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Moby-Dick or, the Whale
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Weekly Discussions (Moby-Dick) > Week Three: Chapters 24 - 34

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Sarah (sarahj) | 121 comments Mod
Welcome to week 3. The chapters we (should have) read are -

24. The Advocate
25. Postcript
26. Knights and Squires
27. Knights and Squires
28. Ahab
29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb
30. The Pipe
31. Queen Mab
32. Cetology
33. The Specksynder
34. The Cabin-Table

Aside from the famous chapter on whales, Cetology, which I was unjustly trepidatious about, we met a lot of new characters this week, with Ahab taking center stage. Although the overall impression is rough and gruff, I thought Ishmael was also kind to Ahab's character in chapter 28, when he described him as almost smiling in the "girlish" weather.


Stephanie Bens | 19 comments This was my least favorite part to read thus far. While the pace was rather fast in these chapters (aside from the obvious Cetology chapter), I felt there was not much going on. We did meet a lot of new people, but I was not invested in the section as a whole. Did anyone else feel this way, or is it just me?


Bill (BillGNYC) | 184 comments Actually, no. I found this one of the most interesting parts, both in terms of character and his experiments in presenting the chapters as pieces of theater (e.g., Enter Ahab) and the use of Shakespearean soliloquy.

My sense of this book as far as I've gotten, I think Chapter 77 or so, is that with exception of isolated moments, relatively little in this book "happens" in the conventional sense. The plot of Moby-Dick could be managed in a novella.

There will be more chapters devoted to whales -- two just to the differences in the head between the sperm whale and right whale.

I'm beginning to ask myself the question of the function of these chapters (well I know part of the answer here, (view spoiler) but I think it's more than that. I think something central is happening here and I think it's in part metaphorical and part symbolic. I was thinking that the whale in its magnificence was something like a Gothic cathedral and there's a certain grief in imagining the life of the whale taken just to fuel a lamp.

In the matter of pagans and Presbyterians, cannibals and Christians, the pagans and cannibals seem to come off better. In the question of whales and men, I think the author's sympathies are with whales.

I also think the question Ahab's monomania, his ability to ensorcell the crew (isn't encorcell a great word? it means "to enchant" and shares a root with "sorcerer"), Ishmael's inability to resist the enchantment, the ability to buy off the crew, the moral question of inflicting vengeance on a creature merely acting by instinct to protect himself -- I think this is all big stuff, bigger than we've had yet.


JenniferD (booktrovert) I actually really enjoyed the Shakespearean leanings/tributes too. I generally am quite fond of soliloquy and enjoyed the ones offered by Melville too. I really dug the cetology chapter and still found the pacing to be very good. I felt the foundation was strengthened in this section of the novel.


Charles Bill wrote: "I was thinking that the whale in its magnificence was something like a Gothic cathedral and there's a certain grief in imagining the life of the whale taken just to fuel a lamp."

The whale is on the side of life. Ahab is on the side of death. The implications of this for the end probably should be deferred to the end, so my remark remains a dictum for the time being. However, Bill's use of "ensorcell" and his observation concerning Ishmael's resistance suggests some alignments.


message 6: by Ken (new)

Ken This may have been covered already, but why does Melville insist that whales are fish and not mammals, and that a porpoise is a whale? Have I got a lot to learn about classifications in animal life?


message 7: by Bill (last edited Nov 19, 2011 06:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bill (BillGNYC) | 184 comments Although it is dangerous to quote from Wikipedia, an article there suggests that Ishmael ignores Linnean classification as overly complex, and his use of "fish" may be merely used to mean sea creature without denying its mammalian characteristics.

Remember he decides to classify whales by the size books (folio, octavo, and duodecimo) as being the better way to go. This is a quasi-scientific presentation. And yes, there's a lot more to cetaceans than whales and porpoises.


Sarah (sarahj) | 121 comments Mod
Laugh. Yes, I was sitting there wondering if a porpoise was a whale and how dumb I am.

