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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 72: THE MONKEY-ROPE

Ishmael backtracks to tell us part of the cutting-in procedure he neglected to describe earlier. How is the blubber hook first attached to the whale? It's the duty of the harpooner to climb onto the whale's back to attach it, then remain there as the mostly submerged beast rotates like a slippery treadmill beneath him.

Queequeg was the harpooner who performed this task on Stubb's whale, and Ishmael the man assigned to assist him. They stood like an organ grinder and his ape, joined together by a rope on a sliding whale, while sharks hungrily swam a few inches from their feet.

NOTE: BROTHERHOOD

Ishmael again makes whaling a metaphor for life. As he stands out on the whale, he has lost some of his individuality and some of his free will, for his fate is tied to Queequeg's as surely as Queequeg's is tied to his. But in a perilous world, Melville seems to be saying, such brotherly dependence is far preferable to complete independence-the kind of independence shown by Ahab.

CHAPTER 73: STUBB AND FLASK KILL A RIGHT WHALE; AND THEN HAVE A TALK OVER HIM

The Pequod has drifted into a yellow sea of brit, favored food of the right whale. Ordinarily, the ship would not bother with these whales, but for some reason Captain Ahab gives the order that if one is spotted the boats will go after it. It isn't long before Flask and Stubb are towing a dead right whale back to ship.

The two mates discuss what Ahab might want with the beast. Flask says he overheard Fedallah telling Ahab that any ship carrying a sperm whale's head on its starboard side and a right whale's head on its larboard will never capsize. Neither mate likes the look of Fedallah; Stubb half-seriously suggests that the turbaned harpooner is the devil, to whom Ahab has offered his soul in exchange for Moby-Dick.

Flask's prediction that the right whale's head would be used to balance the sperm whale's proves to be true. The Pequod regains her even keel, though the weight strains it. Ishmael takes this opportunity to attack philosophy while at the same time indulging in it, warning that following John Locke (a famous 17th-century English empiricist philosopher) will tilt you to one side, while following Immanuel Kant (a famous 18th-century German idealist philosopher) as well will weigh you down; better throw them both overboard.

In the meantime, Melville underlines the devilish aspects of Fedallah. As he stands next to Ahab his shadow merges with the captain's. Or perhaps it's that, like the devil, Fedallah doesn't cast any shadow at all.



NOTE: AHAB AND FEDALLAH

Even unimaginative men like Stubb and Flask are becoming disturbed by the influence Fedallah seems to have over Ahab. A Parsee (a follower of Zoroastrianism, likened by Melville to fire-worship), Fedallah is so closely linked to Ahab that their shadows merge. It's as if he represents in some way Ahab's darkest side, Ahab without any of the humanities that Peleg said he possessed.

Fedallah is certainly the least realistically portrayed of the Pequod's crew; a number of critics have noted that he seems to come from a gothic romance rather than from a sea tale.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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