Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
CHAPTER 50: AHAB'S BOAT AND CREW. FEDALLAH
Certainly the Pequod's owners never intended the one-legged Ahab to face the dangers of going out regularly in a whaleboat, much less have his own secret crew. But he does go out, and not just after Moby-Dick. And as the ship sails around the stormy Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa, Ahab stands day after day on the gale-swept deck of the Pequod. Along with this bravery is a darker side, represented best by Fedallah, who seems to have some evil influence over Ahab. The comments of his mates indicate what a complicated man this captain is. "I never yet saw him kneel," says Stubb, meaning that Ahab is both brave and blasphemous, never kneeling in humble obedience or in prayer. "Terrible old man!" thinks Starbuck.
CHAPTER 52: THE ALBATROSS
Southeast of the Cape of Good Hope the Pequod for the first time encounters another ship, a bleachedlooking vessel with pitifully torn sails. Ahab shouts out, "Ship Ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?"
This is the first "gam" of Moby-Dick. As you'll learn, a gam is a meeting of two ships to exchange mail and news. The Pequod will meet nine ships during its voyage, and each of the meetings will throw some light on the quest for the great whale.
Ahab waits anxiously for the captain of the Goney, or Albatross, to answer his question. But the captain's speaking trumpet falls into the sea, and his unamplified voice doesn't carry in the wind. To the Pequod's sailors, the accident is a symbol of Moby-Dick's evil power. To some readers, it's Melville's way of saying that there are mysteries that can't be communicated to others, and that the future is unknowable.
Melville gives another clue to Ahab's personality when he describes the captain's reaction as the wakes of the two ships intermingle and schools of fish that had been swimming alongside the Pequod go over to the Goney. Such movements by fish are common at sea, but Ahab reacts with shock. "'Swim away from me, do ye?'" the captain murmurs with "deep helpless sadness." Why do you think Ahab reacts in this way? Does he realize that his quest for Moby-Dick is unreasonable, even abhorrent, a judgment confirmed by the departure of the fish? Or, perhaps, does he want help-spiritual or physical-in his quest, and is saddened when the fish won't accompany him?
CHAPTER 54: THE TOWN-HO'S STORY
The Pequod encounters another ship, the Town-Ho. This time Ahab does get information about the white whale-but not the complete truth, because the truth wasn't even known by the Town-Ho's captain. Ishmael tells the story as he later told it to three friends in Peru. Two years before, the Town-Ho was sailing the Pacific when she began to leak. On board was a brutal mate, Radney, and a swaggering seaman, Steelkilt. As the ship was being pumped out, Steelkilt and Radney began a quarrel that lead to Radney's threatening the seaman with a hammer. Soon Steelkilt was leading a mutiny that ended with his being locked in the forecastle and flogged within an inch of his life by Radney. Still leaking, the Town-Ho made for land. Steelkilt was about to kill Radney, but fate made murder unnecessary. Moby-Dick was spotted; boats went out to hunt the whale, and Radney fell from his boat to be killed by Moby-Dick.
Many readers have puzzled over the meaning of the Town-Ho's story. Perhaps Melville is trying to show how difficult it is to interpret an event-or a symbol-in any one way. For in this episode Moby-Dick is an instrument of justice, not just destruction.Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version