“What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?”
“Sing out for him!”
Sorry I missed last week’s update! I was out of town, camping with my family and making new friends. It was a magical weekend, so no regrets on my part. 🙂 But I never stopped reading, so now you’re getting two posts in one!
“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!”
Ahab is insane!
Literally. I didn’t expect that. Like, I knew he was obsessed with Moby Dick and all – that it was a personal entanglement on account of his leg – but I never thought that he was actually insane.
“D’ye mark him, Flask?” whispered Stubb; “the chick that’s in him pecks the shell. ‘Twill soon be out.”
Turns out, he is obsessed, but cleverly, sociopathically, manipulatively so; aware of how he appears to others but, certain of his own righteousness, Ahab is convinced of his ability to succeed, convinced of the justice of his ever approaching conflict with the whale, convinced of his crew’s desire to help him secure his kill!
Ahab is finally coming into much starker reality, and all his strange behavior from before is actually making sense.
Ahab is insane. Who knew?
Within these chapters, Ishmael has finally reinserted himself into the narrative. It took until chapter 41, but at last he has given me a look into what he thinks of all that is happening, and while I find it a surface level, mundane, everyman reaction, it is deeply honest.
Right after Ahab’s Big Speech in Chapter 35, in which he called upon the crew to join him in hunting the famed White Whale, Ishmeal, as though he were not a first person narrator, but rather a third person omniscient spirit with the right to descend invisible into anyone’s inner thoughts, tells the reader of the inner workings that pass through Ahab’s mind: his obsessions, crazy wanderings, and constant justifications. This takes up 1 whole chapter.
Then he moves on to Starbuck, who seems to be the only sane, intelligent man on board. As first mate, this good man wishes to moderate the captain, even remove him from a position of power, but his hands are tied. Far away from any type of civilization, any mediating laws or keepers of the peace, he can only watch, hope, and pray that this insane man does nothing to jeopardize the safety of the crew, or the profit of their three-year voyage.
“God keep me!—keep us all!” murmured Starbuck, lowly.
Starbuck’s reaction was much what I expected from Ishmael, but you will see in a moment that Ishmael’s was nothing like it. Starbuck’s is a sane, intelligent reaction, sharp-sighted and foreboding…
Stump, too, has another chapter within these pages, in which he reflects on Captain Ahab’s mad desires, and Ishmael tells us all, as though he were an angel entering into the man’s inner mind. Stubb’s reaction, not surprisingly, is merely to laugh, for he can find no sense of reason in the captain’s words and wishes, and “because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer;” or so the light-hearted officer reflects to himself.
Finally, Ishmael relates, in one short paragraph, his own reaction. He relates that he was one of the crew who was caught up in Ahab’s speech – he understands how all the rest of the crew could have been caught up in their captain’s fiery resolve because he himself was caught up in it; though why he was, he’s not entirely sure. But he does not attempt to find a rational reason, for fierce passion among a group is contagious, and Ishmael is just as susceptible to it as all the men around him.
“I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; 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. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.”
The Style of these Chapters
One wonderful thing about the way that these chapters were written is that there is a whole section that is formatted as if it were a stage drama. This seems to set it apart, giving it a special importance, a sort of disconnected coherence amongst all of Ishmael’s otherwise deep reflections. It is a break, both in the sense that it is a rest and in the sense that it is a departure, from the rest of the action.
In this section, each of the crew members reflect on their own thoughts, disjointed and disconnected from any explanation or context offered by the narration; there is no coherence, but only a jumble of individual minds bent upon a single purpose, but all for different reasons. It is chaotic, in both the style and the flow of conversation, moving first from Starbuck, then to Stubb, then to Ahab, and then to all the crew, where they, too, are disconnected. One crewman tells a joke, then one breaks out in song, then another offers an insult, and finally Starbuck calls them all back to themselves with an order that restores the quiet to everyone’s minds, and hushes the flow of conversation. It is in this quiet that Ishmael is at last left alone with his private musings.
Keep you weather eye open, and sing out every time!
The stage is set, the mission made clear, and the Pequod (Ahab’s ship) is setting out into deep waters to track down a beast of malicious intent and giant size.