at the start of this chapter. However, it is more important to note the intense danger of this mission that Melville foreshadows through this chapter. Melville describes the whale as not only dangerous, but nearly supernatural and ghostly. He explicitly states what Moby Dick represents for Ahab; the whale symbolizes the hatred and rage of humanity. This redefines the quest against the whale, for Ahab thus comes to represent humanity's attempts to fight against its own worst impulses. Therefore, even when the conflict comes down to the fight between Ahab and Moby Dick, it will nevertheless still remain an internal conflict within Ahab.

Chapter Forty-Two: The Whiteness of the Whale:

In many natural objects, whiteness refines and enhances beauty, as in pearls, or confers special qualities such as innocence or purity. There is an elusive quality that causes the thought of whiteness to heighten terror, such as the white bear of the poles or the white shark of the tropics. Among humans, the Albino is considered shocking and loathed, while the whiteness of a corpse is a distinguishing and disturbing feature. In its most profound, idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul. White is portentous because it is indefinite, not so much a color as the visible absence of color.


In this chapter, Herman Melville attempts to define Moby Dick through its whiteness, instead finding that the very nature of the color white defies definition. While Melville does confront symbolic interpretation of the color white as symbolic of purity or innocence, he instead finds whiteness to represent absence or opacity. This suggests that the white whale Moby Dick resists any definition or internal meaning. Whatever meaning or symbolism that the whale holds exists entirely in relation to others' perceptions of it. To be explicit, Moby Dick gains definition and symbolic value only in terms of its relation to Ahab and, to a much lesser extent, the other members of the Pequod crew.

Chapter Forty-Three: Hark!:

There is a noise as the crew passes buckets from one man to another. Rumors of something as yet undefined abound among the crew.


Melville returns to the narrative of the novel in this chapter, as a reminder of the ever-present possibility that the crew may come upon Moby Dick at any moment.

Chapter Forty-Four: The Chart:

To Ahab, it does not seem improbable to find Moby Dick through the vast ocean, for he knows the sets of all tides and currents and could calculate the drifting of the Sperm Whale's food and could arrive at reasonable estimates of the whale's location. Ahab had selected a premature date to sail the Pequod with a view to finding Moby Dick, because he had a year in which he could spend in a miscellaneous hunt in which the whale might appear. Ahab is often awakened by exhausting and intolerably vivid dreams of the whale, in which he experiences great spiritual anguish.


Melville retreats from the notion that Ahab's quest for Moby Dick is pure insanity in this chapter, in which he reinforces Ahab's seafaring knowledge and justifies the seemingly random quest for the whale by demonstrating that Ahab can make reasonable calculations concerning Moby Dick's location. Yet this also reinforces the grand stature of the quest against Moby Dick by showing that Ahab has long planned the Pequod voyage to best facilitate a confrontation with the white whale. Melville also once again reminds the reader of the great psychological weight that Moby Dick places upon Ahab, afflicting him even in his dreams.

Chapter Forty-Five: The Affidavit:

There are instances in which a whale, after receiving a harpoon, completely escapes. There are also instances in which a whale enjoys a type of 'celebrity' because of distinguishing physical features and characteristics. There is an indefinite idea that a whale is an enormous creature of enormous power, but Ishmael has often found that his reports of whales have been taken as exaggeration. A Sperm Whale is in some cases sufficiently powerful, knowing and malicious to completely destroy a ship, as has happened during several historical instances.


Melville once again diverts from the narrative for a historical digression concerning facts about whaling. The purpose of this chapter is primarily to remind the reader of the tragic possibilities that might occur when facing Moby Dick; as Ishmael ominously notes, the seemingly exaggerated stories of fearsome whales are actually true.

Chapter Forty-Six: Surmises:

Although Ahab was consumed with finding Moby Dick, he nevertheless was by nature too wedded to a whaleman's ways to abandon the main point of his voyage. Ahab knows that he has a great influence over Starbuck, but this influence is not indefinite; Starbuck does certainly abhor Ahab's quest and would stop it if he could. Ahab was also mindful that his crew has common, daily appetites that compete with grander aspirations to find Moby Dick. Ahab finally realizes that he is opening himself up to charges of usurpation by single-mindedly pursuing the whale.


