Moby Dick

Moby Dick Summary and Analysis of Chapters 61-80

Chapter Sixty-One: Stubb Kills a Whale:

To Queequeg, seeing the squid produces a different response; he thinks that it is a harbinger that a sperm whale is nearby. Ishmael spots a gigantic Sperm Whale rolling in the water. Ahab orders the boats out, and the whale becomes aware of his pursuers. Stubb strikes the whale with his harpoon; the whale rolls around in blood and finally dies.


After the dire superstition of seeing the whale, Melville allows Queequeg to voice a different and more rational perspective; his optimism concerning the whale is based on greater scientific and experiential foundations than Starbuck's dire prophecies. Also, this chapter returns to the main action of the novel, once again demonstrating Stubb's competence in his craft despite lacking the gravity and serious manner of his counterparts.

Chapter Sixty-Two: The Dart:

It takes a strong, nervous arm to strike the first iron into the fish, for it takes incredible rowing to reach the whale. If the dart is to be successful, then at the critical instant when the whale starts to run, the harpooner and boat-header must start running to the jeopardy of themselves and everyone else. Ishmael finds this foolish and unnecessary.


After the work of killing the whale is done, Melville backtracks in order to describe, in detail, what has occurred. While not particularly significant in itself, this chapter serves Melville's narrative technique; it enlarges the perspective of the previous chapter and allows a less cluttered narrative push to describe the events of the previous chapter. In essence, Melville breaks down the events chapter sixty-one into the smallest detail in order to show the danger and adversity that the crew of the Pequod faces.

Chapter Sixty-Three: The Crotch:

The crotch of the boat is a notched stick of a peculiar form, two feet in length, perpendicularly inserted two feet in length near the bow to furnish a place for the harpoon.


This chapter describes yet another additional detail of the process of whaling.

Chapter Sixty-Four: Stubb's Supper:

The three boats begin to tow the whale to the Pequod. The task takes hours, for the whale seems hardly to budge at all. Captain Ahab seems to be somewhat dissatisfied, as if the sight of the dead whale reminded him that Moby Dick is still alive and no matter how many whales were brought to the ship, he would not be satisfied until he found that one. Stubb feels a sense of good-natured excitement. About midnight the steak of the whale is cut and cooked. Stubb believes that the steak is overdone, and he orders the cook, Fleece, to make the crew behave more politely. Stubb questions Fleece about his origin, and he claims Roanoke country. He asks Fleece where he expects to go when he dies. Fleece says that he will go 'up there,' but Stubb tells him that he cannot expect to get into heaven by going the wrong way (he uses the metaphor of 'going to the main-top' of the ship to mean 'going to heaven').


Melville imbues even the simple conversations among the crew members with religious connotations, in this chapter demonstrated by the banter between Stubb and Fleece concerning where Fleece will go once he dies. This continues the dominant themes of the novel, including mortality and the use of the whale ship as a symbol of larger human experience.

Along with Queequeg, Melville holds Stubb as a model for human behavior. Melville clearly relishes Stubb's good humor and flamboyance, which enhance his demonstrated competence as a whaler. He has a boisterous attitude that Melville portrays as endearing, as compared to the dour gravity of Ahab. For Melville, Ahab's tale is one of tragedy, while Stubb stands as his direct contrast, a man who is not consumed by the same demons that afflict Ahab.

Chapter Sixty-Five: The Whale as a Dish:

Three centuries ago the tongue of the Right Whale was esteemed a great delicacy in France, and commanded large prices there. Among his hunters at least, the whale would be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him. The exceeding richness of the whale depreciates it as a civilized dish; it is too fat to be delicately good.


Once again, Melville interrupts the narrative to exalt the whale as a delicacy fit for elite consumption. However, Ishmael strains to justify the whale as a dish for the aristocracy, admitting that the sheer bulk of the whale resists its acceptance as a delicacy.

