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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 73 - 79

Summary

In the first two chapters, Ishmael compares the head of the sperm whale with that of the right whale’s. With both the dead whales heads tied to the sides of the ship, Ishmael says, it gives one an excellent opportunity to study the only two types of whales that man hunts for commercial purposes. Ishmael observes that the sperm whale’s eyes are on either side near the hinge of the jaw. The eyes are not larger than that of a colt’s, but without lashes. Between the two eyes is the huge skull. Even the ears of the sperm whale are strange. There are just two small holes exactly behind the eyes. On the other hand, the right whale’s ears are located in around the same place, but are covered with a thin membrane. Its huge jaws are 15 feet long and spiked teeth line the jaws.

Comparing the two whale’s heads, Ishmael says, that the right whale’s head is not elegant for it resembles an Old Dutch shoe, and unlike the sperm whale, it has no teeth, no long lower jaw, no huge lower lip and a very small tongue. Also unlike the sperm whale, it has two spouts and not one as seen in the sperm whale.

While referring to the sperm whale’s massive forehead, Ishmael says it has no organs on it. It is just a huge mass of blubber. But this huge mass of blubber is so tough that it is as good as the world’s best battering ram. Also, it is in this part of his body that the whale stores fat that is used as spermaceti oil - the most valuable product in the American market.


While cutting the whale’s head, the harpooner has to be very careful not to strike this huge store of oil. Once, the huge head is cut, a bucket is dipped into the head or the ‘tun’ (also known as the vat) and the oil emptied into a tub. Suddenly, the harpooner, Tashtego slips into the gaping hole and down into the slippery oil. Daggoo tries to help him out. But at that instance, the huge chains holding the head, give way and the head splashes into the sea. Daggoo catches hold of the chain to save himself, and Queequeg leaps into the sea and comes up with Tashtego.

Notes

Studying the sperm whale’s head, Ishmael feels that it contains all that is divine as well as the fearsome in a whale. Through the description of the physical features (especially eyes), the author suggests the duality in nature as compared to the singularity of man. In other words, while the whale, because of the position of its eyes, can focus on two things at the same time, man can only see or focus upon one object or aspect of life. This observation can be applied to Ahab who can only see the white whale in one way--as the impersonation of evil--whereas Ishmael can see that the whale has multiple meanings.

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