Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moby Dick Read-Along: Chapters 27-55

Here we are, our second discussion post. Pat yourself on the back, guys, you're now half way through the book. (That seems like something a middle school teacher would say.)

Here is our readalong reading schedule with links to our past posts:

Jan 19: Chapters 27-55
Jan 26: Chapters 56-93
Feb 2: Chapter 94-epilogue

Let's summarize:

Ishmael introduces us to the first and second mate, Stubb and Flask, as well as the other harpooners and sailors on the ship which include an American Indian from Martha's Vineyard and a big black guy from Africa. After this, Ahab FINALLY emerges from the cabin and into the light. Oh and he has a peg leg made from a whale bone. He likes to walk along the side of the ship at night and his peg leg makes a lot of annoying noise, but Ahab will not be told what to do, so everyone just deals with it. Ahab smokes a pipe, then throws it into a sea. Stubb has a dream that he shouldn't bug Ahab.

In chapter 32, we are given an extensive and fascinating tour through the history of whale scholarship, called "Cetology." Ishmael tells us that the most general way to categorize a whale is that it is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail.

In old-times, the chief Harpooner was in charge of everything to do with the actual whales on a whale ship, but now it's the captain. Speaking of the captain, he eats with the crew in his cabin, which comes with its own set of protocol which we discover in detail. (Poor Flask. "However it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!").

Ishmael describes what it's like to be on duty on the mast-head as a look out. He isn't very good at this, because he always becomes lost in his own thoughts as he stares out at the ocean for hours at a time.

Next, something finally happens. (Ha! A change of pace!) Ahab calls the whole crew to assemble on the quarter-deck. He tells them all to be on sharp lookout for a great white whale, one called Moby Dick. Whatever lucky guy spots him first will be the recipient of a Spanish gold piece, courtesy of Captain Ahab.

After this, Ahab gazes out of his cabin on the sunset, overcome with his desire to kill Moby Dick. He realizes he can never appreciate anything beautiful or happy because he just wants to kill this whale. So. Bad.

Starbuck and Stuff aren't too excited about Ahab's obsession with this dumb whale.

Then, there is some sort of play with sailors from around the world ... not sure what that was all about.

*Inhale.* Ishmael describes Moby Dick so we readers can better visualize what all this fuss is about. Moby Dick is big, he is white, and he has a hump on his back. Ishmael tells us how exactly Moby Dick got Ahab's leg and subsequently how Ahab was driven mad with his desire to kill the whale in revenge.

Chapter 42 is perhaps one of the most famous chapters of this book. It is entitled "The Whiteness of the Whale." Ishmael tells us all about the color white, how it can be a most frightening characteristic to be of this color. (This is actually a pretty cool chapter. But I'm on a roll here. Moving on.)

Next chapter, someone hears a noise. Next chapter, Ahab has lots of charts and maps he studies for hours every night. We are told it's not uncommon for a particular whaling ship to come upon the same whale multiple times. Ishmael and Queequeg weave a mat together. Someone sees some whales in the distance! They try to get one but fail. Ishmael is shaken and crawls up into fetal position. (JK he doesn't, but he probably did.) Queequeg assures him that it's normal to try to kill a whale and not get it.

Five mysterious men show up. One has a turban and is named Fedallah.

Every few nights, the crew start to see a whale blowing water in the distance. They get excited. They pass another ship called The Albatross. Ahab calls across to them and asks if they've seen the white whale. He doesn't get an answer.

A "gam" is when two whaling ships meet up and hang out. This is common. The Pequod comes upon another ship called The Albatross and has a gam with it. They hear a crazy story about a whale that ate one of their guys.

There are many religious and scientific paintings and pictures of whales, but they always get it wrong. To truly know what a whale looks like, you have to go whaling yourself. *Exhale.*


Whew! This section was a lot more disjointed than the first 25 chapters. Allie suggests reading each chapter as if it's its own little story. As I kept this in mind reading came easier for me. I'm actually quite used to these strange little chapters now, and I like them. Especially when Melville nerds out in the chapter on Cetology. I thought that was cute. Maybe "endearing"is a better word. I don't know if Melville would like being called cute.

I absolutely loved the chapter on the whiteness of the whale. "It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me," Ishmael tells us. I never thought of white as a particularly freaky color, but now I know its true freakiness. I had always associated it with virgins, holiness, and the like.

"...Yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights blood." Yikes. It's all in the contrast, apparently.

What do you think of the disjointed chapters? Did they distract you from experiencing the story, or did they enhance your overall understanding of the whaler's experience?

I found Stubb's dream about Captain Ahab rather interesting. In it, Stubbs says to himself, 

"No, you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It's an honour; I consider it an honour...BE kicked by him; account his kicks honours; and on no account kick back."

Do you think this is just jibberish, a strange dream, or is there some hidden meaning in this?

At the end of the Cetology chapter, Melville makes an interesting comment:

"For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught -- nay, but the draught of a draught."

What do you think Melville means by this? How does he want "posterity" to finish his work? 

What was your favorite chapter? What were some of your favorite quotes? What other thoughts do you have on this section of reading? I'm not very good at coming up with probing questions.


As a side note, have you ever seen anyone use the word "leviathan" so many times?? I'm pretty sure we've come across this word used as every single part of speech. I mean, Leviathanism?