Chapter Sixty-Six: The Shark Massacre:

When a captured Sperm Whale is brought alongside a ship late at night, it is not customary to proceed at once to cut him in, for the business is laborious, but sometimes this plan will not do because the incalculable hosts of sharks gather around the carcass. The sharks begin to attack the whale that the Pequod has killed, and Queequeg nearly loses his hand while fending them off.


Continuing the descriptions of previous chapters, Melville adds greater information concerning the process of whaling and the dangers that it provides for the crew of the whale ship, such as Queequeg, who is nearly severely injured by sharks.

Chapter Sixty-Seven: Cutting In:

Starbuck and Stubb cut a hole in the whale's body for the insertion of a hook just above the nearest of the two side-fins, and the crew heaves the whale up, nearly toppling the ship. There is considerable friction during this event.


The dominant element of this chapter is the bulk of the whale. Melville creates a vivid portrait of the massive size of the whale in relation to the ship. The corpse of the whale nearly topples the Pequod as the workers attempt to cut into it; Melville thus allows the reader to infer the damage that a living whale could do to a ship.

Chapter Sixty-Eight: The Blanket:

The visible surface of the Sperm Whale is not the least among the many marvels he presents. Almost invariably it is all over obliquely crossed and re-crossed with numberless straight marks in thick array. The whale is wrapped in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane, or like an Indian poncho slipped over his head and skirting his extremity. Ishmael compares the construction of the whale to the construction of the dome of St. Peter's cathedral.


The central point of this chapter is the idea that the whale's skin serves as a blanket; Melville therefore constructs the idea that the whale's skin serves as a mask and protection for the whale, hiding some inherent part of the whale. This returns to a dominant theme of the novel, the inscrutability and inability to essentially define the whale. While Melville through Ishmael can describe every detail of the whale and exalt the whale, even comparing it to St. Peter's Basilica, Melville cannot definitively grasp the implications of the whale. This allows the whale in general and specifically Moby Dick to defy any easy interpretation.

Chapter Sixty-Nine: The Funeral:

The white body of the beheaded whale flashes like a marble sepulcher; it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk, and is still colossal. The remains float away as sharks gnaw at it. Ishmael calls it a "most doleful and most mocking funeral." While in life "the great whale's body may have become a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to the world."


The funereal tone that pervades Moby Dick becomes literal during this chapter, in which Ishmael laments the death of the whale. The funeral for this whale, however, has larger implications; while previous chapters have focused on the power and strength of the whale, this one reverses the trend to show that this formidability is entirely ephemeral. This can apply to Moby Dick, but also equally if not more so to the human crew of the Pequod, most significantly Ahab. Melville foreshadows a tragic end to this fearsome character, whose power and threatening manner will certainly have a dire end.

Chapter Seventy: The Sphynx:

The beheading of the Sperm Whale is an anatomical feat upon which experienced whale surgeons pride themselves, for the whale has nothing that can be properly called a neck and the surgeon must operate from above, some ten feet between him and the whale. The Pequod's whale's head was hoisted against the ship's side about half way out of the sea and strained the craft. Ahab watches the head and says "speak thou vast and venerable head which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses . . . thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine."


Although Melville concentrates on the minutiae of the beheading of the Sperm Whale in this chapter, it is the coda to this chapter in which Ahab watches the head that endows this chapter with its significance. Ahab's 'conversation' with the whale's head sharply demonstrates the growing insanity within Ahab, who speaks to the whale's corpse with utter conviction. Yet as well as showing Ahab's dementia, the tone of the conversation returns to the Christian symbolism that permeates the novel, as Ahab references Abraham and speaks in a language reserved for florid religious occasions. By invoking the whale to speak, Ahab asks it to define itself and give itself the symbolic interpretations for which Melville has searched, yet the whale's head obviously remains silent, unable to give Ahab that for which he asks.

