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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 43 - 44

Summary

On a quiet moonlight night, the sailors on the Pequod are passing buckets of water to the barrels in the area, where the captain’s cabin stands. While passing the buckets one of them suddenly stops and listens. Then he asks his fellow sailor if he also heard the noise. The other sailor thinks it is all a figment of his imagination. But the sailor insists that he had heard some noise that sounded like a cough. And though the other sailor does not believe it, he is convinced that there is someone in or around the cabin - someone who has not yet appeared on the deck.

In the following chapter, Ishmael says that if one follows Ahab into his cabin, one will find him pouring over several charts and marking the routes, where the white whale was last seen. Ishmael provides more knowledge about sperm whales, saying that they have a fixed route or ‘veins,’ that they follow along a given ocean line. Therefore where they will be can be predicted with some accuracy. The only problem that one cannot figure out is whether the sperm whale will visit such a latitude or longitude this year, or will visit the same zone next year. In other words, though the sperm whale follows a fixed ‘vein’, it has several veins or course(s) to choose from in the vast oceans. So one can never be sure if the course taken last year by a whale will be repeated this year.


Ishmael goes onto acquaint the readers `the land lubbers’ as the narrator puts it, with sperm whales. Firstly, he says that it is very common to see a sperm whale with one or two (even three) harpoons struck on its side. The whale is so strong that it can survive so many attacks before it receives the fatal harpoon on its body. On one occasion, Ishmael witnessed a harpooner killing a whale years after he had attacked it. The man’s harpoons struck years before were found on the whale’s body.

Secondly, many whales can be easily spotted due to their distinct or characteristic shape, mark or color as in the case of Moby Dick. Ishmael brings to the readers’ notice that very few people realize the dangers involved at the sea. Hundreds of seamen have died while chasing whales on boats. Finally, Ishmael says that an angry whale has the power and strength to sink even a huge vessel like the Pequod. He gives the example of an American Navy man-of-war vessel that was drowned by a sperm whale.

Notes

In this chapters, the author not only gives more information about the whales but also makes the readers realize that the extraordinary strength of this creature is not mythic but real. He also suggests that the difficulty in discovering what route the whale will take is comparable to the journeys of man which are also difficult to foretell.

In the earlier Chapter 42, there is an atmosphere of dark mystery, when the sailor hears a noise and wonders if there is someone hidden in the captain’s cabin. Who this will be emerges later in the story but for now it increases the mood of suspense on the ship. This mood changes however in the next few chapters as the author returns to his light, descriptive style of writing.

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