Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 35-41

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head

Ishmael is such a geek. He doesn't just want to ship on a whaler, he researches everything. I'm not sure he really wants the adventure. So the Egyptians had the first mast-head, if pyramids = mast-heads, though he tried his darndest to make it the Tower of Babel.

No crow's nest on a south sea ship. Ishmael's a bit spacey to make a good sailor.

Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how could I—being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude,—how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whale-ships' standing orders, "Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time."
He goes so far as to warn ship-owners:
Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness; and who offers to ship with the phaedon instead of Bowditch in his head.
He certainly is attracted to the mystical. I can relate.
...lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it.

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck
The hours wore on;--Ahab now shut up within his cabin; anon, pacing the deck, with the same intense bigotry of purpose in his aspect.
I haven't come across this use of the word bigotry in this way before. Obsessively focused?

Ahab calls them all to the quarter-deck. This is just not done unless it's an extreme matter. He's bringing the crew in on his obsessive purpose. He especially wants them to sight the white whale. They will get gold.
"Corkscrew!" cried Ahab, "aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie all twisted and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his spout is a big one, like a whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile of our Nantucket wool after the great annual sheep-shearing; aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like a split jib in a squall. Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye have seen--Moby Dick--Moby Dick!"
Starbuck protests. They are there for business, not vengeance. Ahab explains himself.
But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.
He hands out drinks.

Chapter 37: Sunset

This is now in Ahab's voice. What? So Ishmael finally meets his glorious mission, and we have to wait for his reaction?
The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!
Chapter 38: Dusk

Starbuck's reaction.
Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field! But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man!
Chapter 39: First Night-Watch
Stubb's reaction.
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!--I've been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer...
Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle

These chapters are like the ship itself is witnessing the actions and thoughts of the people post-announcement. I wonder what it is about Amsterdam butter that spoils a throat.

The sailors' reactions: drinking; singing; dancing; talking about women. Well, Tashtego and the Old Manx sailor don't dance. Old Manx sailor:
How the three pines shake! Pines are the hardest sort of tree to live when shifted to any other soil, and here there's none but the crew's cursed clay. Steady, helmsman! steady. This is the sort of weather when brave hearts snap ashore, and keeled hulls split at sea. Our captain has his birth-mark; look yonder, boys, there's another in the sky--lurid-like, ye see, all else pitch black.
Chapter 41: Moby Dick

Aha! Now we get Ishmael's response.
...my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine.
Ishmael draws from his research. I wonder if this is true. I imagine if an animal knows he is hunted, he may be justifiably ferocious.
...we find some book naturalists--Olassen and Povelson--declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood.
I can't seem to find this in modern information about the whale. In fact, one source indicated the teeth of the sperm whale are possibly superficial.

The lore about whales seems to have a bit of myth and legend clinging to it. And it seems Stubb's dream was more prophetic than he realized, with Ahab's leg turning into a pyramid. Oh, and I wonder if that is also related to Ishmael's pyramids as mast-heads.
...it was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other Sperm Whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out--a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump.
Moby Dick has an "unexampled, intelligent malignity." These animals are completely objects for their consumption, yet at the same time fill the role of monstrous nemesis.

Well, not only is Ishmael a whaling geek, he is an amateur psychologist.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. ...for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad. That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that the final monomania seized him...
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals--morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge.

1 comment:

MegDC said...

Another blogger has some unorthodox theories on "Amsterdam butter": Reading Moby Dick Is Not Teh Ghey