Chapter Seventy-One: The Jeroboam's Story:

The Pequod comes upon the Jeroboam of Nantucket. The Jeroboam had a contagious epidemic on board, and Mayhew, her captain, fears infecting the Pequod's company. The two ships nevertheless find a way to communicate with one another. Stubb tells a story about the Jeroboam: There is a Shaker on the Jeroboam who had been a great prophet before leaving for Nantucket. Upon leaving Nantucket at sea, the Shaker announced himself as the archangel Gabriel and commanded the captain to jump overboard. Gabriel declared himself deliverer of the isles of the sea. The crew of the Jeroboam staged a mutiny to prevent maltreatment of Gabriel and became obedient to him.

Ahab tells Mayhew that he does not fear their epidemic and asks Mayhew to come aboard. Gabriel objects, but Ahab simply wants to know about Moby Dick. Mayhew tells a dark story about Moby Dick, despite frequent interruptions from Gabriel, about how the whale killed a member of the Jeroboam's crew, Macey. Ahab gives Mayhew a letter intended for Macey that had been on his boat. Gabriel warns Ahab to "think of the blasphemer's end."


The Jeroboam's story hints at the madness caused by the journeys out to sea while foreshadowing the greater occurrence of erratic and dictatorial behavior by Ahab. The similarities between the Jeroboam and the Pequod are obvious; both contain driven, messianic figures possessed by an utter conviction and a will to find themselves on a superhuman plane. Yet while the crew of the Jeroboam staged a mutiny to save Gabriel, the actions of the Pequod in response to Ahab are less certain.

Melville certainly intends the chapter to demonstrate that Ahab is courting blasphemy through his quest to find Moby Dick and will suffer a tragic end because of his actions. According to Melville, Ahab's actions are an attempt to secure a sense of divinity and an affront to God.

Chapter Seventy-Two: The Monkey-Rope:

Ishmael returns to the description of cutting in and attending to the whale. It is often the case in which a harpooner must remain on the whale until the entire stripping operation is concluded; Ishmael had to hold Queequeg there by a rope comparable to that used by Italian organ-boys holding a dancing ape by a cord. It is a humorously perilous business for both parties. Queequeg remains held by the rope as sharks near him, and Ishmael compares Queequeg's state to that of all whalers.


The special relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg is the focus of this chapter, which finds the two men literally bound together by the monkey-rope. The rope that links Queequeg and Ishmael, however, subverts the normal state of their relationship, for instead of promoting a relatively equal relationship between the two parties, the 'monkey-rope' places Ishmael in control of the submissive Queequeg. However, this dynamic between the two characters does not signal a change in their relationship, but instead serves entirely metaphoric purposes; Queequeg may be dominated by Ishmael during this chapter, but Ishmael and Queequeg are both dominated by Melville's central metaphor, which intends to show the helplessness that whalers suffer with regard to their fate. All whalers are like Queequeg, merely marionettes whose actions are controlled by another.

Chapter Seventy-Three: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him:

Despite the fact that killing Right Whales is not on the Pequod's agenda, there is an announcement that a Right Whale should be captured if the opportunity provides itself, for there are great indications that Right Whales are nearby. Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale, and Stubb wonders why Ahab would want so "ignoble a Leviathan." Flask mentions the prophecy that a ship that has a Sperm Whale's head on one side and a Right Whale's head on the other shall never capsize. Flask heard the rumor from Fedallah, whom Stubb calls "the devil in disguise." They mention the possibility that Ahab has sold his soul or something to Fedallah to catch Moby Dick. They also discuss the possibility that Fedallah wants to kidnap Captain Ahab.


Superstition dominates the voyage of the Pequod, as shown by Ahab's decision to pursue a Right Whale despite its irrelevance to the ship's agenda. In contrast to the Sperm Whale, the Right Whale is considered a lesser creature; it receives none of the exaltation that Ishmael lavishes upon the Sperm Whale, but Ahab pursues it simply out of superstition. This decision serves to show that Ahab is moving closer to a dark and blasphemous side. He takes the advice of Fedallah, whose character represents, as Stubb calls him, the devil in disguise. Melville uses this chapter to indicate that, in some sense, Ahab has sold his soul to Satan through a compact with Fedallah and in fact through his mission against Moby Dick altogether, thus corroborating accusations of blasphemy that have permeated the novel.

