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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 41 - 42

Summary

In chapter 41, several stories about Moby Dick, the white whale with a wrinkled forehead, are narrated to the reader. Several sailors on various whaling expeditions have seen the whale swimming in the vast expanse of the oceans, but no one has ever been able catch it for Moby Dick is known to be vicious. During a chase, the whale is known to have turned round suddenly and either overturned the boat carrying the harpooner’s and oars men or chased them back to their ship.

Also, several people have seen him in different places at the same time, thereby lending the whale an omnipresent characteristic.

In the next chapter Ishmael discusses the implications of the color white vis a vis Moby Dick. Ishmael says that white is normally a symbol of purity and royalty, but it can also evoke great terror and fear. Just as the white polar bears of the north and the white sharks of the tropics cause terror in one’s heart, it is the whiteness of Moby Dick that evokes fear and awe in people.

Again the color white represents something supernatural. After all, are not ghosts clothed in white? Moreover, white means an absence of color. Thus, the whiteness that man sees on the vast show-covered prairies or the white-foaming seas during a terrible storm gives one a feeling of desolation and terror. At the end of the chapter, Ishmael raises a few questions: ‘Why it (white color) appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange.... and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind."


Ishmael wonders if the entire world with all its color (as many philosophers say) is only an illusion. Is it that these colors are part of one source, which has no color at all? So then, is it that our universe is a white omnipresent force? To Ishmael, all the negative emotions connected with white are found in the white whale and that is why the Pequod has set off on this `fiery hunt’ for Moby Dick.

Notes

In these chapters, one discovers that Moby Dick has spun a number of legends. Its peculiar white color and ferocity is what all the stories concentrate on. His reputation is now mythic and the various stories reveal that he has been made larger-than-life. However, it is Ahab who uses the stories of the white whale to his own advantage, by manipulating the crew into backing him in his venture despite the obvious danger. For Ahab, his pursuit of the whale goes beyond what the purpose of the Pequod is, instead his goal is one of personal vengeance.

The author in the following chapter speaks about what the color white symbolizes. What the author is essentially trying to say through the chapter is that everything be it color, or a living thing, does not mean or represent anything definite. In other words, if white symbolizes good aspects like purity and royalty, it can also evoke strange fears and terror at the same time. Through various examples, the author seems to suggest that Moby Dick, the white whale, represents both the good and negative aspects of whiteness rather than just embodying evil as Ahab purports.

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