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\Studyworld\ Studyworld Studynotes \ Moby Dick:
Chapters 131 - 135

Chapter CXXXI: The Pequod Meets the Delight

Unlike the Bachelor and the Virgin, this ship has is "most miserably misnamed" (much like the Rose-Bud). The Delight is in fact the wrecked hull of a whale boat, bleached by the sun and filled with injured sailors and corpses being prepared for burial. The captain indicates that the wreckage was the doing of Moby Dick, and assures Ahab that the whale is invulnerable to all harpoons. Ahab shows his mega-harpoon, but the captain of the Delight is unimpressed.

Chapter CXXXII: The Symphony

The weather becomes more and more beautiful as the Pequod nears the equator, though Ahab grows contrastingly less lovely by the day. He thinks about his children, left behind in Nantucket, and as the warm winds caress him, Ahab "dropped a tear [a single tear!] into the sea." Seeing this instance of unusual tenderness, Starbuck approaches Ahab. Before the mate can say anything, Ahab launches into a long, maudlin description of his life on the "pitiless sea." He tells Starbuck that forty years of sailing has made him unimaginably lonely and weary, and mourns his young wife whom he "widowed" by marrying. Finally, Ahab utters the clearest statement of his existential, spiritual exhaustion: "I feel deadly faint, bowed and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise." Like Adam, Ahab is deeply scarred by something like an original sin, and regrets his loss of Eden. He bids the good man Starbuck to stand close; in the eye of this nearly sinless man, Ahab sees his "far away home." Starbuck, deeply moved, tells Ahab that he, too, has a wife and children left behind. Calling him "noble soul," Starbuck urges Ahab to change course and return the Pequod to Nantucket. But Ahab is not merely homesick, and his need to press on and to find the White Whale is inexplicable but irresistible. He asks himself "What nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing" keeps him going on this quest. It is the very mystery of sin itself: "Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?" Concluding darkly that any resistance to Fate is futile: "toil how we may, we all sleep at last on the field." At the end of this soliloquy Ahab turns to Starbuck who, "blanched to a corpse's hue with despair," has left his side.

Chapter CXXXIII: The Chase - First Day

That night, Ahab literally smells a whale. Summoning all hands to the deck, Ahab - at last - sees the unmistakable white shape swimming near the Pequod. "It is Moby Dick!" The boats are dropped, Ahab and Fedallah leading the chase. As they get closer, Ahab can actually see the wrinkles on Moby Dick's hump. The sight of the white whale surrounded by the calm water is unbelievably beautiful; as Ishmael puts it, "not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam." After rearing his beautiful head out of the ocean, Moby Dick submerges himself, and the Pequod's boats wait for his resurfacing. Finally, sea birds begin to gather and head toward the spot where the whale will reappear ... they stop exactly above Ahab's waiting boat. Ahab looks over the side, and sees a "white living spot" far below the surface, but moving up at almost unimaginable speed until he can discern "two long crooked rows of white glistening teeth." (Think "Jaws"!). Ahab manages to get the boat out of the way of Moby Dick's mouth at once - but the whale detects the movement and turns as he rises so that when he reaches the surface the entire bow of Ahab's boat falls into his gaping mouth. "The bluish pearl-white of the inside of the jaw was within six inches of Ahab's head," and, despite Ahab's best efforts, his boat is literally bitten in half.

The whale then begins to swim in circles around the helpless men. The other boats arrive to help drive it away, and Ahab is finally pulled soaking into Stubb's boat. Still, he has not given up; the first thing he manages to say is this: "The harpoon - is it safe?" As soon as he is brought back to the ship Ahab leaps up and tries to catch sight of Moby Dick to have another try at spearing him. The White Whale, however, has swiftly moved far away. The Pequod continues to sail in the direction of the whale's wake, Ahab even more obsessively scanning the horizon for a sign.

