Sunday, February 28, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 68: The Blanket

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.

In this chapter, Ishmael describes the skin and blubber of the whale.  The “skin” is very thin and transparent.  The blubber, right below the skin, the stuff from which whale oil is derived, is thick and envelops the creature’s whole body, like a blanket.  The whale’s skin is often marked with strange etchings resembling hieroglyphs.  Ishmael writes, “By my retentive memory of the hieroglyphs upon one sperm whale in particular, I was much struck with a plate resembling the old Indian characters chiseled on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the Upper Mississippi: Like those mystic rocks, too, the mystic-marked whale remains undecipherable.”

Ishmael ponders the importance of the whale’s “blanket” of blubber.  Because whales are warm-blooded mammals (like humans), the blubber is necessary for survival in the cold climates of arctic seas.  Ishmael sees, in this, a kind of metaphor for humans: “It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness.  Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale!  Do thou, too, remain warm among ice.  Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.  Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole.  Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”

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