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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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As fond of knowledge as Ahab is of power, Ishmael acquires stories about Moby-Dick to add to the already enormous amount of information he has gathered about whales and whaling. Moby-Dick's intelligence, and his apparent pleasure in harming people make him the most feared of his kind, but what most terrifies Ishmael is the whale's empty, deathly whiteness.

Ahab sits in his cabin, charting the Pequod's course, all his great intelligence focused on the whale that to him represents every evil in the universe. And the crew soon learns that Ahab has acquired special help for his hunt. When the boats are lowered to chase the first whale, Ahab's boat is manned by strange dark men never before seen on the voyage. Ishmael realizes these are the "shadows" he saw weeks earlier. Their leader is the sinister-looking, turbaned Fedallah.

The Pequod sails round the stormy Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. To Ishmael the voyage seems as varied and unpredictable as life itself. He is appalled by the brutality of whaling, and amused by its humor. He is frightened at life's dangers, and awed by its beauties. At moments he feels very close to the crew.

Ahab, however, has cut himself off from almost all such human feelings. "Gams"- visits with other whaling ships-are a friendly tradition at sea, but Ahab uses them only to seek information about Moby-Dick. That information becomes more and more ominous. The Jeroboam lost its first mate to the whale, and a fanatic crewman warns Ahab that his hunt will lead to disaster for him as well. The captain of the Samuel Enderby lost his arm to Moby-Dick, and he is determined to avoid the whale in the future. But the news only whets Ahab's appetite for revenge.



Other warnings come from the young black cabin boy, Pip. After falling from Stubb's boat, Pip was abandoned in the ocean for hours. The experience drove him mad, but it is a madness mixed with wisdom-and with messages for Ahab. While Ahab feels sympathy for the boy, he refuses to alter his course.

As the Pequod sails into the Pacific, Ahab's obsession grows. He sees the entire universe as an enemy that must be battled before it destroys him. The quadrant that establishes the ship's position will not locate Moby-Dick, and so he smashes it. The Pequod moves into a typhoon, and Ahab stands on the storm-lashed deck, daring the lightning to strike him. There is heroism in his acts, but there is also madness, and he frightens Starbuck so much that the first mate sneaks into the captain's cabin contemplating-then rejectingthe idea of murder.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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