Pip, the Pequod’s cabin boy, is drafted to be a replacement oarsman in Stubb’s harpoon boat. Having performed passably the first time out, Pip goes out in the harpoon boat a second time. This time, however, he jumps from the boat in fear when the whale raps the bottom of the boat beneath his seat. Pip’s boatmates become angry when they have to cut the whale loose in order to save Pip after he gets tangled in the lines. Stubb tells him never to jump out of the boat again, threatening not to pick him up next time. But Pip does jump again, and to teach him a lesson, Stubb leaves him alone in the middle of the sea’s “heartless immensity.” This experience drives him mad, at least insofar as his shipmates can observe. Ishmael, on the other hand, declares that the experience endows Pip with divine wisdom.
Because the spermaceti taken from a whale’s head quickly cools into lumps, the sailors have to squeeze it back into liquid. Ishmael is carried away with enthusiasm for the “sweet and unctuous” sperm. He squeezes all morning long, sentimentally describing his physical contact with the other sailors, whose hands he unintentionally gropes in the vat of sperm. He also describes some of the other tissues of the whale from which oil is derived. He gives a brief glimpse into the ship’s “blubber-room,” where the blubber is cut into sections and prepared for rendering. The blubber-room is a dark and dangerous place: the blubber-men frequently lose toes to the sharp spades used to cut the blubber.
Ishmael describes the other parts of the whale, including the penis, euphemistically named the “cassock.” He blasphemously likens the whale’s organ to the dress of clergymen because it has some pagan mysticism attached to it. It also serves a practical purpose on the ship: the mincer wears the black “pelt” of skin from the penis to protect himself while he slices the pieces of blubber for the pots.
[E]ven in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
Ishmael attempts to explain the try-works, a set of pots and furnaces that boil the blubber and derive all the oil from it. He associates the try-works with darkness and a sense of exotic evil: it has “an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres.” Furthermore, the pagan harpooners tend it. Ishmael comments that the hellish red fires of the try-works, combined with the black sea and the dark night, so disorient him that he loses his sense of himself at the tiller. Everything becomes “inverted,” he says, and suddenly there is “no compass before me to steer by.”
Whalemen are always in the light, Ishmael explains, because their job is to collect oil from the seas. These men have free access to the oil, and each keeps a collection of lamps in his bunk. The interior of the ship is illuminated like a temple.
Ishmael completes his description of how whale oil is processed. The oil is put in casks and the ship is cleaned. Here he dismisses another myth about whaling, asserting that whalers are not inherently dirty. Sperm whale oil, in fact, is a fine cleaning agent. Ishmael must admit, however, that whalers are clean for barely a day when the next whale is sighted and the cycle begins again.
Probably the best book ever written.Profound psychological insights into human behaviour .
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Frankly, I find Moby Dick to be a very enigmatic story, but it was required reading for my college degree and I am still trying to understand the importance of this novel.
A man obsessed with a white whale must be a metaphor for man's quest, but it is still puzzling to me.
I am hoping to Spark Notes can consolidate and distill the message, but life always has more pressing matters for me to attend to than deciphering old texts.
Can anyone tell me why this enduring novel is important - in 25 words or less?