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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 64: STUBB'S SUPPER

The three boats slowly tow the immense whale back to the Pequod so it can be butchered. Ahab seems depressed, as if the sight of this dead whale is a reminder that Moby-Dick still lives. But Stubb is excited, in large part because he has a chance to enjoy his favorite food, whale steak. Nor is he the only one enjoying the whale-beneath the waves, thousands of sharks are scooping out huge pieces of flesh. Sharks always haunt ships, Ishmael says. In time of war they wait for slain men to fall to them, there being little difference between men killing each other above water and sharks killing men below.

Stubb calls for the cook, old Fleece, to complain about the whale steak. It's overdone, Stubb says. Fleece should know that sharks like whale rare: so does he. Also, Stubb says, the sharks are making too much noise. In his jolly but vaguely threatening way, he orders Fleece to tell the sharks to be quiet.

The cook limps over to the sharks, and with Stubb's goading, the talk becomes a sermon. "Well, den, belubed fellow-critters," he begins; he says he knows that sharks are by nature voracious, but that their natural greed must be governed. In that way they can become angels, "for all angel is noting more dan de shark well goberned." But Fleece gives up. It's no use, he realizes, the villainous sharks will keep fighting each other. He offers a final curse: "fill you dam' bellies 'till dey bust-and den die."



NOTE: SHARKS AND MAN

Many critics consider Fleece's sermon one of the most important scenes in Moby-Dick. In some ways you might see it as a bitter parody of Father Mapple's sermon. Mapple said that by obeying God, man could find heavenly joy. Fleece says that if the sharks obey God by governing themselves, they can be angels. But Fleece realizes he's asking the impossible. Does this mean Mapple is asking the impossible, too?

Perhaps, because Melville frequently compares sharks to man. Chapters before, Peleg told his partner Bildad, "Pious harpooners never make good voyagers-it takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooner is worth a straw who ain't pretty sharkish."

Some critics take a less bleak view, though. They suggest that there are characters in Moby-Dick who represent "the shark well-governed"- the noble savage Queequeg being one example. You decide as you read which stand you think is more correct.

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