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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 45: THE AFFIDAVIT

Ishmael uses a legal term (an affidavit is a sworn statement) to signify that he is telling the truth when he says that whales possess enough strength to survive harpoonings and to sink ships. Ishmael knows of three instances where a whale has been shot with a harpoon, escaped, and survived for years before being killed. And many sperm whales have become known individually not for their physical markings but for their ferocity. Timor Tom and New Zealand Jack are among the most famous of such ferocious whales. (Here again Melville uses his knowledge of whaling facts in his fiction: New Zealand Jack was indeed a famously destructive whale.) As for whales sinking ships, Melville can cite various actual incidents, the most famous being the sinking of the Essex in 1820.

Melville is trying to convince you about the nature of whales. If you think that whales aren't bad-tempered, and aren't strong enough to sink a boat, you'll have difficulty believing the rest of his story. He's eager to give you proof.

CHAPTER 46: SURMISES

Ahab, Ishmael says, is ready to sacrifice everything in his hunt for Moby-Dick. But he must keep up the appearance of leading a normal whaling voyage. He doesn't want Starbuck to rebel against him; he doesn't want his men's minds as obsessed with the whale as his is. Nor can he afford to deny the crew their chance to make money by catching other whales. In fact, because he's employed by Peleg and Bildad, Ahab has an obligation to make the voyage profitable for them. By turning the voyage to his own purposes, he's given the crew every right to revolt on the grounds of "usurpation." For all these reasons, Ahab must hunt other whales besides Moby-Dick.



CHAPTER 47: THE MAT-MAKER

On a sultry afternoon, Queequeg and Ishmael weave a mat to serve as additional lashing for their whaleboat. As usual, Ishmael indulges in philosophical day-dreaming. The mat, he thinks, represents the forces that make up life: necessity, free will, and chance. (You'll see the image of life as something woven developed in a later chapter.) Ishmael's thoughts are interrupted by a shout from Tashtego: "There she blows!"

The first sperm whale of the trip has been spotted, and the whaleboats are readied for the chase. The boat crews gather, and Ahab is suddenly "surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air"- the shadows Ishmael saw board the ship, the voices in the hold.

NOTE:

Throughout the book, Melville refers to these men as "phantoms" or "shadows." Are we intended to think of them as spirits? If so, are they good or evil?

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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