Saturday, January 23, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 45: The Affidavit

The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.

The word “affidavit” is defined as “a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation, for use as evidence in court.”  In this chapter, Melville gives examples/evidence of other famous/monstrous whales throughout history, plus examples of real ships that have been sunk by whales.  He does this to show that his tale is factually plausible and not “a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.”  This is kind of funny because readers throughout history have seen Moby Dick as a fable or allegory, despite the author’s claims to the contrary.

As for famous/monstrous whales, Melville lists a few, which tend to be named after the regions of the world where they came from: Timor Jack, New Zealand Tom, Morquan King of Japan, and Don Miguel (from Chile).  Melville adds that the sailors who’ve died at the fins of these whales often get no obituary because they died at sea, and no one was there to record their deaths.  He adds, “For God’s sake, be economical with your lamps and candles!  Not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man’s blood was spilled for it.”

And then Melville lists a few ships that have been sunk by whale attack, the most famous of which was the Essex (sunk in 1820).  From this tragedy, a few men managed to survive: Captain Pollard, and the chief mate Owen Chase.  The harrowing true story of the whaleship Essex was made into a book called In the Heart of the Sea.  More recently, it was made into a movie directed by Ron Howard.  The sinking of the Essex is often cited as the main inspiration for Melville’s novel.

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