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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 81 - 85

Summary

In these chapters, the narrator uses various examples from mythology to prove that the whaling profession is a distinguished one. In this context, he cites examples from Greek as well as Hindu mythology. Ishmael says that once an old ‘whale man’ at Sag Harbor questioned the validity of the story - Jonah and the whale. For he could not believe that a man could be swallowed unhurt by a whale and then vomited out later. Moreover, what he could not fathom was how the whale swam all the way to the River Tigris and vomited Jonah near the ancient city of Nineveh. To this, Ishmael says that the whale must have gone round the Cape of Good Hope and made his way through the Dead Sea (!).

In the following chapter, Ishmael tells the reader about pitch poling. Sometimes, while chasing the whale on a boat, the whale increases its speed instead of diving into the sea. To decrease its speed, pitch poles - a series of light pointed weapons - are thrown at the vital parts of the whale, until the speeding creature slows down and dies.

In the next chapter, Ishmael explains the purpose of the fountain that comes out of the whale’s head. This he says makes up for the lack of a nose in the whale and contribute to the mystery surrounding the whale.


Finally, Ishmael describes the tail of this massive creature to be a thing of beauty, full of grace and power. It has many tasks including helping it to dive to the depths of the ocean as well as warning the whale of dangers that are imminent. The whale also uses its horizontal tail to attack boats chasing it. One swish of its powerful tail can prove fatal to a boat.

Notes

Through the description of the whale, its various features - the tail, the fountain and so on the author suggests that the whale is so huge and complex that it is beyond human nature to comprehend it. Similarly, man does not have the capacity to comprehend the entire complex meaning of the universe. Therefore, the only way to know the world is to understand the smaller aspects of it.

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