Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 22–31
Summary

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas

Pequod leaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day. Peleg and Bildad pilot the ship out of the port. Captain Ahab is still not seen on the deck. Ishmael finds the start of the journey a little disconcerting and is thinking over it when he gets a kick and a scolding from Peleg. Pequod is soon clear of the harbor and into the open ocean. The owners take a small boat back to shore as the whaling ship “plunges like fate into the lone Atlantic".

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

The narrator paints a brief portrait of Bulkington, a sailor whom he first meets in New Bedford. Ishmael watches Bulkington steer the Pequod and thinks of him as a restless pioneer who is destined to die at sea. This kind of death is infinitely preferable to Ishmael rather than fading away in cowardice. He imagines himself addressing to Bulkington and proclaiming that the death at sea will transform him into a god.

Chapter 24: The Advocate

Ishmael proceeds to stand up for the whaling profession, terming it heroic, financially critical, and has widened geographical knowledge. He argues in the favor of the dignity of whalers by pointing to the involvement of noble families in the industry. He mentions the fact that the Bible and other books mention whales, and to the fact that Cetus, a whale, is a constellation in the southern sky. Ishmael winds up the topic by declaring that anything worthwhile that he might accomplish can be credited to his time spent on whaling, his “Yale College” or his “Harvard.”

Chapter 25: Postscript

Ishmael tops up the “facts” of previous chapter with some speculation in this chapter. He reminds the reader that sperm whale oil is used in the coronation of royalty and suggests that sperm oil is used because it is the best, purest, and the sweetest of all oils.

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

In the first of the two chapters titled 'Knights and Squires', Ishmael introduces the first mate, Starbuck, a pragmatic and reliable Nantucketer.

Starbuck believes that it is rational and necessary to fear whales. It is his reverence for nature that inclines him toward this superstition. He is characterized as “careful” in nature by other officers on the Pequod, although this term is relative when used to describe a whaler. Speaking about Starbuck, Ishmael reflects upon the dignity of a working man. He sees God in even the “meanest mariners” and admits that he will ignore people’s follies to emphasize their “democratic dignity.”

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

This chapter gives an introduction about the rest of Pequod’s officers. The pipe-smoking second mate, Stubb, a native of Cape Cod, is always cool under pressure and has “impious good humor". The third mate, Flask, a native of Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, is a short, stocky fellow with a confrontational attitude and no reverence for the dignity of whale. He is nicknamed 'King-Post' because he resembles the short, square timber known by that name in Arctic whalers. All of them command one of the small harpoon boats that are sent out after whales. Each one has a “squire” to assist as his harpooner: Queequeg is Starbuck’s harpooner; Tashtego, “an unmixed Indian from Gay Head” on Martha’s Vineyard, is Stubb’s harpooner; and Daggoo, “a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage” from Africa with an imperial bearing, is Flask’s assistant.

Ishmael realises that very few whalers are American-born except the officers, who are almost always American: “the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world supplies the muscles.” The rest of the crew is also international. But, Ishmael says, all of these “isolatoes” are “federated along one keel” and unified by their comradeship at sea and shared danger. Ishmael also mentions Pip, a poor black boy from Alabama who beats a tambourine on ship.

Chapter 28: Ahab

As the Pequod bashes on further south and the weather improves, Ahab finally appears on the deck. Ishmael observes him minutely: He a strong, willful figure but his encounter with Moby Dick has scarred him both physically and mentally. Captain Ahab is marked with a white scar on one side of his face that looks like a lightning strike. Old-timers say that the scar appeared suddenly during some “elemental strife at sea". Ahab stands watch with his false leg, carved from a whale’s jaw, and set into a hole bored into the deck.

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; To Him, Stubb

Ahab does seem a bit psychologically distressed. He is a total dictator on board who is restless and keeps pacing the deck. The striking of his peg leg on the wood can be heard from any corner of the ship. When Stubb complains about Ahab’s pacing, Ahab calls him a dog and charges towards him, Stubb finally has to retreat. As the stage-direction title implies, this chapter is short and dramatic.

Chapter 30: The Pipe

On the ship Ahab realises that smoking a pipe no longer soothes him and that the sereneness of the activity does not suit his agitated, willful state of mind. He throws his pipe overboard and resumes pacing the ship deck.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

The next morning, Stubb tells Flask that he dreamed Ahab kicking him with his ivory leg. An old merman in the dream points out the futility of struggling against Ahab and suggests that it may even be an honor to be kicked by such a man. The title of this chapter, 'Queen Mab', refers to Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in which Mercutio explains how Queen Mab, a fairy, brings dreams to sleepers. As Stubb finishes narrating his dream, Ahab shouts at the crew to be on the lookout for whales. Pequod’s work as a whaling vessel has begun.

Analysis

Chapters 22-31 introduce more characters on the ship and open up about the onboard dynamics. The varied nature of the crew, comprising men from various countries, does not hinder in the ship's functioning. There is a sense of harmony on Pequod and it is in quite contrast to racially divided 19th century society of America. The leadership structure of the ship is, however, divided by color: the officers are white and the sailors are from the South Sea Islands, Gay Head, Africa and other corners of the globe. Ishmael’s casual remark that Americans provide the brains and the rest of the world the muscle in this particular case and many others reveals his belief in such an arrangement. Critic Alan Heimert believes that the pairing of mates and harpooners mirrors the relationships of oppression in the 19th century. Starbuck represents New England and, just as this region depends on the Chinese/South Sea trade, he depends on Queequeg. Stubb comes from the American West, and his power derives from his subordination of the Native American Indian, Tashtego. Flask is from the South and both controls and depends upon the African, Daggoo. While these pairings reflect overall social structures, they also involve relationships that are much more complicated and interdependent than just master-slave or boss-worker exchanges. Pequod relies on cooperation for success in catching whales and for mere survival at sea. Men, after all, are assessed according to their skill rather than the race. Throughout the novel, Melville explores the development of an alternative, more egalitarian social system aboard the ship. An irresistibly charismatic Ahab rules the ship with a strong hand. “Moody, stricken Ahab stands before his crew with a crucifixion in his face”. He clearly represents a force that can not be subjugated. Obedience is crucial to maintaining onboard discipline and the chain of command. For this reason, captains were allowed and even expected to be tyrants. The suggestion, in Stubb’s dream, that one should consider it a privilege to be abused by Ahab brings down his despotism. It also points to the sailors' grandiose folly in which they will soon find embroiled.

Ishmael’s peculiar style of narration also comes to the fore in these chapters. The chronological, plot-driven story is interspersed with digressions, character sketches and rhetorical exercises. Chapter 29, especially, is worth mentioning as the action is presented like the scenes in a play. Ishmael often uses foreboding language and employs foreshadowing to indicate upcoming trouble. Pequod “plunges like fate”, Ahab has a “crucifixion in his face” and Stubb speaks of something strange going on in the hold. The events that unfold in the story are meant to seem like pushing Ahab toward his destiny. The story is narrated in such a way that everything appears as a natural consequence of his megalomaniacal behavior. Ishmael builds his narrative to suggest and anticipate rather than to create the effect of surprise.

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