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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 82: THE HONOR AND GLORY OF WHALING CHAPTER 83: JONAH HISTORICALLY REGARDED

"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method," Ishmael says to begin this chapter, and more than one critic has felt this statement to apply to all of Moby-Dick, with its apparently disorganized combination of essays on whaling, philosophical speculation, and high adventure.

Ishmael takes us through human history to prove his point that whaling is an ancient and honorable pastime. The Greek hero Perseus was the first whaleman, especially admirable because he killed his whale with only one dart. Ishmael claims that St. George's famous dragon was in fact a whale.

And what about Jonah? Ishmael ignores the moral of Jonah's story and comically focuses on petty details. Among other things, he's heard a Sag Harbor whaleman say that Jonah couldn't have been lodged in the whale's stomach because a right whale doesn't have a stomach.

NOTE: JONAH

Here we're returning to the story on which Father Mapple preached early in the novel. This time, though, Ishmael's (and Melville's) approval of Jonah's story seems less certain. On the one hand, Ishmael calls the objections of the Sag Harbor man "foolish." On the other hand, Ishmael doesn't seem to take the story very seriously either. He mentions that Jonah is honored by "the highly enlightened Turks" (who are Muslim and therefore in traditional Christian eyes not enlightened at all). The chapter seems to be at least undermining Father Mapple's sermon if not rejecting it completely.

CHAPTER 84: PITCHPOLING

Soon after the Pequod's meeting with the Jungfrau, more whales are spotted, and Tashtego plants a harpoon in one that attempts to flee. To restrain a whale in a case like this, whalemen use a technique called pitchpoling, in which a lance lighter than a harpoon is hurled "in a superb lofty arch" at the whale. Stubb is an expert at the craft; the whale Tashtego harpooned is soon dead.



CHAPTER 85: THE FOUNTAIN

Though the spouting of whales has been studied for centuries, like so much else about whales it remains in part a mystery. Most fish, Ishmael reminds us, use gills to take oxygen from the sea. But whales have lungs like human beings and must occasionally surface to breathe through the spiracles on the top of their heads. If this breathing period is disturbed, the whale won't be able to remain under water for as long as he normally would-making him more vulnerable to the whale hunter.

Are the spoutings of the sperm whale water or air? Ishmael prefers to think of them as a mist; he likes to imagine the whale swimming in a tropical sea, "glorified by a rainbow." Notice what a beautiful final paragraph this is: the whale is rainbow-covered, and God is credited for supplying such beauty. And we come closer here to learning Ishmael's own philosophy: he has "doubts of all things earthly, and intuition of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye." Ishmael is not as pious as Starbuck, but neither is he as bitter as Ahab; he sees the cruelties of life on earth but still holds out some faint hope in a heaven.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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