Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 66–73

Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre

The crew lashes the sperm whale they have caught to the side of the ship in daylight. But the men are forced to poke with spades or kill the numerous sharks that are trying to feed on the whale carcass. Ishmael says it is unwise “to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures”. In one instance, Queequeg nearly has his hand chopped off by the sharp teeth of one dead shark on the ship.

Chapter 67: Cutting In

This chapter describes the gory business of “cutting-in" or processing the whale. The cutting-in begins by inserting a hook in the whale’s blubber and peeling it off as one might peel off an orange rind in one strip.

Chapter 68: The Blanket

Ishmael describes the whale’s blubber and argues that this strip of flesh, which they are handling, is actually the whale’s skin. A thin and cellophane-like layer may be seen outside the blubber, but this layer is only the outer skin. Ishmael admires the creature for its thick walls. Whale’s body structure and composition allow them to survive without being affected by their environment.

Chapter 69: The Funeral

After the cutting-in is complete, the whale is released for its “funeral", in which vultures and sharks act as mourners. The frightful white carcass floats away, and a “vengeful ghost” hovers over it, deterring other ships from going near it. Often, floating whale corpses are mistaken for rocks and shoals and thus entered on mariners’ charts. By sharing this information, future whalers avoid the area. Even in death, the whale continues to fill terror in human's mind.

Chapter 70: The Sphynx

Ishmael describes the scientific anatomical feat of the whale’s beheading, which occurs before the carcass is released. The whale's head is valuable for its spermaceti from which the finest oil is made. While the crew takes a break for a meal, Ahab talks to the dead whale’s head hanging at the ship’s side, seeking to know the horrors it has seen.

Chapter 71: The Jeroboams Story

While Ahab converses with the whale, another ship, the Jeroboam, sails into sight. An epidemic has broken out aboard her, so her captain doesn’t board the Pequod but comes alongside on a small boat for a chat with Ahab. Stubb recognises one of the oarsmen as a man about whom he has heard from the crew of the Town-Ho during the last gam. This man, who had been a prophet among the Shakers in New York, proclaimed himself the archangel Gabriel on the ship, ordered the captain to jump overboard, and mesmerized the crew. The Jeroboams skipper, Captain Mayhew, wanted to drop Gabriel at the next port but the crew threatened to desert if he was dropped. The sailors aboard the Pequod now see Gabriel in front of them. As Captain Mayhew tells Ahab a story about the White Whale, Gabriel keeps interrupting continuously. According to Mayhew, he and his men first heard about Moby Dick from the crew of another ship. Gabriel then warned against killing it, calling it “the Shaker God incarnated". A year later, they ran into Moby Dick again and the ship’s leaders decided to hunt it. As a mate stood in the ship to throw his lance, the whale flipped the mate into the air and tossed him into the sea. The mate drowned but no one other was harmed. Gabriel had watched this episode from the masthead. The apparent fulfillment of his prophecy has turned the crew members into his disciples. When Ahab confirms that he still intends to hunt the White Whale, Gabriel says, “Think, think of the blasphemer — dead, and down there! — beware of the blasphemer’s end!” Ahab realises that the Pequod is carrying a letter for the dead mate and tries to hand it over to Captain Mayhew on the end of a cutting-spade pole. But, Gabriel grabs it, impales it on the boat-knife, and throws it back to Ahab’s feet as the Jeroboams boat pulls away.

Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope

Ishmael retraces his steps to explain how Queequeg inserts the blubber hook into the whale for the cutting-in. Ishmael, as Queequeg’s bowsman, ties the monkey-rope around his own waist, “wedding” himself to Queequeg, who is on the whale’s floating body trying to attach the hook. In a footnote, we learn that only on the Pequod were the monkey and this holder actually tied together, an improvement introduced by Stubb, who found that it increases the reliability of the holder. While Ishmael holds Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo brandish their whale-spades to keep the sharks away. When steward Dough-Boy gives Queequeg some tepid ginger and water, the mates frown at the influence of pesky Temperance activists. They make the steward bring him alcohol. The remaining ginger, a gift from “Aunt Charity,” a Nantucket matron, is thrown overboard.

Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

The Pequod spots a right whale. Stubb asks Flask what Ahab might want to do with this “lump of foul lard” — right whales were far less valuable than sperm whales. Flask responds that Fedallah believes that a whaling vessel with a sperm whale’s head on her starboard side and a right whale’s head on her larboard will never capsize afterward. Both of them confess that they hate Fedallah and think of him as “the devil in disguise". The right whale’s head is then shifted to the opposite side of the boat from the sperm whale’s head, and to their surprise, the Pequod settles into a fine balance. Ishmael however, notes that the ship would be better off with neither head there. He sees Fedallah standing in Ahab’s shadow and notes that Fedallah’s shadow “seems to blend with and lengthen Ahab’s shadow".


These chapters juxtapose the practical problems of whaling with a set of perceptual problems. The sharks swarming around the boat seem to possess malevolent force even after they are killed. It is common to see whale carcasses getting stuck into ships’ logs as rocks or shoals, creating long-lasting errors. By arguing that the whale’s blubber is its skin, Ishmael, in a way, suggests that any such classification of the whale’s parts must be arbitrary. Such practical problems suggest that mistakes and misreading cannot be avoided altogether. Comparison and approximation are the only means by which things can be described appropriately. Instead of assigning human characteristics to the whale arbitrarily, Ishmael takes features of the creature and presents them as potential models for human life. He admires and envies the whale’s blubber, which insulates and enables it to withstand its environment. He says, “Oh, man! Admire and model thyself after the whale!” However, humans acquiring such an attribute have a metaphorical significance for Ishmael. The idea of “remaining warm among ice” takes him back (Chapter 58) to the image of the soul’s small island of “peace and joy” amid terrorising oceans. With a “rare virtue of a strong individual vitality” the whale lives in a sort of bliss of perfection, self-possession and independence. Ishmael thinks attaining this sort of bliss for humans is next to impossible. These chapters also return to the topic of male bonding and homoeroticism as explored in the early stages of the relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael. The monkey rope — an elongated Siamese ligature — joins the two men as twins. Once again, they are joined in a "wedding” and “should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honor demand... that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag Ishmael down in his wake". This newly-formed bond makes the “till death do us part” clause of the Christian marriage ceremony literal. At this moment, only death can break the bond that binds Ishmael to Queequeg. At sea, their lives depend on each other, thus, the bonds between the two are stronger than the relationship they had back on land. The duo knows that they can trust each other because that trust is tested on a daily basis. This all-male world is more open, more egalitarian, and more loving than the heterosexual world back home. Melville employs the vocabulary of love and marriage, the primary relationships in our society, to describe the bonds between these sailors. He also seems to be suggesting that these at-sea pairings are the models of ideal partnership. The meeting with Jeroboam is one of the most important of the series of visits that Pequod entertains during the voyage. A group of outsiders provides perspective on the actions of Ahab and his crew. The appearance of the crazed prophet Gabriel helps the reader compare Gabriel’s mental state to that of Ahab and Fedallah. Each of these characters claims to possess prophetic knowledge, but each of them may actually be crazy.

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