ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
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Hello new readers! Big thanks to [personal profile] dorothean for sending you my way!

In Chapter 60: The Line,* Ishmael tells us all about rope. First, he explains why some ropes are better than others.

pg. 297: Hemp is a dusky, dark fellow, a sort of Indian; but Manilla is as a golden-haired Circassian to behold.


Anyway, the rope (or "line") in whaling is primarily used to attach the harpoon to the boat, so that when a whale is harpooned, the boat is dragged along with it until the animal is dead. It's a bit like fishing, only with a harpoon instead of a fish hook, and instead of reeling in the fish to the boat, the boat is reeled in to the whale. Kind of.

When in a boat, the line is kept carefully coiled in a barrel called a "line-tub."

pg. 298: When the painted canvas cover is clapped on the American line-tub, the boat looks as if it were pulling off with a prodigious great wedding-cake to present to the whales.

Delicious death-cake.**

The rest of the line is threaded throughout the boat among the oarsmen. When the harpoon is thrown, the line starts unspooling at incredible speeds that can wrap around a man's arm, torso, or neck and whip him out of the boat if he's not careful.

pg. 299-300: Yet habit–strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?–Gayer sallies, more merry mirth, better jokes, and brighter repartees, you never heard over your mahogany, than you will hear over the half-inch white cedar of the whale-boat, when thus hung in hangman's nooses; and, like the six burghers of Calais before King Edward, the six men composing the crew pull into the jaws of death, with a halter around every neck, as you may say.

In conclusion, there is no end to the ways in which whaling will probably get you killed.

Chapter 61: Stubb Kills a Whale FINALLY!

The chapter begins with Ishmael back up in the mizzenmast, being the worst sailor of all time. Fortunately there are other people on duty who spot the whale and sing out. Boats are lowered and the crew gives chase.

pg. 303: "Start her, start her, my men! Don't hurry yourselves; take plenty of time–but start her; start her like thunderclaps, that's all," cried Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke. "Start her, now; give 'em the long and strong stroke, Tashtego. Start her, Tash, my boy–start her, all; but keep cool, keep cool–cucumbers is the word–easy, easy–only start her like grim death and grinning devils, and raised the buried dead perpendicular out of their graves, boys–that's all. Start her!

Stubb's dialogue remains one of my favorite parts of this book. But Stubby funtimes are quickly dashed.

pg. 303: "Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!" screamed the Gay-Header in reply, raising some old war-whoop to the skies;


pg. 303: "Kee-hee! Kee-hee!" yelled Daggoo, straining forwards and backwards on his seat, like a pacing tiger in his cage.


pg. 303: "Ka-la! Koo-loo!" howled Queequeg, as if smacking his lips over a mouthful of Grenadier's steak.


Ishmael's weirdness towards the harpooneers aside, the whale hunt continues apace. Tashtego harpoons the whale, which causes the line to start unspooling.

pg. 304: a hempen blue smoke now jetted up and mingled with the steady fumes from [Stubb's] pipe. As the line passed round and round the loggerhead; so also, just before reaching that point, it blisteringly passed through and through both of Stubb's hands, from which the hand-clothes, or squares of quilted canvas sometimes worn at these times, had accidentally dropped.


Stubb's horrific rope burns are slowed by the addition of seawater splashed on to the line with someone's hat (although saltwater plus open wounds is another recipe for pain, so... ow).

The boat catches up to the harpooned whale, and Stubb takes up his lance and starts stabbing the shit out of the whale with it.

pg. 305-306: The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind in their wake. [...] Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into the fist, and kept it there, carefully churning and churning, [...] And now it is struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing called his "flurry," the monster horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so that the imperiled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to struggle out from the phrensied twilight into the clear air of the day.

And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view; surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it has been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frightened air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst


pg. 306: "He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo.

Daggoo, the Dr. McCoy of the Pequod.

