ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
[personal profile] ambrmerlinus
Let me preface this rant by saying that these chapters were really, really hard to summarize/write about. There's plenty of stuff going on, but very little of the prose is quotable, which kind of ruins my (admittedly lazy) usual structure.

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada opens with a page worth of description of the Sunda Strait. Ishmael describes the area as being full of pirates, though based on his description it sounds less like piracy and more like exacting a toll for passing through their territory, which seems pretty reasonable to me. Then again, I'm thoroughly a landlubber, so what would I know?

Ahab is still intent on his Moby Dick quest, so much so that he's refusing to let the crew stop for water. He's got to reach his predicted Moby-D rendezvous point on time, you see. While this is worrisome, it's not quite a problem yet since whaling ships are ridiculously well-stocked. I predict troubles in the future, partly because Ishmael is crap at foreshadowing and partly because the internet spoiled me for a book that was written almost 200 years ago.

Anyway, the Pequod is sailing through the Sunda Strait when they spot a pod of whales ahead. The crew gets super excited and is ready to give chase when Tashtego is like, "Uh, guys? Pirates. Right behind us," and everyone else is like, "Well, shit."

So now it's pirates chasing the Pequod chasing whales. Sidenote: I would in no way be opposed to a Pirates of the Caribbean/Moby Dick crossover. Just sayin'.

The Pequod evades the pirates in about a paragraph's worth of non-action and catches up to the whales in a similar manner. Longboats are lowered and the hunt begins. It's worth mentioning that the pod contains daddy whales, mommy whales, and baby whales. In this chapter, whaling starts to look less like good ol' fashioned homoerotic fun and more like animal cruelty.*

Ishmael notes that "In about three minutes' time, Queequeg's harpoon was flung" (pg. 408) which could be hilarious innuendo but really means Queequeg is a badass. This fact has already been thoroughly established; anyone who wishes this fact no longer be subject to further establishment is advised to shut up because Queequeg is talking and his harpoon is bigger than yours.

The harpooned whale pulls Starbuck's boat (containing our good friends Queequeg and Ishmael) into a circle of whales spinning 'round and 'round like some kind of whale whirlpool only with less sinking. In the center of the whalepool, closest to the boat, are the baby whales.

pg. 411: Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.

Too cute.

Looking further into the water beneath the boat, Ishmael witnesses a baby whale being born, as well as other whales making more whale babies. It's like an entire whale life cycle up in here.

The idyllic scene is interrupted when a wounded whale still tangled up with the weapon that hurt him swims through the pod, inadvertently injuring the other whales around him. Starbuck's boat is able to escape the whalepool in its wake.

pg. 414: This lucky salvation was cheaply purchased by the loss of Queequeg's hat, who, while standing in the bows to prick the fugitive whales, had his hat taken clean from his head by the air-eddy made by the sudden tossing of a pair of broad flukes close by.


I was supposed to be drawing a hat on Queequeg this whole time, wasn't I?


In Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters, Ishmael explains how whale pods work. There are two kinds of whale pods; those mostly made of females and babies, and those mostly made of young males. Very similar to elephants, if I'm remembering elephants correctly.

Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish sounds like it should be a Pixar movie about aquatic prostitutes. Sadly this is not the case.

Instead, Ishmael explains some of the laws that apply whaling.

pg. 419-420: I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the part fast to it.
II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.

A Fast-Fish is any seacreature, alive or dead, that is connected to a boat with real live people on it via a rope, a harpoon, an oar, whatever. As long as there is a connection between occupied boat and fish, the fish is Fast.

A Loose-Fish is any fish that is not a Fast-Fish.

And then Ishmael takes the metaphor and runs a fucking marathon with it, declaring people and places to be Fast-Fish and/or Loose-Fish, including but not limited to:

pg. 422: What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish, whereof possession is the whole of the law? What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected villain's marble mansion with a door-plate for a waif; what is that but a Fast-Fish? What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the broker, gets from poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to keep Woebegone's family from starvation; what is that ruinous discount but a Fast-Fish? What is the Archbishop of Savesoul's income of £100,000 seized from the scant bread and cheese of hundreds of thousands of broken-backed laborers (all sure of heaven without any of Savesoul's help) what is that globular 100,000 but a Fast-Fish? What are the Duke of Dunder's hereditary towns and hamlets but Fast-Fish? What to that redoubted harpooner, John Bull, is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish? What to that apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan, is Texas but a Fast-Fish?

tl;dr - Loose-Fish is freedom, Fast-Fish is not freedom. Your point is made, thank you Ishmael, please sit down.**

*Fun fact! Whalemen noticed that adult whales were fiercely protective of baby whales, so they would deliberately attack/injure baby whales to lure the adults in to kill. Oh, those wacky whalemen. (This fact courtesy of your local friendly New Bedford Whaling Museum.)

**Bonus points if you picked up on the super subtle anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism in Ishmael's rant.


For more adventures in Moby Dick, check out the Moby Dick, or The Rant tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.
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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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