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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 94 - 97

Summary

If one happens to step on the decks of the ship Pequod while the postmortem of the whale is on one would be surprised to see a black conical object, lying lengthwise. This object is the black skin covering the whale’ penis or what is known as foreskin. A sailor called a mincer removes the skin of the whale, dries it and makes two arm holes into it. This done, the mincer puts it on like a long robe. The mincer’s job is to cut and mince the whale blubber. With the long black flowing robe, the mincer supervises this work like a priest or archbishop.

Next, Ishmael explains that each ship has on board its own brick kiln. On these kilns, two huge pots are placed. The fire is kept roaring in kilns, all set to melt the pieces of blubber into oil. Describing the kiln, Ishmael says that flames from the kilns shoot up into the sky, making strange shadows Ishmael informs the reader that on merchant ships the sailors work mainly in the dark below the decks. This is because sperm oil, required for oil lamps, is rare. But on a whaling ship, with plenty of sperm oil, the sailors make the entire place below the deck bright with lights.

Once the blubber melts into oil, the hot oil is poured into a copper cooler. As soon as the oil cools down, it is poured into casks, to be sealed and kept away in the bowels of the ship. After this hard and messy work, (which is usually done under the supervision of Stubb), the sailors clean the place, leaving it spotless. Then, they all go to their quarters to wash themselves and come out on the deck to entertain themselves with stories of the sea. However, it does not last very long, because once a whale is sighted and they have to get back to work.


Notes

While Ishmael watches the fire burning, the harpooners throw pieces of blubber in the pot, their faces covered with a soot and grime. The ship on that dark night reminds Ishmael of something dark and ominous very much like the captain’s dark and ominous obsession for Moby Dick. Yet at the same time, what the whalers collect is actually light. It provides what the sun cannot during the night. This again shows the duality of all things.

The foreskin that the mincer puts on is symbolic of the reproductive powers of the whale as well as undermining the powers of religion which through ritual appear to have power over ordinary people.

In this chapter, the author states that the world around us is full of sorrow. Everything else is unreal. Similarly, all human beings "who hath more of joy than sorrow in him ...cannot be true - not true, or undeveloped." All else, he says is ‘Vanity’. Though, a rather pessimistic view of life, Melville also adds that in spite of all the darkness and ghastliness one should not see all despair. For "Tomorrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright," implying a ray of hope.

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