Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Moby-Dick Ch. 48: The First Lowering

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.

This is probably the most action-packed chapter so far.  Having spotted their first whales, the crew of the Pequod springs into action.  Captain Ahab and each of the three chief mates (Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask) descend into the ocean in smaller boats, each with its own harpooner, to give more immediate chase.  Ahab shocks everyone because the crew of his smaller boat is a group of mysterious, foreign-looking stowaways whom no one has seen yet.  The leader of these strange fellows, Ahab’s personal harpooner, is a tall, turbaned fellow named Fedallah.

The crew of the Pequod is temporarily distracted from their whale-chase by the shocking appearance of Ahab’s mysterious mates.  But, quickly enough, the four smaller boats descend into the sea to give chase and hopefully kill a whale.  Each of the chief mates shouts commands at the crew of his smaller boat, urging them to row with all their might.  Ahab’s commands to his crew of mysterious strangers are too disturbing for Ishmael to relate.  He writes:  “But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his—these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land.  Only the infidel sharks in the audacious seas may give ear to such words, when, with tornado brow, and eyes of red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after his prey.”

As the boats are giving chase to the whales, a mighty mist and white squall suddenly descends upon everything.  The Pequod is so violently tossed that many crew members are hurled into the sea, including Ishmael.  For a time, no one can see anything.  It’s really scary—this could be the end of their whole endeavor.  Starbuck, in his small boat, hands a lamp to his harpooneer Queequeg.  Melville writes:  “There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness.  There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.”  Finally, the squall lifts, and everyone, amazingly, makes to back to the Pequod, safe and sound.  It was a close call, and they had not captured the whale.

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