Friday, April 15, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

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 states two unwritten but generally agreed-upon laws which govern the whaling industry, which are as follows:

1.) A "Fast-Fish" belongs to the party fast to it.  (In other words, a captured whale belongs to the boat who caught it).

2.) A "Loose-Fish" is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.  (In other words, an uncaught whale is fair game.)

Basically, possession is the foundation of these laws, often without regard to how a person, or group, came into possession of it.  In these simple laws of whaling, Ishmael sees the basic foundation of how humans, nations, and societies have treated/exploited one another throughout history.  Here are a few examples:

1.) For landlords, their renters’ money is a “Fast-Fish” (caught).

2.) For predatory lenders and bankers, those who lose their homes are “Fast-Fish” (caught).

3.) For the wealthy archbishop, his poor parishioners are “Fast-Fish” (caught).

4.) For England, all of Ireland is a “Fast-Fish” (caught).


1.) For Columbus in 1492, America was a “Loose-Fish” (fair game).

2.) For the Czar of Russia in the 19th century, Poland was a “Loose-Fish” (fair game).

3.) Before it became their colony, India was a “Loose-Fish” to England (fair game).

4.) After the Mexican-American War, Mexico was viewed as a “Loose-Fish by the United States (fair game).

There is a rising anger/outrage in Ishmael’s tone, suggesting that brute laws of “possession,” not true justice, have governed human power relationships throughout history.  The chapter concludes with these interesting thoughts: “What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish?  What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish?…What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish?  And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?

For Columbus, the Americas were a "Loose-Fish" (fair game).

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