Like Stephanie I did find this a little more slow-moving than the preceding chapters, but I figured that was because all the characters were being brought onstage and not just introduced but indeed characterized. I started the Cetology chapter feeling like I'd swallowed a bowling ball but by the end it was a lot of fun, I thought.

The mealy-mouthed porpoise really has my sympathy.


message 9: by Ken (new)

Ken At least he's well-fed (all those meals, I mean).


Stephanie Bens | 19 comments Can we try to stick to the given chapters (24-34) for this discussion? I realize many of us are way ahead of this point (I am too), but I think it will be easier to discuss these specific chapters if we limit the discussion to just these chapters. We aren't supposed to know anything else yet. Also, I think it may be easier for those in the group who are behind in the reading to make sense of the discussion threads when they come to each point in the book...Just a thought.


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Donald (donf) | 86 comments While reading the "Cabin-Table" chapter, I was struck with the notion of how Melville's original audience would have reacted reading about
Dough-Boy serving and being subservient to, Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo. I was similarly struck a few chapters earlier when Melville made his statements about Christians and Cannibals. How would that play in Peoria, then or now? I did an internet
search on book bannings and Moby Dick. Most of the hits were for "conflicting with the values of the community." There was no organized history of the book's banning that I could find, although I'm sure there are books out there that mention it. (One interesting hit came up during my search, one man collects copies of "Moby Dick" and he has 147 different editions!). I did see a book in the library about the early critical reception of MB, but I don't know if banning would have been discussed. Any thoughts?


Stephanie Bens | 19 comments Donald-- that is an interesting question. I haven't done research on it yet, but I would not be surprised if MD had been banned at some point in history.


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Donald (donf) | 86 comments Stephanie: Thanks for your post. No doubt about it, MD HAS been banned numerous times, as many classics have been over the years. What I am interested in, and I did not mention this in my original post - was there ever any ORGANIZED banning of MD. Likely suspects, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of the time, Future members of the Confederate States of America. Here's an interesting quote about book burning by the famous German Poet, Heinrich Heine who lived 100 years before the NAZI takeover of Germany:

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”


Charles Donald wrote: "Stephanie: Thanks for your post. No doubt about it, MD HAS been banned numerous times, as many classics have been over the years. What I am interested in, and I did not mention this in my original..."

It is also important to remember that the book ruined Melville's reputation and he rapidly became unknown, and hence unbannable. Leavis and DH Lawrence were responsible for resuscitating him. So if there has been any controversy we should look in the period after 1935 or so.


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Donald (donf) | 86 comments Thanks for your interesting comments,Charles.


message 16: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 88 comments As for the Cetology chapter, I actually started reading it wondering if I would be skimming it in parts. Instead I found myself interested and amused and occasionally laughing at the descriptions, either physical or behavioral. Melville did it again. This was my favorite chapter of this section.

I also enjoyed the description of mealtime, the pecking order used to go to and leave the captain's table and the appetites of the harpooners who appear to have the happiest time on the ship.


Charles Sue wrote: "I also enjoyed the description of mealtime, the pecking order used to go to and leave the captain's table and the appetites of the harpooners who appear to have the happiest time on the ship. "

In light of the just previous discussion, the harpooners were essential to the success of the mission. Not that there were any useless crew, but the harpooners had a very high status, one outside the hierarchy of officers and sailors. The nature of their job required that they be well-fed and in peak physical condition. A disgruntled or under the weather harpooner had to be avoided at all costs. Ishmael was morally offended at the way Queequeg was treated ashore. Melville makes it clear, I think, that shipboard society was superior. Might have something to do with his remark about November in the soul.

Given that, there is another 'person' in this society essential to the success of the enterprise -- the whale. It seems to me Melville spends a lot of time working out what the right relationship is between man (hunter) and whale (hunted), a moral relationship more subtle, difficult, and respectful than mere adventuring, and that the cetology chapter is essential to this program. Aside from anything said, the chapter's very inclusion is an alert.


