Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
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Chapter 82–92

Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling

Ishmael turns his gaze to the heroic history of whaling. He draws from Greek mythology, popular British legend, the Judeo-Christian Bible and Hindu mythology: Perseus, Jonah, St. George, Hercules and Vishnu can all be considered whalemen based on the stories told about their exploits.

Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

Ishmael discusses the Jonah story which has underlined the novel ever since the extracts and Father Mapple’s sermon in New Bedford. An old Sag Harbor questions the tale based on his personal experience. Sag Harbor, as Ishmael calls him, does not believe that a whale of the kind described in the Bible could swallow a man. He thinks that a whale’s gastric juices would not allow a man to survive in the whale’s stomach. Ishmael also shows various theologians’ old responses to such practical questions.

Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

The narrator describes the process of lubricating a harpoon boat’s underside to ramp up speed. He discloses that Queequeg is doing it carefully, possibly with awareness that Pequod will sight whales later in the day. Stubb, meanwhile, harpoons a fast and unrelenting whale. To capture it quickly, he must 'pitchpole' it by throwing a long lance from the shaking boat to secure the escaping whale. Stubb’s lance hits on target and the whale spouts blood.

Chapter 85: The Fountain

Ishmael tries to discuss the phenomenon of spouting in whales with scientific precision. He cannot define it exactly so he has to put forward a hypothesis. The spout is nothing but mist like the “semi-visible steam” emitted from the head of thinking individuals such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and even himself.

Chapter 86: The Tail

Ishmael then comes to the opposite end of the animal, celebrating the whale’s most famous part: its tail. He loves its combination of power and grace and philosophically says that it represents the whale’s attempts to reach heaven. The whale's tail is often seen protruding toward the skies. Whether this stance of whale is seen as an act of angelic adoration or demoniac defiance on depends on the mood of the spectator. Ishmael also notes that the sperm whale's tail is the most potent weapon in inflicting injury upon men.

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

When Pequod sails through the straits of Sunda, near Indonesia, without any break, Ishmael talks about loneliness, isolation and self-containment of a whaling ship. In the straits, Pequod encounters a herd of sperm whales swimming in a circle ("the Grand Armada"), but, as the ship chases the whales, it is itself pursued by Malay pirates. The Pequod somehow manages to escape the pirates and launches boats after the whales. But it ends up inside their circle, a placid lake. One harpooned whale wreathes in pain and causes panic among the herd. The boats in the middle are in serious danger of sinking but manage to escape the chaos. The men 'drugg' the whales by attaching lines with large blocks of wood. The contraption creates resistance and exhausts the escaping whales. They also try to 'waif' the whales, marking them with penned poles as the Pequod’s, so that they can be claimed later. For all their effort, they succeed in capturing only one whale.

Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

Ishmael explains some whaling terms, beginning with 'schools' of whales. Schools are formed of one male — the schoolmaster or the lord — and several females. Whalers typically hunt only the females and calves as the males are too large and dangerous. As the male of the species grow old, they leave their school behind and become solitary, ill-tempered wanderers. The all-male schools are like a “mob of young collegians". According to Ishmael, the major difference between the males and females is that males abandon injured comrades while females do not. They even risk their own lives to aid and comfort a friend.

Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

Ishmael explains his reference to 'waifs' in Chapter 87. He talks about the whaling codes of past and present. The codes stipulate that a “fast-fish” belongs to the party which lays first claim to it and a “loose-fish” is a fair game for anybody who can catch it. A fish is “fast” when it is physically connected to a party or when it bears a waif or a marker. Ishmael, like a lawyer, cites precedents and stories to show how difficult it is to maintain rules, especially when there is so much ambiguity in the whole affair. Metaphorically, everything in the world can be conceptualised according to the code that considers possession to be the sole legal criterion of ownership. Ishmael observes even countries can be classified as “fast-fish” or “loose-fish” and colonised accordingly by more powerful nations.

Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

Ishmael mentions the strange fishing laws of England, which state that any whale or sturgeon captured on its coast is “fast” and belongs to England. The head must be offered to the king and the tail to the queen, leaving nothing for the hunter. Ishmael proceeds to tell the story of some poor whalemen who lost their hard-earned whale to a wealthy duke.

Chapter 91: The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud

Pequod next encounters a French ship, the Bouton de Rose (Rose Button or Rose Bud), from which a terrible stench is emanating. This ship has two whales alongside: one “blasted whale”, a whale that died unmolested on the sea, that is going to have nothing useful in it and one whale that died from indigestion. Stubb seeks information about Moby Dick from a sailor aboard the Rose Bud. The man says that they have never heard of the White Whale. Stubb asks why the man is trying to get oil out of these whales when there is none. The sailor replies that his captain, on his first trip, will not believe the sailor’s statement that the whales are worthless. Stubb tells them that these whales are worthless, although he knows something that the other sailor doesn’t. The second whale might contain ambergris, a valuable substance in the intestines of sick whales. Stubb tricks the French captain into believing that the “blasted” whales pose a threat of infection to the crew. The captain dumps the whales, and Stubb, pretending to be helpful, has the Pequod’s boats tow the second whale away. As soon as the Rose Bud leaves, Stubb ties up the second whale and finds the sweet-smelling ambergris inside it.

Chapter 92: Ambergris

Ishmael explains that ambergris looks like mottled cheese and comes from the bowels of whales. It is actually used for making perfumes. He is curious about the origin of the idea that whales smell bad. In the past, whaling vessels were unable to render blubber into oil at sea, and the rotting blubber created a powerful stench when they arrived in port. The rendered oil, however, is odorless and a natural cleanser. Ishmael realises that live whales, like beautiful women, actually smell pleasantly musky.


Chapters 82 and 83 explore ways in which texts are misread and distorted. Father Mapple’s sermon in Chapter 9 is based on the story of Jonah and Mapple himself might be regarded as an ideal reader. Without getting bogged down in extraneous details, his imagination gets hold of what is important in a story. In contrast, Sag Harbor is lost in technical objections and completely misses the symbolic meaning of the Jonah story. The theologians whom Ishmael mentions to counter Sag Harbor seem even more ludicrous. They too ignore the story’s underlying message, spinning ever more contorted explanations to justify the story. Ishmael himself is guilty of similar distortions in Chapter 82 when he ignores the totality of the careers of Hercules, St. George, and others to argue that they are whalers. The imagery in this section stresses ambiguity.

Death and birth are linked as the blood of hurt, panicked whales mingles with the milk that the calves are having when the Grand Armada of whales is attacked. Pequod chases the whales but is in turn chased by pirates, showing that ocean life is a repeating cycle of events. We thus get to experience the story of Pequod from a larger, more philosophical perspective. This interchangeability of parts also suggests some parallels between the men on the Pequod and the whales. In the chapter on Schools and Schoolmasters, Ishmael attributes the whale a range of human qualities. This anthropomorphizing — giving human attributes to non-human entities — implies that hunting whales is exploitative and amounts to murder. Critics read Moby Dick as an analogue to other forms of exploitation such as slavery, colonialism, and territorial expansion by white men.

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