Moby Dick: Chapters 51-60

French engraving by Ambrose Louis Garneray

Chapter 51: ‘There she blows!’ Had the trump of judgement blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering.

Chapter 52: But in pursuit of those mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, sometime or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren masses or midway leave us whelmed.

Chapter 53: Gam: noun – a social meeting of two (or more) whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats’ crews; the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other.

Chapter 54: ‘Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional world of ours – watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern’s tower, and make a little heap of dust of it.

Chapter 55: For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan, that his skeleton gives very little idea of his general shape.

Chapter 56: The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of things seems to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and engravings they have of their whaling scenes. With not one tenth of England’s experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part of that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations with the only finished sketches at all capable of conveying the real spirit of the whale hunt. (See an example of a French engraving at the top of this post.)

Chapter 57: With a frigate’s anchors for my bridle-bits and fasces of harpoons for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!

Chapter 58: That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah’s flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.

Chapter 59: ‘What was it, sir?’ said Flask.

‘The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it.’

Chapter 60: As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take somebody’s arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft and then reeling it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.

I am intrigued by the references to the Bible which Melville so often inserts. “Noah’s flood is not yet subsided…” is one of them. They give a beautiful connection to me of the Old Testament stories and Melville’s tale. And, his observations on human character could apply to many circumstances, not only whaling. One man finding another to be superior, and then reducing his “tower” to a heap of dust? Isn’t that what all the cowboy stories from the West are about? It seems to me that man is constantly trying to prove his superiority over another man. Or, beast, as in the case of Moby Dick.

1 thought on “Moby Dick: Chapters 51-60

  1. I thought the same, that his observations on human character are very relatable. I too wonder if I love this book so much because of its many references to the Bible. It’s such a powerful and overarching story. I never knew the world of sailors, whalers, their accouterments, activities and the peculiarities of the Pequod would be this interesting. I’m learning and being delighted. His off the plot chapters are becoming my favorite ones. Well, I can’t say, because the action packed ones are riveting to read.


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