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Chapters 91 - 95

Chapter XCI: The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud

The novel's internationalism continues as the Pequod meets a French ship. The "Bouton de Rose," or Rose-Bud, does not live up to her name: she drags alongside her hull an incredibly smelly whale corpse. Ahab asks his customary question, but the crew has not seen the White Whale. Stubb then tells the French crew to give up the whale carcass, since whales that smell are usually diseased and contain no oil at all - he further tells them that keeping the carcass might even infect the crew with illness. The Frenchmen thank Stubb for the info, cut the carcass loose, and sail away. As soon as the Rose-Bud is out of sight, however, the Pequod rescues the stinking corpse, and Stubb begins digging into its side with a spade. Finally, after a few minutes of digging, a smell like a "faint stream of perfume" pierces the stench: Stubb has found ambergris.

Chapter XCII: Ambergris

What is this mysterious substance? Ishmael explains that it is a waxy substance prized as a perfume, incense, cooking spice, and even wine flavoring - but found only in the corpses of whales who died of stomach ailments. (This is actually true!) How strange, he comments, that "fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale!" Ishmael spends the rest of this short chapter arguing against the truth of an old wives' tale that all whale corpses smell. Whales, Ishmael indignantly claims, "are by no means creatures of ill odor."

Chapter XCIII: The Castaway

When boats are lowered in pursuit of a whale, a few men must stay behind to tend to the ship - usually those who do not have sufficient strength to man the oars. One of the Pequod's ship-keepers is the small cabin boy, Pip: a frail "little negro" who entertains the rest of the sailors with his dancing and tambourine. When one of Stubb's regular crew sprains his hand, however, Pip is called upon to take his place in the whale boat temporarily. This turns out to be a disaster: during his first outing in pursuit of a whale, the inexperienced Pip accidentally tumbles from the boat, becomes tangled in a harpoon line and is nearly strangled to death. He is saved only by cutting the line, and thereby losing the harpooned whale, and the rest of the men are not amused. Stubb tells Pip that if he goes overboard again, he is not to be rescued. "But we are all in the hands of the Gods," Ishmael writes, and Pip falls in once again. "Alas, Stubb was but too true to his word," and the boat leaves Pip in the "spangled sea, calm and cool, and flatly stretching away, all round, to the horizon." The castaway is left in the "awful lonesomeness" of the great ocean, abandoned by all the boats at once. He is eventually rescued "by the merest chance" when the ship passes by, but from that moment on, Pip becomes an "idiot." As Ishmael put it, "the sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul." Pip will demonstrate, for the rest of the novel, the madness that comes from looking infinity in the face. For Ishmael, Pip is a kind of "holy fool," haunted by knowledge of the vastness of God himself.

Chapter XCIV: A Squeeze of the Hand

This is a "factual" chapter, in which Ishmael describes the breaking-up of parts of the slaughtered whale for processing. He describes the consistency, appearance and taste of blubber. He defines whaling terms: "gurry" is the stuff scraped from the back of the whale, while "nippers" are pieces of the tail used as squeegees to wipe the deck. The most notorious part of the chapter, however, is the description of the "manipulation" of the whale's sperm (See "the Heidelberg Tun," above) for processing. Ishmael and the other men sit before tubs of sperm and squeeze it so that it does not have any lumps. If this sounds a little kinky, it is. Ishmael describes the rapturous feeling of sitting with other men, hands in fragrant sperm: "I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-workers' hands ... at last, I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say ... 'Come, let us squeeze hands all round; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.'" Ahem!

Chapter XCV: The Cassock

If sperm wasn't enough for you, this short chapter is a description of something Ishmael calls the "grandissimus": the Sperm Whale's enormous penis. This "unaccountable cone" is tall as a man, a foot in diameter, and black in color. Ishmael describes a sailor preparing this item for use: he skins it, and stretches the skin so that it doubles in diameter. After drying it out, the sailor cuts arm-holes and a neck-hole and puts it on. This whale-penis "coat" is meant to protect the "mincer" from cutting himself as he slices blubber. Ishmael compares the appearance of this floor-length black coat with a "cassock," or robe worn by a priest - "what a candidate for an archbishoprick!" Ishmael exclaims, punning outrageously as he continues the religious symbolism of the rest of the novel.

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