This chapter continues to develop the significant conflicts of the novel, primarily the internal struggle that Ahab faces between his prudent and rational nature and his obsessive impulses against Moby Dick. As a ship captain, Ahab cannot abandon his duties on the voyage, yet this is the only hindrance he finds in his search for Moby Dick. Additionally, Melville continues to construct a conflict between Starbuck and Ahab by showing that Ahab knows that it will be Starbuck who will oppose his quest. The effect of this is to construct Ahab as an even more formidable antagonist, for despite his seeming insanity he remains knowledgeable of the motivations and attitudes of those around him.

Chapter Forty-Seven: The Mat-Maker:

Queequeg and Ishmael weave a sword-mat for an additional lashing to their boat. Ishmael compares their weaving to work on "The Loom of Time." While the two men weave, Ishmael gazes up at the clouds and hears the voice of Tashtego, who announces that "there he blows." Ahab quickly orders his crew to their boats. Everyone glares at Ahab, who is surrounded by five dusky phantoms (these are Ahab's personal boat crew) that seem fresh formed out of air.


The description of Queequeg and Ishmael weaving the sword mat is highly symbolic, as Ishmael compares their work to working on the "Loom of Time" in which he mechanically weaves away at the Fates. In the passage, Melville simultaneously promotes the idea that people are beholden to a sense of fate and the conflicting idea of free will and autonomy, as when Ishmael states that "with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads." This adds an additional frame of conflict within the novel, that between destiny and personal choice, and gives another dimension to the conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick.

Ahab appears progressively more ominous in this chapter with the appearance of the "dusky phantoms" who seem to suddenly appear on the ship when Ahab prepares for the first launch against a whale. This contributes to the idea of Ahab as an otherworldly character, different from the rest of the crew and existing on a different plane.

Chapter Forty-Eight: The First Lowering:

The 'phantoms' cast loose the tackles and bands of the boat. Stubb issues orders to his men in a peculiar manner. Stubb will say things in a fun and furious tone that makes his crew work as if they are pulling for dear life and as a joke. Stubb expresses disappointment when they learn that they did not find the white whale. During this first pursuit, there is little sign of a whale because of the mist. Ahab berates his crew for not catching a whale. At last, when one whale surfaces Queequeg is able to strike it, but this is insufficient to kill the whale.


The first attempt to slay a whale by the Pequod crew is unsuccessful, but it nevertheless allows some insight into the characters, in particular the jovial Stubb. While Stubb serves as comic relief in some sense, his light-hearted manner belies a surprising competence and ability to elicit strong work from his crew. While this character development is surprising, the details concerning Ahab merely confirm previous suspicions about his character that he is dictatorial and difficult toward his crew.

Chapter Forty-Nine: The Hyena:

Ishmael muses that there are certain times when a man takes the universe for a vast practical joke. This attitude comes only in times of extreme tribulation. Ishmael questions Stubb on whether it is prudent to go after a whale under the circumstances that they did. Ishmael realizes that he is implicated in the chase for Moby Dick and subject to the irrational whims of the officers. Ishmael decides to draw up a will, and asks Queequeg to come along and be his "lawyer, executor and legatee."


While Melville has essentially abandoned the relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael during the previous chapters, he returns to it once again in this chapter, which serves as a reminder of the close bond between the two characters. For Ishmael, Queequeg is his closest advisor and companion, and in fact takes an active role in Ishmael's life, as his 'executor.' The rationale for the return to their relationship is the increasingly dire atmosphere on the Pequod, in which Ishmael faces his own mortality. Before any legitimate sightings of the white whale, the crew already begins to question Ahab's prudence; greater conflict between captain and crew will certainly arise once the quest for Moby Dick becomes more prominent.

Chapter Fifty: Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah:

Stubb remarks to Flask that it is remarkable that Ahab was in a boat pursuing a whale, despite his single leg. Ishmael recalls the frequent debate about whether it is proper for a captain to risk his crew's life for a voyage. Of the 'phantoms,' the one named Fedallah remains a "muffled mystery" to the last. He is a creature as civilized, domestic people see only in their dreams, a member of those unchanging Asiatic and Oriental Isles.


The character of Fedallah, introduced in this chapter, represents an amalgam of cultures different from the dominant western tradition. He is from an indistinct Asiatic culture, representing a vague 'other' with his appearance and inscrutable demeanor. In contrast to Queequeg, Fedallah represents an entire removal from the western tradition; while Ishmael could relate Queequeg's qualities to the dominant mold and find what is universal in him, there is no sense of association between Fedallah and the other characters.

