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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 115: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE BACHELOR

The next ship the Pequod meets seems crowded with men like Stubb, for "jolly enough were the sights and sounds," when the Bachelor appears proudly loaded with barrels of oil, flags flying from every part of its rigging, and Polynesian girls dancing on its decks. When Ahab asks, "Hast thou seen the white whale?" the Bachelor's commander answers that he doesn't believe in him. "Fools," Ahab curses, and the two ships part.

NOTE:

Once again a gam with another ship sheds light on Ahab and the Pequod. The Bachelor is full of happy-and, to Ahab, shallow and foolish-people. Does Melville take Ahab's view? Perhaps-at least the Bachelor's reply that "no one" died on the voyage, merely two islanders, seems extremely callous.

CHAPTER 116: THE DYING WHALE

The Pequod begins to enjoy good fortune, for the day after its meeting with the Bachelor four whales are killed, one by Captain Ahab. As he stands in his boat watching, the dying whale does what dying sperm whales in legend always do, turn to face the sun. Ahab identifies with the great beast he's slain, for both are fire-worshippers. (In this way, Ahab is making the whale his equal, something he would never do with any man.)

After it dies, the whale slowly turns away from the sunset. This, too, has meaning for Ahab-it's a reminder that the dark power of death always overcomes the power of life. Just as he thinks woe more noble than happiness, he now says his dark faith is more proud than faith in light, in life.



CHAPTER 117: THE WHALE WATCH

The four whales killed by the Pequod lie so far apart only three of them can be towed back to the boat before nightfall. Ahab's whale must wait until morning, and he and his crew spend the night in the boat alongside it, all of them asleep except Fedallah.

Ahab wakes up. "I have dreamed it again," he says-another in a series of apparently recurring dreams about hearses and coffins. Fedallah tells the captain that death will come only in a specific way.

NOTE: FEDALLAH'S PROPHECY

Fedallah, who all along has seemed to possess dark powers, now joins the ranks of Moby-Dick's other prophets. He tells Ahab that Ahab will die only if he sees two hearses on the ocean, one not made by man's hand, the other made of American-grown wood; only if Fedallah dies first; and only by hemp.

Fedallah's prophecy seems so unlikely to be fulfilled that Ahab is reassured. Hearses do not sail the seas, and they are always man-made; death by hemp can only mean being hanged on a gallows, an unlikely fate for Ahab. Many critics have noted the similarities between Fedallah's prophecies and the equally unlikelysounding ones given to Shakespeare's Macbeth, and suggest that this may be another way in which Melville tries to show the tragic stature of his hero. Whether you agree or not, you'll want to keep the prophecies in mind at the end of the book.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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