The somber Pequod, still on the lookout for Moby Dick, encounters the Bachelor, a festive Nantucket whaler on its way home with a full cargo. The captain of the Bachelor, saying that he has heard stories of the White Whale but doesn’t believe them, invites Ahab and the crew to join his party. Ahab declines, and the two ships go their separate ways as Ahab contemplates a vial of Nantucket sand that he has been carrying in his pocket.
The next day, the Pequod kills several whales, and the way that one dying whale turns toward the sun inspires Ahab to speak to it in wondrous tones. He notes that the whale, like man, worships the sun’s warmth. Ahab then hails the sea, calling its waves his “foster-brothers.”
While keeping a night vigil over a whale that was too far away to take back to the ship immediately, Ahab hears from Fedallah the prophecy of his death. Before Ahab can die, he must see two hearses, one “not made by mortal hands” and one made of wood from America. Since it is unlikely that a hearse would be seen at sea, Ahab believes that he will not be killed on this voyage. Fedallah also tells him that he, Fedallah, will die before Ahab, and that only hemp can kill the captain. Ahab takes the latter prophecy to mean that he will be hanged, and again thinks his death unlikely to happen at sea.
Back on the ship, Ahab holds up a quadrant, an instrument that gauges the position of the sun, to determine the ship’s latitude. Deciding that it doesn’t give him the information that he wants, he tramples it underfoot. He orders the ship to change direction. Starbuck finds Ahab’s ambitions petty and thinks that his behavior will end in mediocrity and failure. Stubb, on the other hand, respects Ahab for his willingness to “live in the game, and die in it!”
The next day, the Pequod is caught in a typhoon, and one of the harpoon boats is destroyed. The weird weather makes white flames appear at the top of the three masts, but Ahab refuses to let the crew put up lightning rods to draw away the danger. While Ahab marvels at the ship’s three masts lit up like three spermaceti candles, hailing them as good omens and signs of his own power, Starbuck sees them as a warning against continuing the quest for Moby Dick. When Starbuck sees Ahab’s harpoon also flickering with fire, he interprets it as a sign that God opposes Ahab. Ahab, however, grasps the harpoon and says, in front of a frightened crew, that there is nothing to fear in the enterprise that binds them all together. He blows out the flame to “blow out the last fear.”
In the next chapter, Starbuck questions Ahab’s judgment again, this time concerning the sails during the storm. Starbuck wants to take one of them down, but Ahab says that they should just lash it tighter. He complains that his first mate seems to think him incompetent.
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?