Chapter Fifty-One: The Spirit-Spout:

Several weeks pass under easy sail, and the Pequod reaches several different grounds. It was while in the area south of St. Helena that a silvery jet is seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Fedallah first sees it, and Ahab commands that the sails be set to find the whale. Some days later, after this brief sighting has nearly been forgotten, the whale is again found. These are "temporary apprehensions, so vague but so awful." The Pequod reaches the Cape of Good Hope, which Ishmael deems Cape Tormentoto because of its turbulent sea. Ahab would spend hours and hours gazing dead outward, with few or no words spoken. Starbuck finds Ahab asleep in his chair, rain still dripping from his clothes from his recent trip outside, his head pointed toward the ceiling.


The pacing of this chapter is slow and deliberate, emphasizing the arduous conditions of the voyage as well as the long periods of boredom and inaction. Meanwhile, Melville continues to add more details demonstrating that Ahab remains psychologically tormented by Moby Dick.

Chapter Fifty-Two: The Albatross:

The Pequod comes across another ship, the Goney (Albatross), a craft bleached like the skeleton of a stranded walrus. The two ships pass one another, and Ahab asks whether they have seen Moby Dick. The captain of the other ship tries to answer, but he cannot be heard because his trumpet blows away into the ocean.


The brief interaction between the Pequod and the Goney shows the emptiness and isolation of the Pequod at sea, in which what little contact that the crew of the Pequod has with other ships is fleeting and barely decipherable. The isolation is compounded by Ahab's solipsism, in which he can focus only on Moby Dick and nothing else.

Chapter Fifty-Three: The Gam:

Ahab ostensibly does not go on board the Goney because the wind and the sea predict storms, but even had this not been the case he might not have boarded her. However, this is unorthodox behavior, for the 'gam' between two ships is a common occurrence; whalers from separate ships have great reason to be sociable. They may exchange letters and information that might be useful to the other boat, despite the small chance that one boat might have letters destined for the other.


This chapter serves as explanation for the event of the previous chapter, demonstrating that the behavior between the two ships deviates from normal standards of behavior. Boats are generally more cordial, according to Ishmael's narration, yet Ishmael eschews this type of behavior in favor of essentially yelling for information on Moby Dick. For Ahab, there is one thing of concern to him and no other pleasantries nor social graces are of any importance.

Chapter Fifty-Four: The Town-Ho's Story:

This story is as told at the Golden Inn by Ishmael some time after the voyage on the Pequod. The Pequod encounters the Town-Ho, manned almost wholly by Polynesians that, during a gam, gave the Pequod strong news of Moby Dick. Ishmael tells the story by the Town-Ho as he would later tell it at Lima to a circle of Spanish friends. He tells how the Town-Ho had been stabbed, presumably by a sword-fish, and was taking on water, but would have reached port safely if not for the brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, and Steelkilt, a Lakeman from Buffalo. Radney becomes concerned as the Town-Ho takes on more water, for he is naturally nervous and cowardly. He also has a large investment in the ship. Steelkilt mocks Radney for his concern over the ship. Radney orders Steelkilt to sweep the deck of the ship, but he refuses to do so. The conflict between Radney and Steelkilt nearly leads to a mutiny, as the captains threaten to have the crew flogged for disobeying. Nearly a dozen of the mutineers are locked in the bottom of the ship, but most surrender, leaving Steelkilt with only several supporters. Steelkilt convinces them to burst out of their hole and rum amuck in order to seize the ship. Radney quells this uprising by Steelkilt, who plans his revenge. The Town-Ho comes upon Moby Dick just as Steelkilt is ready to attack again. When Moby Dick attacks, he crushes Radney between his jaws. The Town-Ho escapes and reaches her port where many desert the ship. The ship's company calls upon the Islanders to assist. Steelkilt finds his way to Tahiti and finds two ships about to sail for France.


The Town-Ho's Story is yet another interruption in the narrative, yet this is an interruption of time and narrative progression rather than a stylistic break as to inform the reader of the minutiae of the whaling industry. The story serves a significant purpose by introducing the Moby Dick as a threatening, tangible presence without actually placing the whale in direct conflict with the Pequod. The means by which Melville does this is jarring, subverting the expectations of the reader by framing the story originally in terms of the conflict between Radney and Steelkilt and ending it with the horrific story of Radney's death at the hands of Moby Dick.