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Bill (BillGNYC) | 184 comments And its a struggle, it's not clear to Ishamel what it might be -- and since I haven't finished the book, I don't know that he does find out. Ishmael is the great questioner, in most cases, not the provider of answers.


message 19: by Ken (last edited Nov 21, 2011 01:35PM) (new)

Ken Back to "The Advocate," I thought it was amusing how Melville got all indignant in a hyperbolic way about whaling not being taken seriously. He ticks off reasons why it should be, including allusions to Job (Bible), Alfred the Great (English royalty), Ben Franklin (colonial great), and English statutory law (it declared whales "a royal fish).

On to the funny part. He uses a footnote to say that we should "see subsequent chapters for something more on this head."

Ha ha. The head joke is this: In Chapter 25, a minnow of a chapter called "Postscript," he discusses oils, and how a "king's head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad."

Tongue-in-American cheek, he goes on to comment about men who oil their heads for vanity's sake. "In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality."

Sic semper British royalty!

The final joke: "... what kind of oil is used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil. What can it possibly be, but sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?

"Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!"

Postscript: I'm sure he's making fun of British royalty (such an easy target), but I wonder also if he's making fun of whaling itself. The jury's still out, in other words, on whether his heart is with the whalers or the whales, but he's sure having fun building up to such commitments and commentary....


message 20: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 88 comments I'm so glad you mentioned that part NE. Loved reading it. Melville has fun at different spots in the novel, playing sport with different icons of society.


message 21: by Bill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bill (BillGNYC) | 184 comments I think he's struck for what trivial purposes such magnificent creatures are killed and so many men risk life or limb -- a particularly appropriate expression here. I think his heart is with both the whalers and whales, and even with cannibals and Christians. But I'm suspecting more than individuals Christians, hypocritical though they may be, this book is looking, more and more, like an indictment of Western Civilization.


Sarah (sarahj) | 121 comments Mod
Yes, NE. Thanks for bringing up that chapter. It is indeed so funny. I think of men who use gobs of hair gel and how silly it makes many of them look. Sorry, for seeming being sexist. I also don't like it much on women...


message 23: by Ken (new)

Ken Sue -- HM the Iconoclast? Twain would be proud!

Bill- Yes, Melville's heart as a big tent works for me.

Sarah -- 'Tis fine to be sexist about men. As a gender, we deserve it, though I admit that I am not and have never been a hair gel / aftershave / cologne (Germany!) kind of guy...


LauraT (laurata) I'm a bit overworked, so little time to write and read what's going on here.
But I've managed to finish these chapters and I find them as interesting as those preceding them. THey're slow; but that I knew. And the fact that we're reading at a sloe pace makes them more "endurable": you can think abiut each page you read. Even Cetology was interesting - a part from the fact that he thinks whales fishes!!!! But at that time probably it was a common consideration ...


message 25: by Stephen (last edited Nov 22, 2011 09:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephen (havan) | 90 comments I've come late to this weeks posting party and you all have already covered many of my most lasting observations!

I was waylaid this week by an etymylogical voyage of sorts that was kicked of in Chapter 27 Knights and Squires (and by the way... is anyone else going to discuss why two consecutive chapters were given the same name)

Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread—an Ahasuerus to behold

Having never heard of Ahasuerus I did a web search

Ok so it's another spelling of Xerxes but Ahasuerus also led me to The Book of Tobit which I'd never heard of and being fascinated by what's been left out of the Bible I grew up reading I followed that lead...

Sounds like an interesting book...Sarah prays for death in despair. She has lost seven husbands to the demon of lust!

And Tobias...Along the way, he is attacked by a giant fish, whose heart, liver and gall bladder are removed to make medicines.

Hmmm... back to MD!

But then does HM diss John Donne? not acknowledging the common continent of men, but each Isolato living on a separate continent of his own.


Carol Hmmmmm Doctor of whales. I wonder about the acronym, I know it is a stretch.