Chapter Seventy-Four: The Sperm Whale's Head ­ Contrasted View:

Ishmael contrasts the Sperm Whale's Head with the Right Whale's, finding the immense superiority of the Sperm Whale in dignity. Ishmael notes how such a vast creature can see the world through so small an eye and hear the thunder through an ear smaller than a hare's.


Melville, through Ishmael, continues to exalt the superiority of the Sperm Whale, this time in contrast with the Right Whale. This chapter becomes significant only in relation to the next chapter, which disparages the Right Whale.

Chapter Seventy-Five: The Right Whale's Head ­ Contrasted View:

While the Sperm Whale's head may be compared to a Roman war-chariot, the Right Whale's head bears a resemblance to a gigantic shoe. The unfortunate whale that the Pequod kills is hare-lipped, with a fissure about a foot across. In the Right Whale there is no great well of sperm, no ivory teeth, no long, slender mandible of a lower jaw. In the Sperm Whale there are no blinds of bone, huge lower lip, and scarcely any tongue.


This chapter continues the comparison of the previous chapter, moving from the grandeur of the head of the Sperm Whale to the embarrassing, coarse appearance of the Right Whale.

Chapter Seventy-Six: The Battering Ram:

In the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale, the front of the head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the water, with essentially no organs or tender prominence. This whole enormous boneless mass is as one wad, comparable to a battering ram.


This chapter gives additional information on the Sperm Whale that serves primarily as preparation for the conflict between the Pequod and Moby Dick. Through Ishmael, Melville describes the means by which the Sperm Whale may attack the Pequod, foreshadowing the battle that will be the climax of the novel.

Chapter Seventy-Seven: The Great Heidelburgh Tun:

The upper part of the Sperm Whale cranium, known as the Case, may be regarded as the great Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm Whale, while the lower part, called the junk, is one immense honeycomb of oil. The Tun of the Sperm Whale contains the valuable spermaceti of the whale.


This chapter contains important details about the "Heidelburgh Tun" of the whale, the large reservoir of sperm that gives the whale its value. The facts contained in this chapter reinforce the following chapters, in which the crew drains the sperm from the whale.

Chapter Seventy-Eight: Cistern and Buckets:

Tashtego mounts the case of the Sperm Whale and attempts to tap the Tun. Tashtego is reckless in trying to tap the Tun of the whale, and he falls into the great Tun, clean out of sight. Daggoo holds on to the tackles and Queequeg rescues him.


The ordeal with Tashtego illustrates the omnipresent danger that the whalers face. The danger of whaling does not come merely from the battle with the living whale, but rather causes neverending danger for the whalers, who face mortal peril even when they perform the seemingly mundane tasks of the job.

Chapter Seventy-Nine: The Prairie:

The Sperm Whale is physiognomically an anomalous creature with no proper nose. The full front of the Sperm Whale's head is sublime. Ishmael calls the genius of a Sperm Whale its doing nothing particular to prove its genius, its pyramidical silence.


Once again Melville and Ishmael exalt the Sperm Whale for its ability to resist definition; in its "pyramidical" silence, the whale does nothing to offer itself for interpretation or to prove its genius, but rather stands as a monument to its own greatness. Melville continues to describe the whale as a thing that is unnaturally made, with the comparisons to the pyramids and other constructed objects.

Chapter Eighty: The Nut:

There is no indication of the true brain of the Leviathan. While the brain of the Sperm Whale is small, it is more than compensated for by the comparative magnitude of its spinal cord.


In this chapter, Melville stretches to find a means to praise the Sperm Whale for its brain, which is relatively small in comparison to its massive bulk. This somewhat tests the credibility of Melville's assertions, for he uses the large spinal cord as justification for the minimal brain of the whale.