It is important to note the setting of the story. Ishmael does not tell the story as it was told to him by the crew of the Town-Ho; rather, he tells the story as he told it from the Golden Inn in Spain after his voyage on the Pequod is complete. This serves as an explicit reminder that Ishmael survives his voyage on the Pequod and is telling the story from a perspective far removed from the actual voyage. By highlighting this dramatic aspect of the story, Melville further moves the narrative away from Ishmael, whose fate is certain, and focuses it on the more flexible fates of Ahab and his crew.

Chapter Fifty-Five: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales:

In this chapter, Ishmael attempts to dispel "pictorial delusions" about whales, which come from the earliest pictures of whales from Hindu, Egyptian and Grecian sources. The most ancient extant portrait purporting to be a whale comes from India, but this fails, as does a later Christian painter's portrait of the fish. Even in 1825 there is a book by a great naturalist, Bernard Germain, which features several pictures of the incorrect species of Leviathan, while Frederick Cuvier gives a picture of a Sperm Whale that actually best resembles a squash. While one might think it possible to find an accurate portrayal of a whale from its skeleton, but the skeleton bears little resemblance to the actual whale.


Melville once again indulges in a more intellectual discussion of whales in this chapter, in which Ishmael traces the history of representations of whales throughout history, noting the errors in each and their inability to capture the whale in actuality. This contributes to the idea that the whale is a mysterious and somewhat indefinable creature, unable to be accurately conveyed by those who see it. In essence, Melville continues to show that the presumed knowledge of whales is faulty, lending mystery to what the whale actually is and represents.

Chapter Fifty-Six: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes:

Ishmael cites the only four published outlines of the Sperm Whale that he knows, claiming that the work by Beale is the superior, for all of his drawings are good except for a single one.


This chapter continues the discussion of the previous chapter, conceding the legitimacy of some of the various studies of whales.

Chapter Fifty-Seven: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars:

On Tower-Hill in London one may come across a beggar holding a painted board representing the scene in which he lost his leg to a whale, while throughout the Pacific and in Nantucket one may come across lively sketches of whales and whaling scenes. The image of the Leviathan is prevalent throughout various societies and cultures.


Melville frames the whale in a more artistic-historical context in this chapter, in which he attempts to show that scenes of whales are prevalent throughout all societies and are a unifying theme throughout all cultures. Once again this intends to make the quest against Moby Dick a more universal voyage, specific not simply to the crew of the Pequod but to all persons.

Chapter Fifty-Eight: Brit:

The Pequod comes across vast meadows of brit, the minute, yellow substance upon which the Right Whale primarily feeds. The Pequod comes across great numbers of Right Whales who are safe from attack from a Sperm Whaler like the Pequod. The sound of the Right Whales reminds Ishmael of mowers.


In this chapter, Melville includes more information concerning the details of the whaling industry. This chapter serves simply as details, with no particular relevance to the narrative of the novel.

Chapter Fifty-Nine: Squid:

One morning Daggoo spots a white mass in the distance, and he calls out that he sees the White Whale. Ahab orders the boats to the water, where they find not Moby Dick but a vast pulpy mass. It is a great live Squid, which Starbuck finds a greater danger than Moby Dick, for according to legend few whale-ships ever see one and return safely to port.


Melville continues to build the tension concerning the arrival of Moby Dick, in which the crew thinks that the long-awaited whale has finally made an appearance. However, Melville diffuses this tension and delays the arrival of the whale once again. Nevertheless, this chapter is significant for building the ominous atmosphere surrounding the voyage of the Pequod. The live squid is an ill-omen, a harbinger foreboding doom for the Pequod. This provides a contrast to the information of chapter fifty-four, in which the survival of Ishmael becomes assured, showing that danger is still imminent for the crew of the Pequod.

Chapter Sixty: The Line:

The whale-line, which will shortly become important in a whaling scene to be described, is Manilla rope and not hemp, for it is stronger, softer and more elastic. The whale line folds the whole boat in its coils, and all the oarsmen on a boat are involved in its perilous contortions. According to Ishmael, all men live enveloped in whale-lines, born with halters round their necks, but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death that mortals realize the silent, subtle perils of life.


Once again, Melville devotes a chapter to the minutiae of the whaling industry, but in this case he extends his description of the whale line to its more metaphorical implications. Ishmael compares the whale line to a noose, and in turn compares this noose to the mortality of all humans. Once again, this metaphor takes on sinister implications, a reminder of impending death and destruction that may come at any moment.