Stephen (havan) | 90 comments MD as Medical Doctor? Perhaps Marine Doctor or given Chapter 32 Mammalian Doctor?

Sorry if I tend to focus on the small stuff but it's in my nature. I find prose that contains words I'm not thoroughly familiar with as bothersome as a movie that's being projected out of focus.

Sometimes God is in the details and I feel the need to see them clearly. Perhaps that's why I find massive novels like MD so challenging. They require a lot of work to bring everything into focus. And I need to muster the energy to put in that work.

Even a throwaway like As a carpenter’s nails are divided into wrought nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Say what? That caused me to do a bit of web research on antique nails... Check out
http://www.hereandthere.org/oldhouse/... if you don't believe me.


JenniferD (booktrovert) Stephen wrote: "I find prose that contains words I'm not thoroughly familiar with as bothersome..."

Why not change your view to see it as a great opportunity to learn a new word/learn something interesting?? That's what I do. Yes, it does lead to meandering tangents, but that often is fun and interesting too. Certainly it's not something to be bothered by, is it really??


message 29: by Stephen (last edited Nov 22, 2011 10:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephen (havan) | 90 comments Jennifer wrote: "Why not change your view to see it as a great opportunity to learn a new word/learn something interesting?."


I think you missed my point. You're sort of asking the Moor to be blacker. I'm saying that I tend to restrict my reading of "capital C Classics" because I end up going off on tangent after tangent. That's great for at home reading when one has a dictionary and the internet available but I've read over 100 books this year. If they were ALL classics I'd have been worn to a frazzle by the research my reading habits would have entailed.

BTW... Anyone else catch the irony of Mellvile complaining that the whale has no famous authors, and then him sorta kinda lumping himself in with Cervantes (Don Quixote) and Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress)... Of course since this book scuttled his career...


JenniferD (booktrovert) Stephen wrote: "I think you missed my point..."

No, I understood your point, Stephen, as I read the same way as you. I was just responding to your use of the word "bothersome", is all. Sorry if I agitated you, that wasn't my intent.


Carol Jennifer a good stir of the pot unsticks things at least I think so. Heehee!


message 32: by JenniferD (last edited Nov 22, 2011 10:20AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

JenniferD (booktrovert) Kitty wrote: "Jennifer a good stir of the pot unsticks things at least I think so. Heehee!"

Haha!! I swear it's not my intention, at all, Kitty!!! The word 'bothersome' struck me as a negative thing and so I inferred irritation and thought if it was reframed as something pleasurable, it wouldn't be as much of an annoyance. But...I am always trying to "on the upside" things.

:D


Stephen (havan) | 90 comments To change the subject somewhat... There was one sentance that I just couldn't grock moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe. Ok I get that the man was imposing and "his countenance may have foretold tempestuosness ahead" but a crucifixion in his face was, at least for me an elusive image. Anyone care to shed some light?


Carol I think maybe The Passion of Christ. I have always seen picture's and the face is pure agony.




JenniferD (booktrovert) Could it also be interpreted as his appearing bloodthirsty? That Ahab is the executioner/crucifier and Moby his victim/target upon which his is singularly focused?


Carol Ah that makes more sense Jennifer.


JenniferD (booktrovert) Kitty wrote: "Ah that makes more sense Jennifer."

It could be either, really. Ahab is anguished over his fixation on killing Moby Dick as much as he is steely in his resolve.


Carol Again Melville is the master of ambiguity.


JenniferD (booktrovert) Kitty wrote: "Again Melville is the master of ambiguity."

Right?? :D


Carol Jennifer wrote: "Kitty wrote: "Again Melville is the master of ambiguity."

Right?? :D"


:) haha


message 41: by Stephen (last edited Nov 22, 2011 11:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephen (havan) | 90 comments I was struck by the sailors gossiping about Ahab's lost leg. “Aye, he was dismasted off Japan,” said the old Gay-Head Indian once; “but like his dismasted craft, he shipped another mast without coming home for it. He has a quiver of ’em.”

