Saturday, March 26, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 81: The Pequod Meets the Virgin

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.

Sailing on, the Pequod encountered a German whaling ship called the Jungfrau, or Virgin.  These Germans, being less-experienced whalers, had run out of oil for their lamps, so the Pequod gave them some oil to tide them over until they captured a whale or reached a port.  While doing this, however, a pod of Sperm Whales was seen nearby, so both ships lowered their harpoon boats and gave chase.  It was a kind of international whaling competition—Americans vs. Germans!

Trailing behind the other whales in the pod was an old, slow one with a deformed (or perhaps maimed) fin, which greatly impeded it’s swimming abilities.  The Pequod’s boats succeeded in harpooning the whale before the Germans.  The sight of this skewered, disabled whale, inspired a kind of pathos in Ishmael, who mused, “The bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was chained up and enchanted in him; he had not voice, save that choking respiration through his spiracle, and this made the sight of him unspeakably pitiable.”

Adding insult to injury, when the Pequod’s crew fastened the whale to the side of the ship, its great bulk was too heavy, so the sailors had to let him go, and sink needlessly to his death.  Thus, a poor, disabled whale was killed for no reason.  Ishmael comments with bitter irony on this whale’s cruel death: “But pity there was none.  For all his old age and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness to all.”  The sad truth of this whole whaling business was that human society depended upon the mass murder of these amazing creatures of the sea.

1 comment:

  1. I have been reading Moby Dick and found your blog very helpful. I just made it to Chapter 82 and realized you are also at the same part of the book! Ha! Thanks!