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\Studyworld\ Studyworld Studynotes \ Moby Dick:
Chapters 116 - 120

Chapter CXVI: The Dying Whale

The next day, as if the Bachelor's fortunes had visited the Pequod, Ahab and his men spear four whales. Ahab sits in his boat, apart from the Pequod at twilight, watching the whale slowly writhe in its death-contortions as the sun goes down. He addresses the whale in highly poetic language, telling it that it has lived a majestic but doomed life, and that its final efforts to turn a dying head toward the sun are all in vain. As he contemplates the death of whales, Ahab calls upon the "darker half" (death?) to "rock me with a prouder if a darker faith." Again, we sense that he is somehow in touch with mysterious and sinister universal forces.

Chapter CXVII: The Whale Watch

Three of the four dead whales are brought alongside the Pequod, but Ahab's whale (and Ahab's boat) are left floating all night. In the middle of the night, Ahab awakens from disturbed sleep to find only Fedallah awake. When he tells Fedallah that he has had a familiar dream, Fedallah seems to know what Ahab is talking about: "Of the hearses?" he asks. He reassures Ahab that he cannot die until he sees two hearses on the sea - not a usual sight - and further that the hearses must be particular: "the first not made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in America." Finally, as if to offer Ahab even weirder reassurance, Fedallah adds "Hemp only can kill thee." Ahab concludes that Fedallah refers to the gallows, and concludes (strangely), "I am immortal then, on land and on sea." Little does he know ...

Chapter CXVIII: The Quadrant

The season arrives for ships like the Pequod to head to the equator to meet the migrating schools of whales there. The crew becomes impatient for the ship's change of course, wondering when Ahab will announce their departure. Ahab sits on deck, taking the angle of the sun with his quadrant (navigational device), and talking to himself - not of the equator, but of Moby Dick. "Where is Moby Dick?" he asks himself. Finally, frustrated with a quadrant which cannot provide such information, Ahab yells "Curse thee thou vain toy ... Curse thee thou quadrant." He stomps the quadrant into pieces, declaring that he will navigate using only the compass, the "log and line," and his own eyes. He then gives the order for the ship to turn, but is he headed for the equator, or for the White Whale? Furthermore, by breaking the quadrant, Ahab has set an ominous precedent: after this, the novel will recount how, one by one, the Pequod's instruments begin to fail or disappear.

Chapter CXIX: The Candle

The seas around Japan, as Ishmael endlessly comments, are beautiful and serene. Except, of course, when they are troubled by the world's deadliest and most unexpected storm, the Typhoon. The Pequod is caught in such a storm which, Starbuck notes, has come from "the very course Ahab is to run for Moby Dick." Starbuck hopes that they will turn around and head back for Nantucket. As they sail further into the storm, however, lightning strikes the tall masts and the crew is terrified by the appearance of supernatural flames illuminating the ship. Fedallah kneels on deck before Ahab.

Ahab, meanwhile, loudly announces that the "white flame but lights the way to the White Whale." (Uh-oh.) He speaks to the "spirit of clear fire," and declares "thy right worship is defiance."

Stage directions at this point in the chapter indicate "Sudden, repeated flashes of lightning," and describe the leaping of the flames on the Pequod. Ahab finally lays his cards on the table: "I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee!" Ahab proclaims his allegiance not only to fire but also to "some unsuffusing thing beyond [fire]" - some indescribable, endless force or power that we begin to sense is the real meaning of the quest for the White Whale.

As he says this, the sheath is shaken loose from his mega-harpoon, tied in his boat high above deck: "from the keen steel barb, there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire." Starbuck tells Ahab that he has offended God, and that his quest is cursed. The crew hear this, and begin to panic. But Ahab threatens them with his enormous flaming harpoon, reminding them of their oaths to follow him. As if to make them feel better, he blows the flame out with one breath - but this only terrifies the sailors more.

Chapter CXX: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch

Starbuck attempts to assess the Pequod's situation as the storm continues. He tells Ahab that winds are dangerously high, and that the main top-sail needs to be taken down and the anchors brought inboard. The captain, however, refuses to consent to these precautions. In fact, the higher the winds are, the happier Ahab seems to become.

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