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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 88: SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS

Though great herds of whales aren't uncommon, smaller groups, called schools, are more frequently seen. As he discusses the schools, Ishmael has fun anthropomorphizing them-giving them the characteristics of human beings. The schools are of two kinds: all male, or all female (with one male in charge). The all-female schools are like members of high society, traveling around the world in search of good climate. The male schools are as rowdy and dangerous as a group of college students. Notice that Melville adds that lone whales are almost invariably ancient. As Moby-Dick is a lone whale, he's likely to be very old-another sign of his uniqueness.

CHAPTER 89: FAST-FISH AND LOOSE-FISH
CHAPTER 90: HEADS OR TAILS

What happens if a whale is harpooned by one ship, only to escape and be captured by another ship? From this question comes the law of fast-fish and loose-fish. Among American whalemen, a fast-fish belongs to the boat that is held fast to it by a whaleline or other connection. A loose-fish belongs to anyone who can catch it. And people belong in both categories.

CHAPTER 91: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE ROSE-BUD
CHAPTER 92: AMBERGRIS

The Pequod meets a French ship enveloped in a smell so terrible its sailors hold their noses and its surgeon prefers to hide in the captain's outhouse rather than stand on deck. The reasons for the smell float alongside the ironically named Bouton de Rose (Rose-Bud): two dead whales, one of them especially foul.

Ahab doesn't care about the Rose-Bud once he learns it knows nothing of Moby-Dick. Stubb, though, spies a chance both to have fun and to make money, for as he looks at the second whale he realizes there's a good chance it contains ambergris, the soft, waxy material valued for its use as a perfume ingredient. There's no sense in keeping these whales because they don't have any oil in them, Stubb tells an English-speaking crew member. Then he promises to help convince the French captain to cut the whales free. In one of the funniest passages in the book, Stubb insults the captain in English while the crewman mistranslates his words into French warnings about the disease-carrying whale. The trick works; the whale is cut loose, and Stubb happily removes the precious ambergris.



NOTE: AHAB AND THE AMBERGRIS

We see another sign that Ahab is losing connection with the real business of whaling. He's so anxious to continue the pursuit of Moby-Dick that he won't let Stubb remove all the ambergris, though it would make an enormous profit for the Pequod's owners and crew.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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