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Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope

Part of the whole "slicing a whale into itty-bitty pieces" process involves the insertion of hooks into whale flesh. This is Queequeg's job. He does this while the whale is being peeled, meaning that he's basically walking on a fleshy, half-submerged treadmill the entire time.

pg. 339: On the occasion in question, Queequeg figured in the Highland costume–a shirt and socks–in which to my eyes, at least, he appeared to uncommon advantage; and no one had a better chance to observe him, as will presently be seen.

Googling "Highland costume" gets me naught but kilts and tartans, which I am pretty sure are not what Queequeg is wearing here. Still, though...



But yeah, that's probably not what Melville meant. Tragically.

Queequeg is not alone in his badass task. To keep from pitching into the ocean and being lost forever, he is tethered to a crewmate on deck. More specifically, he is tethered to Ishmael.

pg. 339: So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time, were wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honor demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me down in his wake.

D'aww.

Of course, slipping and falling is not the only risk out here. Remember the sharks that Queequeg was slaying in the last chapter? There are still some dozen or so swimming around, nomming bits of whale.

pg. 340-341: And right in among those sharks was Queequeg; who often pushed them aside with his floundering feet.

It is one thing to kick a shark in the face. It is another to nudge it as though it weren't worth the energy of kicking it.

Conclusion: Queequeg is a badass.

Tashtego and Daggoo try to help Queequeg out by shark-hunting around him, but Ishmael thinks they're doing more harm than good and run the risk of spearing Queequeg with their spades. At long last, Queequeg's task is done.

pg. 341: For now, as with blue lips and bloodshot eyes the exhausted savage at last climbs up the chains and stands all dripping and involuntarily trembling over the side

This man needs a towel, some hot chocolate, and cuddles, STAT.

What he does get, from the ship's steward, is "a cup of tepid ginger and water" (pg. 341). This pisses everyone right the hell off, from Ishmael to Stubb.

pg. 341-342: "Ginger? Do I smell ginger?" suspiciously asked Stubb, coming near. "Yes, this must be ginger," peering into the as yet untasted cup. Then standing as if incredulous for a while, he calmly walked towards the astonished steward slowly saying, "Ginger? ginger? and will you have the goodness to tell me, Mr. Dough-Boy, where lies the virtue of ginger? Ginger! is ginger the sort of fuel you use, Dough-Boy, to kindle a fire in this shivering cannibal? Ginger!–what the devil is ginger?–sea-coal? fire-wood?–lucifer matches?–tinder?–gunpowder?–what the devil is ginger, I say, that you offer this cup to our poor Queequeg here?"

Stubb gets a second opinion from Starbuck, who concurs that, yes, ginger is absolutely unacceptable. But Stubb is not yet done ranting.

pg. 341: "Ginger-jub! you gingerly rascal! take that! and run along with ye to the lockers, and get something better. I hope I do no wrong, Mr. Starbuck. It is the captain's orders–grog for the harpooneer on a whale."

"Enough," replied Starbuck, "only don't hit him again, but–"

"Oh, I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something of that sort; and this fellow's a weazel."


Stubb would be my favorite, if the competition weren't so fierce and Queequeg-shaped.

In Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk Over Him, you can probably guess what happens.

The whale hunt is nothing we haven't seen before. They see a Right Whale, they kill it, they drag it back to the ship. The real point of the chapter is Stubb and Flask's talk, which is all about Fedallah. The two mates are convinced that he is the devil, and they mean this very literally.

According to rumor, the purpose behind killing the Right Whale is so they can hang its head on the opposite side of the ship as the Sperm Whale's head. This will make the ship impervious to harm. Apparently this was all Fedallah's idea, which gives fuel to Stubb and Flask's devil theory. As Stubb puts it,

pg. 345: "He's the devil, I say. The reason why you don't see his tail, is because he tucks it up out of sight; he carries it coiled away in his pocket, I guess."

And how does Stubb plan to deal with the devil-on-board problem?

pg. 347-348: "But I am going now to keep a sharp look-out on him; and if I see anything very suspicious going on, I'll just take him by the nape of his neck, and say–Look here, Beelzebub, you don't do it; and if he makes any fuss, by the Lord I'll make a grab into his pocket for his tail, take it to the capstan, and give him such a wrenching and heaving, that his tail will come short off at the stump–do you see; and then, I rather guess when he finds himself docked in that queer fashion, he'll sneak off without the poor satisfaction of feeling his tail between his legs."

"And what will you do with the tail, Stubb?"

"Do with it? Sell it for an ox whip when we get home–what else?"


Of course.

In Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale's Head–Contrasted View, Ishmael gets back into his cetology and my eyes roll right on out of their sockets. He goes on about the Sperm Whale's philosophy and I know that as a good little academic reader of literature I should be hanging on to his every word and examining it for metaphor and substance but honestly all I want to do is scream GET ON WITH IT.

We do get a snippet of Queequeg out of this chapter, though, which is always worthwhile.

pg. 353: With a long, weary hoist the jaw is dragged on board, as if it were an anchor; and when the proper time comes–some few days after all the other work–Queequeg, Daggoo, and Tashtego, being all accomplished dentists, are set to drawing teeth. With a keen cutting-spade, Queequeg lances the gums; then the jaw is lashed down to ringbolts, and a tacked being rigged from aloft, they drag out these teeth, as Michigan oxen drag stumps of old oaks out of wild woodlands. There are generally forty-two teeth in all; in old whales, much worn down, but undecayed; nor filled after our artificial fashion. The jaw is afterwards sawn into slabs, and piled away like joists for building houses.

Emphasis mine. Please hold all Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references.

Chapter 75: The Right Whale's Head–Contrasted View is pretty much the same as Chapter 74. The whole thing can be summed up with the final sentence.

pg. 357: This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

I have a theory that Ishmael spends all his time aboard the Pequod spouting off about stupid whale philosophy that no one cares about, and the only reason that the other whalers don't throw him overboard just to shut him up is that Queequeg would be very upset.

In Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram, we return to our discussion of the Sperm Whale's head, and glean the following quote from Ishmael.

pg. 358: It is as though, the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with horses' hoofs. I do not think that any sensation lurks in it.

Essentially, the head of a Sperm Whale is really big and very solid and would make an excellent battering-ram. FORESHADOWING!

---

Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen
Part Nineteen
Part Twenty
Part Twenty-One
Part Twenty-Two
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ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
ambrmerlinus

February 2012

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