Chapter CXXXIV: The Chase - Second Day

After another day of blind pursuit, Stubb sees the spout of the White Whale and the frenzied crew adjusts the sails to chase the whale as swiftly as possible. So united are the Pequod's crew in their desire to get Moby Dick that "they were one man, not thirty" in their efforts. "Ah," writes Ishmael, "how they still strove through that infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destroy them!" Finally after the chase has dragged on, to Ahab's disappointment, the Pequod's men decide that Stubb was mistaken. No further sight of the whale seems likely. At that very moment, who should show up but Moby Dick, "less than a mile ahead" (in other words, very very close). Not only does he appear, but he actually breaches: he leaps so that his entire enormous body is visible above the surface. Clearly, this whale is not messing around. Still, the men leap into the boats eager finally to spear it.

After aiming for Ahab's boat on the first day, this time Moby Dick goes straight for the other three. After each of the harpooneers manages to get a lance into him, the whale swims back and forth until the lines of each boat become hopelessly, dangerously tangled together. The whale then swims away so that the tangled boats of Stubb and Flask are dashed together into pieces - in a famous metaphor, Ishmael compares the swirling wreckage of these boats to "the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirred bowl of punch." The whale then heads for Ahab's boat, slamming into its bottom so that it revolves in mid-air before falling back onto the surface of the sea.

Once again, the ship comes to the rescue of the capsized boats and injured sailors. Ahab discovers that his ivory leg has been "snapped off," leaving only a sharp splinter. He reassures the men that "nor white whale, nor man, nor fiend can so much as graze old Ahab in his own proper and inaccessible being" (at least Ahab's ego hasn't been injured!). What really disturbs him, however, is the news that the mysterious Fedallah has gone missing, apparently dragged under by Ahab's own line, and that the super-harpoon is also gone, stuck into the whale's side. Starbuck can't take it anymore, and cries that it is "impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more." Ahab, however, refuses to give up. "Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed." He has the carpenter make him a third leg, out of the wreckage of his boat, and the chase continues.

Chapter CXXXV: The Chase - Third Day

As the Pequod sails on in pursuit of the White Whale, Ahab discovers that they've passed him. Moby Dick, worryingly enough, is now chasing them. Ahab has the boat turn around, and all men stand on deck, watching in suspense for a sign of their prey. Finally, the White Whale appears, and the men prepare for a third and final encounter with it. "For the third time," Ahab tells Starbuck, "my soul's ship starts upon this voyage."

Starbuck, moved despite his fear, begins to weep and pleads for Ahab not to go. Of course, this pleading is in vain, and Ahab sets out to meet his destiny. As the boats hit the water, they are immediately surrounded by killer sharks that snap at the oars with their teeth. This is scary enough, obviously, but Ahab remembers Fedallah's prediction: he will be killed not by sharks or whales, but by "hemp." He presses on, even as Moby Dick appears again and flails the other boats into pieces with his massive tail. As the scattered men seek pieces of wood to cling to in the churning ocean, Ahab stands with his harpoon, but sees something horrifying: the missing Fedallah, lashed round and round to the White Whale's back, his eyes open and his body torn. Ahab drops his harpoon, momentarily speechless, but continues to steer his boat among the sharks toward the whale, even as all the other men hurry back to the Pequod.

Finally, Ahab's boat nears Moby Dick once more. The captain picks up his lance and darts it, with his "fiercer curse," into the whale's side. In reaction, Moby Dick rolls over, taking the line with him, and turns to attack the ship itself. As the Pequod sinks, Ahab realizes that Fedallah's prediction has come true. He has seen two hearses: the ship, and the whale that carried Fedallah's body. Ahab knows that his time is near; and announces that he "turns his body from the sun." He addresses the whale: "to the last I grapple with thee, from hell's heart I stab at thee, for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." He throws the massive harpoon at the whale, but as Moby Dick starts forward, the line wraps around Ahab's neck and carries him away. The crew of his boat are astonished at his disappearance, but they are even more astonished to find the Pequod gone as well, pulled down into an inexplicable whirlpool that soon takes the small boat as well.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 - 5
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Chapters 131 - 135



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