In Chapter 62: The Dart, Ishmael interrupts the narrative to tell us more about the business of whaling. More specifically, we learn just how difficult it is to be a harpooneer.

pg. 306-307: Now it needs a strong, nervous arm to strike the first iron into the fish; for often, in what is called a long dart, the heavy implement has to be flung to the distance of twenty or thirty feet. But however prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooneer is expected to pull his oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to set an example of superhuman activity to the rest, not only by incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations; and what it is to keep shouting at the top of one's compass, while all the other muscles are strained and half-started–what that is none know but those who have tried it. For one, I cannot bawl very heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same time.

I love when Ishmael knows his own limitations.

pg. 307: no wonder that some of them actually burst their blood-vessels in the boat

wait wut

pg. 307: Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both foolish and unnecessary. The headsman should stay in the bows from first to last; he should both dart the harpoon and the lance, and no rowing whatever should be expected of him, except under circumstances obvious to any fisherman. I know that this would sometimes involved a slight loss of speed in the chase but long experience in various whale-men of more than one nation has convinced me that in the vast majority of failures in the fishery, it has not by any means been so much the speed of the whale as the before described exhaustion of the harpooneer that has caused them.

Ishmael you are not allowed to be completely ridiculous and make reasonable-sounding suggestions back-to-back. I am getting whiplash.

In Chapter 63: The Crotch, lol "crotch."

Turns out the crotch is where the whale-boat's harpoons are kept when not in use; it's a little forked stick for them to lean on. Each boat has two harpoons in case the first one fails. Trouble is, they are attached to the same line, meaning if you fling the first harpoon, and it sticks in a whale, then you need to throw the second harpoon out of the boat real fast lest it start flying through the air and take someone's head off. Or, as Ishmael puts it:

pg. 309: Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging one unusually strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these qualities in him, as well as to the thousand concurring accidents of such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be simultaneously dangling about him. For, of course, each boat is supplied with several harpoons to bend on to the line should the first one be ineffectually darted without recovery. All these particulars are faithfully narrated here, as they will not fail to elucidate several most important, however intricate passages, in scenes hereafter to be painted.


In Chapter 64: Stubb's Supper, everything gets real uncomfortable in a Huckleberry Finn kind of way.

The whale that Stubb killed gets towed back to the Pequod and lashed to it in a parallel fashion. Stubb decides he wants whale steak for dinner and gets it, digging in heartily and loudly. But he is not the only one eating whale tonight.

pg. 311: Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead Leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness. The few sleepers below in their bunks were often startled by the sharp slapping of their tails against the hull, within a few inches of the sleeper's hearts.


pg. 312: Peering over the side you could just see them (as before you heard them) wallowing in the sullen, black waters, and turning over on their backs as they scooped out huge globular pieces of the whale of the bigness of a human head.

D: D: D:

pg. 312: Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a seafight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties; and though sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be handy in case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave to be decently buried; and though one or two other like instances might be set down, touching the set terms, places, and occasions, when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast; yet there is no conceivable time or occasion when you will find them in such countless numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits, than around a dead Sperm Whale, moored by night to a whale-ship at sea. If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.


Rather abruptly, the subject switches from sharks to Stubb and the cook, and the questionable interactions they have. Short version: Stubb is white, the cook is black, and Stubb directs the cook around like a puppet, ordering him to go up on deck and tell the sharks to keep quiet, all the while criticizing his method for doing so. It is all kinds of uncomfortable, made no less so because Melville transcribes the cook's dialogue like so:

pg. 315: "No use goin' on; de dam willains will keep a scrougin' and slappin' each oder, Massa Stubb; dey don't hear one word; no use a-preachin' to such dam g'uttons as you call 'em, till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless; and when dey do get 'em full, dey won't hear you den' for den dey sink in de sea, go fast to sleep on de coral, and can't hear not'ing at all, no more for eber and eber."

So, yeah, Stubb is a huge douche to the cook. But the cook does get the last word.

pg. 317: "Wish, by Gor! whale eat him, 'stead of him eat whale. I'm bressed if he ain't more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself," muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock.

*The title of this chapter brings to mind the comic/poster The Line, which you should all take a moment to read right now. It's one page, I think you'll be okay.
**Everyone get the Eddie Izzard references out of your system before you take to the comments. I love me some Izzard, but the "cake or death" routine is getting to the Monty Python point of being severely overquoted.


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)

February 2012

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