Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 48–54

Chapter 48: The First Lowering

As the crew launches the harpoon boats for the first time on the voyage, Ahab’s secret crew emerges from the hold and boards the captain’s harpoon boat. Their leader Fedallah is a dark, sinister figure with a Chinese jacket and a turban made from coiling his own hair around his head. There are several more “tiger-yellow... natives of the Manila” who have been hiding in the hold of Pequod. Ishmael remembers the shadowy figures that he saw boarding the ship in Nantucket. Strange noises have been emanating from the hold and captain Ahab’s frequently visits down there. All of it is now explained by the presence of Fedallah and his men. The harpoon boat crew stare at their newly discovered shipmates but Flask tells them to continue doing their jobs and concentrate on hunting. Pequod’s first attack on a pod of whales is unsuccessful. Flask stands on his harpooner Daggoo’s shoulders because he is too short to see otherwise. Queequeg manages to land a harpoon in a whale, but the creature flips the boat. Queequeg’s mates are nearly crushed by the ship as it passes looking for them in mist. Finally, they are pulled aboard.

Chapter 49: The Hyena

Ishmael laughs at the absurdity of the situation in which he finds himself. He has never been on a whale hunt before and is surprised at the dangers associated with an ordinary whale hunt. The Pequod’s mates tell him that they have seen much more dangerous conditions than what Ishmael has just witnessed. Ishmael decides to rewrite his will and asks Queequeg to help him do so. He feels better afterward, and thinks of himself as a man already dead. From now on, the time he lives at sea will be a bonus.

Chapter 50: Ahabs Boat and Crew Fedallah

Ishmael notes that Ahab’s unusual step to have his own harpoon boat and crew is not a typical practice in the whaling industry. Ship captains hardly risk their lives in pursuit of whales, and Ahab’s injury makes it even more surprising. The Pequod’s owners would not have approved of it. Ahab’s secrecy about Fedallah and his plans is even stranger. However strange, “in a whaler, wonders soon wane” because there are so many unconventional sights encountered on a voyage. Whalemen are not easily awestruck but in this case they too find Ahab’s crew bizarre. “That hair-turbaned Fedallah remained a muffled mystery to the last”, Ishmael says that there is something demoniacal about the man.

Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

Looking down from the masthead one night, Fedallah thinks that he sees a whale spouting. The ship tries to follow it but the whale is not seen again. Mysteriously, a similar spout is seen each night from then on. Ishmael calls it a “spirit-spout” because it seems to be a phantom leading them on. Some think it might be Moby Dick leading the ship toward its destruction. Pequod sails around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, a particularly treacherous passage. In tough time, Ahab commands the deck robustly and, even when he is down in the cabin, keeps his eye on the cabin compass. Caught between the phantom spout and the dangerous passage, the men resign themselves to being “practical fatalists.”

Chapter 52: The Albatross

Soon, the men see a ship called the Goney, or Albatross. It has a “spectral appearance” and the vessel has been at sea for four years. As the two ships pass by, Ahab asks this ship’s crew if they have seen Moby Dick. The other captain tries to respond but a gust of wind blows the speaking trumpet from his mouth. The schools of fish that have been following Pequod turn to follow the Albatross, which saddens Ahab. The Pequod continues its journey “around the world”, and Ishmael gets a feeling that this grand-sounding expedition is going in circles.

Chapter 53: The Gam

Ishmael then proceeds to explain why the Pequod and the Albatross did not have a “gam". He defines a gam as “[a] social meeting of two (or more) Whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boatscrews: the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other". During a gam, two ships exchange reading material, letters and their relative successes. Ahab, however, is interested in gams only with those ships whose captains have information about Moby Dick.

Chapter 54: The Town-Hos Story (As told at the Golden Inn.)

In this chapter, Ishmael narrates a story about another ship, the Town-Ho. It was originally told to Tashtego during a gam between the Town-Ho and the Pequod. At the beginning of the chapter, Ishmael announces that he is telling the reader the version that he once told to his Spanish friends in Lima. The story is about Radney, a mate from Martha’s Vineyard, and Steelkilt, a sailor from Buffalo. They have a conflict on board the Town-Ho, a sperm whale ship from Nantucket. Steelkilt revolts against Radney’s authority, attacks him after being provoked, and leads a mutiny. The mutineers are captured, assaulted and released. But, Steelkilt wants revenge against Radney, who flogged him. The Town-Ho encounters Moby Dick before Steelkilt can murder Radney. In trying to harpoon the whale, Radney falls out of the boat. Moby Dick holds him in its jaws. Ishmael’s Peruvian listeners have a hard time believing the story but he swears on Bible that he is telling the truth and claims to have met and spoken with Steelkilt.


After the appearance of Fedallah on Pequod the whole dynamics of the ship change. Fedallah is an anomaly even in the culturally diverse whaling industry and Ishmael describes him as a “muffled mystery to the last".

Early in the novel, when Ishmael sees Fedallah and the others slipping into the ship — Elijah ominously alludes to them — it seems as if Pequod has been taken over by ghosts or devils. Now Ishmael realises that they are quite real, although they remain mysterious and aloof. Their relationship with Ahab is also not very clear. Throughout the narrative, the reader is kept in the dark about the distinction between the real and the supernatural. One reason for it is Ahab's exploitation of mystery and superstition for his own ends. The concept of fate serves Ahab’s purposes well. He convinces the crew in accepting that the hunt for the White Whale is their destiny.

The belief in the inevitability of fate (fatalism) is a perverse comfort to the sailors. It helps them keep aside their fears during danger. They believe that their future has already been determined by an external force. However, this supposed comfort is not enough for the sailors as they are always looking for signs of their fate. The phantom spout, the fish that turn away from the Pequod to follow the Albatross and the death of Radney in the Town-Ho Story all foretell a fatal end to the Pequod’s quest. Acknowledging these signs and accepting the extraordinary dangers of whaling brings a sense of relief to Ishmael. His belief in a predetermined fate lets him appreciate the present and he thinks of each new day as a gift. Unlike his crew, Ahab sees fate not as an externally determined destiny but as a way to justify his own wicked actions. He misuses the idea of fate to goad his crew and actively tries to determine his own fate. Moby Dick will not find Ahab, rather, it is Ahab who must find Moby Dick out. For Ahab, fate is a ruse that allows him to pursue his revenge. What he calls fate is actually the result of deliberately planned action. The two gams in this section are the first in a series of sub-stories that come out of encounters with other ships. The gams show Ahab’s unhealthy obsession by reminding the reader that other men have also had dangerous encounters with Moby Dick but they have moved on in life. Ahab is the only one reacting irrationally to the experience. Gams are the normal social order of the seafaring world but Ahab’s unwillingness to participate in them shows his eccentricity. He is interested in them only when he gets information that is relevant to him. The narrative uses gams to give a complete picture of the maritime community. In these social meetings stories are exchanged, legends grow, and the social codes of the sailors are put on display.

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