Having never read it before I wondered if we'd see more of them in subsequent chapters. But the odd thought that crossed my mind was when my middle brother, John, lost his leg as a result of a motorcycle accident we NEVER joked about it. We were never comfortable enough. John even learned to play golf again with his prosthetic one and I never heard a single jibe, no "you seem to be hooking more than usual" no "What size golf shoe does it take?" The only comment was from my dad to me. "He STILL out drives you!"

On another tack... did anyone else notice that the on-line copy of Chapter 29 has it the old man would emerge, gripping at the iron banister?

Griping, meaning grasping is also a sailing term for the tendancy of a ship "to tend to come into the wind" I think Melville chose the word griping for its nautical connotations.


Charles Ahasuerus was/is also the name of the Wandering Jew, adapted from the name of a Persian king and meaning the "foot". I suspect this is the primary reference for what Melville has in mind. Eugene Sue's Le Juif Errant (The Wandering Jew) was published serially (en feuilleton) in Paris in 1845 and became a rage among all classes of readers. Copies of each installment were sent to the US by fast packet, translated overnight, and hit the streets to be sold out in minutes. It remained popular until the 1870s. This new mode of publication made Sue a fortune, as it had for Dumas a few years earlier. Ahasuerus would have been in the public consciousness at the time Melville was writing. The question is: why the reference in the first place?


message 43: by Stephen (last edited Nov 22, 2011 11:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephen (havan) | 90 comments Yes, Ahasuerus/Xerxes was the Persian king that you mentioned and I agree that the Wandering Jew was probably the reference that was intended. But that's no reason for this gentile to forego a bit of wandering myself. After all an utterly fearless man may be a far more dangerous comrade than a coward, but an incurious reader is certainly less fun than a tangential one.

BTW... Having had good friends from Richmond it crossed my mind after reading chapter 30... Has anyone ever tried to blame Ahab's problems on his quitting smoking?


message 44: by Ken (new)

Ken Kitty wrote: "Hmmmmm Doctor of whales. I wonder about the acronym, I know it is a stretch."

If not a Doctor of whales, how about the Prince of Whales (and next in line)?


Stephen (havan) | 90 comments Newengland wrote: If not a Doctor of whales, how about the Prince of Whales (and next in line)?"

Kinda ties in with the Manxman's prognostications. After all the Prince of Whales' momma is the Lord of Mann ;)


Charles Stephen wrote: "Yes, Ahasuerus/Xerxes was the Persian king that you mentioned and I agree that the Wandering Jew was probably the reference that was intended. But that's no reason for this gentile to forego a bit ..."

Oh dear, I didn't mean to be peremptory.

"Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread—an Ahasuerus to behold..." I don't get it. What's the connection between Daggoo and Ahasuerus? It would be fun to work out the history of the Wandering Jew trope, but... Oh, well.


Stephen (havan) | 90 comments No offense taken or intended, I'm afraid my analytical style is more Jackson Pollock than Georges Seurat. And as to the wandering jew, I'm more of a meandering methodist, though I'm probably closer to born-again pagan at this point.


message 48: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 88 comments Stephen, not to mix my classics too messily, but do you involve yourself in Bloomsday? Somehow I can feel Joyce in your "speech" even though I have barely scratched the surface of Ulysses.


Stephen (havan) | 90 comments Sue: thanks for the comment and (possibly the compliment) but no, I've never actually read any Joyce yet, I did recently get A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but haven't started it yet. From what I've heard about some of Joyce's other works, perhaps its just that my posts are somewhat incomprehensible. I'm afraid that that's just me, or early onset alzheimers...


message 50: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 88 comments I'm chuckling here Stephen. I didn't really mean incomprehensible, more a language pattern thing I guess which I find interesting to read. It seemed to remind me of something from my reading past so I made a stab at Joyce. I see no evidence of Alzheimers in your words from my vantage point (but for all I know Moby Dick could be feeding you your lines).


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