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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 55 - 57

Summary

In these chapters, Ishmael gives the reader an idea of what a sperm whale looks like. He declares that no one has ever drawn or painted a sperm whale as it really looks in real life. To see or know what a sperm whale looks like, one should go on a whaling voyage, he says. However, Ishmael admits that some pictures do exist which depict the true essence of the sperm whale and that only the French artists have been able to portray it. The paintings that Ishmael likes the most are the scenes of whaling done by Garnery and by H. Durand.

Furthermore, Ishmael informs the readers that when sailors wish to pass time, they do so by carving several objects out of whalebone, wood, or metal with their jack knives which is called skrimshandering. Some sailors use other tools to do the carving. Here, Ishmael states that some of the most beautiful and true depiction of whales and whaling incidents can be seen in these carvings done in wood bone or metal. This is because only a whaler knows the exact shape of the whale and what it looks like. Ishmael adds that the shape of the whale can be seen coming out of the mountains of an island in the Pacific at sunset (i.e. the mountain is shaped like a huge whale). Its figure also can be seen in the stars as they shine on a bright night sky.


Notes

Here, the author gives more information about the whaling profession. Further, by stating that sailors carves the most wonderful whaling scenes in wood metal or bone, Melville makes a very important point : that fine pieces of art are not produced necessarily by people sitting in the cozy comfort of their luxurious homes or studios. Even sailors who work hard at sea, facing great dangers, can create beautiful objects, out of their rich experience.

Further, by saying that the shape of a whale can be seen in nature, the author seems to suggest that the vastness of the sperm whale is something that can be observed and admired but cannot be controlled by man.

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