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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 106: AHAB'S LEG

Ahab left the Samuel Enderby so angrily that he half-splintered his ivory leg while jumping into his boat, then wrenched it again on the Pequod. The damage made him nervous, for just before sailing on this voyage, he had been discovered lying in a Nantucket street, his smashed ivory leg piercing him.

Now we know the cause of the illness that Peleg mentioned and that kept Ahab in his cabin for days. The wound pained him not only physically but psychologically; it was a fresh reminder of the crime Moby-Dick had committed against him, further proof that the universe is malign. Ahab has come to take pride in his bitterness, now. To him there is something in pain and woe that is nobler, greater than happiness.

Still, Ahab is practical enough to order the carpenter to make a new whale bone leg, and order the blacksmith to forge any iron attachments the leg will need.

CHAPTER 107: THE CARPENTER
CHAPTER 108: AHAB AND THE CARPENTER

The Pequod's carpenter is necessarily skilled at many crafts, from carpentry to painting to dentistry. But despite his array of talents, the carpenter is a dull and unimaginative man, who considers other human beings mere blocks of wood. When Ahab goes to talk to the man who is making his leg, his brilliance shines all the more brightly against the carpenter's stupidity. Ahab's speech is crowded with wit and classical references, and displays his overwhelming desire to achieve greatness: he will order the blacksmith to make a man with a chest as large as a tunnel and a sky light in the head to illumine his interior. But the carpenter understands nothing.

And that is for Ahab another insult. Here he is, "proud as a Greek god," yet needing this blockhead carpenter to give him the means of standing upright like any other man. Ahab wants to be completely self-reliant, yet can't be. And as we see all his intelligence thwarted this way, we may be hard-pressed not to feel a bit of sympathy for him.



CHAPTER 109: AHAB AND STARBUCK IN THE CABIN

The casks of oil (which you'll remember from the chapter, "Stowing Down and Cleaning Up") have sprung a leak, and Starbuck goes to Ahab's cabin to report the bad news. He finds Ahab studying charts of the western Pacific.

Starbuck recommends that the ship halt for some days so that the leak can be found, the hold pumped out, and the barrels repaired. Ahab is aghast. Nothing can be allowed to delay the search for Moby-Dick. When Starbuck reminds the captain that the Pequod's owners will not look kindly on the waste of the valuable oil, Ahab responds that he is the only true owner of the ship. Then, seizing a musket, he points it at the amazed first mate.

Starbuck manages to quell his anger and offers Ahab advice: Ahab should not worry about Starbuck, but about Ahab.

Ahab ponders Starbuck's warning, and admits it contains much truth. He apologizes to his first mate, agrees to repair the casks. Does this moment of honesty and humility show that Ahab even at this late date still "has his humanities"? Or is it just a trick intended to fool Starbuck? Ishmael doesn't know. What do you think?

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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