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.
Ishmael returns to his shipmates, describing the reactions of Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, the Manxman (a sailor from the Isle of Man, off the coast of England), Queequeg, Fedallah, and Pip to the golden coin fixed on the mainmast. The doubloon features a picture of three mountain peaks, one topped by a flame, one by a tower, and one by a rooster. Above the mountains, the sky is divided into a segment of the zodiac, with the sun entering the constellation Libra. Ahab remarks that the round coin is like the world in that man can see himself in it. Starbuck interprets it as a Christian symbol. Stubb, who had thought of the coin only as money to be spent, looks deeper at the doubloon after seeing his two superiors gaze meaningfully at it. Consulting his almanac to identify the zodiacal symbols, Stubb reflects that such books supply only bare facts, whereas people supply the thoughts that make facts meaningful.
He proceeds to interpret the entire zodiac as an allegory for the life of man. Flask sees only the monetary value of the coin and cannot understand what all of the staring has been about. The Manxman concludes that the ship will encounter the White Whale in a month and a day, when the sun is in the section of the zodiac depicted on the coin. Queequeg compares the coin to a tattoo on his leg but says nothing, while Fedallah makes a sign of reverence to the coin, perhaps because he is a sun worshipper. Pip looks last and says, portentously, that the coin is the ship’s “navel”—the thing at the center of the ship that holds it together.
The Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby, a whaling ship from London with a jolly captain and crew. Ahab asks if the other crew has encountered Moby Dick. The captain, named Boomer, has, and he lacks an arm because of it. The two mutilated captains touch their false limbs in a toast. The account of Boomer’s lost arm is gory, but Boomer doesn’t dwell too much on the horrible details, choosing instead to talk about the hot rum toddies that he drank during his recovery. From the little that he says, the Pequod men gather that Boomer was injured by a loose harpoon dangling from a line attached to Moby Dick. His arm was not severed but was amputated when the wound became gangrenous. The ship encountered the White Whale again, but, having learned his lesson, Boomer didn’t try to hunt it a second time. Ahab insists on knowing which way the whale went; the Samuel Enderby’s crew believes him crazy. Refusing the other crew’s hospitality, Ahab abruptly returns to his ship.
Ishmael explains the significance of the name Samuel Enderby: this man fitted the first English sperm whaling ship. Ishmael is careful to point out that Americans had already been sperm-whaling for some time when the English got into the industry. He then offers some of the history behind the Enderby name before telling the story of the particular whaler Samuel Enderby. This and other British ships are well known for their hospitality, particularly in the way of alcoholic beverages.
The chapters in this section present a bewildering array of materials. The section is framed by the stories of Pip and Captain Boomer, each of whom undergoes a trauma at sea and responds to that trauma in his own way. Boomer’s acceptance of his mutilation provides a sharp contrast to Ahab’s furious thirst for vengeance. Indeed, the fellowship and good cheer represented by the Samuel Enderby, as well as its crew’s unwillingness to pursue a hopeless and fatal quest, suggest a much more appealing way of going through life than the monomaniacal pursuit of a single goal represented by Ahab and the Pequod.
The chapters in which Ishmael describes the processing of the whale’s body contribute to the reader’s factual understanding of the ship’s activities and purpose; more important, however, these activities provide the material upon which Ishmael exercises his imaginative and speculative faculties. His rhapsody about the pleasures of kneading the sperm with his fellow sailors is particularly striking, both for its obvious homoeroticism and for the remarkable conclusion that he draws from it. Life experience has gradually taught him that human beings cannot make themselves happy by pursuing vague or abstract goals, that they always have to shift their goals to pursue something concrete: a spouse, the pleasures of bed, the comfort of the fireside, the beauty of the countryside. With this outlook, Ishmael realizes that the pleasures of squeezing sperm with the other sailors are as real and perfect as any happiness in life.
The doubloon chapter makes a number of startling points about how people interpret the world. Ahab asserts that whether they look at a symbol or the entire world, they see a reflection of themselves. His statements that the firm tower, fiery volcano, and courageous fowl are all Ahab is thus self-consciously ironic—he knows that he projects himself onto the symbol. But this realization does not lead Ahab to examine himself critically as he examines the design on the coin. Instead, Ahab seems to conclude that people are simply trapped, unable to see anything but themselves, and thus can never grow or change.
The other sailors’ comments on the coin bear out Ahab’s point. Starbuck sees the coin as an emblem of the world that he sees around him: a vale of death, in which God, represented by the sun, offers a beacon of hope but no certainty. Stubb insightfully points out that human imagination must supply much of the meaning of any symbol, and, on seeing the zodiac apparently for the first time, he constructs a dazzling interpretation of the zodiacal signs as representing the twelve stages of a person’s life. The picture of human life that results is typical of Stubb’s fatalistic yet comical outlook.