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\Studyworld\ Studyworld Studynotes \ Moby Dick:
Chapters 96 - 100

Chapter XCVI: The Try-Works

This is the part of the ship in which the minced blubber is put into two enormous "try-pots" (the name of the inn in the "Chowder" chapter, above), and melted down over high heat into oil. Ishmael describes the try-works as a scene of hell, manned by sailors who, covered in ashes and sweat, look like savages or even devils.

After looking too long at the flames, Ishmael has a bizarre nightmare of turning the ship around and sailing in the wrong direction accidentally, nearly capsizing the Pequod. He concludes the chapter with a sermon-like warning on the dangers of gazing on "false" fire instead of the natural fire of daylight. A simple blubber-melting mechanism has become, for our narrator, a sign of cosmic war between good and evil.

Chapter XCVII: The Lamp

Ishmael takes us below deck to see how the sailors sleep. Resembling a tomb filled with reclining bodies in shrines, the sleeping quarters contain rows of men, each man illuminated by a hanging lamp. Such a scene would not be found on merchant ships, which must conserve their lamp-oil carefully. Whalers, by contrast, because they are filled with oil from the try-works, are rich in lamplight.

Chapter XCVIII: Stowing Down and Clearing Up

Butchering a whale, as we have seen, involves an unimaginable mess of blood and skin and blubber. Once the blubber is chopped and melted, and the oil is sealed into casks, the ship is given a thorough cleaning by all members of the crew. Once they are finished, they walk on the "immaculate deck, fresh and all aglow, as bridegrooms new-leaped from out the daintiest Holland." But, Ishmael reminds us, that tidiness will inevitably be followed by more carnage as soon as another whale is spotted and slaughtered. The whole cycle of mess and clean-up begins again, and (our philosophical narrator tells us), "this is life."

Chapter XCIX: The Doubloon

Ahab's piece of Spanish gold has remained nailed up on the mast, a reminder that Moby Dick still swims unseen. However, this "doubloon" itself, stamped with an Ecuadorian insignia, a sun, three mountains and a zodiac, begins to fascinate each of the sailors in turn. This long chapter enters the minds of various crew members as they contemplate and interpret the coin. Ahab muses on the grandeur and danger of mountaintops, and thinks that the sun suggests the beginning of storm season. "So be it, then!" he says, predicting the stormy chase ahead. Starbuck, on the other hand, thinks that the coin was pressed by the devil himself, but then concludes that perhaps it represents the illumination that will eventually come even to the darkest valleys. Perhaps, he hopes, God will not abandon them. Stubb watches Ahab and Starbuck as they scrutinize the coin; he, however, prefers to think about the zodiac, which he thinks represents the life-cycle of man. Flask, ever practical, says to himself "I see nothing here but a round thing made of gold," which will buy him "nine hundred and sixty" cigars. He vows to find the whale first, and watches with amusement as the rest of the crew come to look at the coin: Queequeg compares the zodiac chart to his own tattoos, Fedallah bows to the stamped sun ... and finally Pip comes, who "has been watching all of these interpreters."

Pip's reaction to the series of inspections of the coins comes in the form of a chant, repeated again and again: "I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look." Pip, the wise fool, knows that the possibilities for interpretation are endless.

Chapter C: Leg and Arm: the Pequod, of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London.

The Pequod encounters yet another ship from yet another part of the world ... but greets it with the same question: "Hast seen the White Whale?" Instead of answering, Boomer, the captain of the English ship the Samuel Enderby, holds up his arm, which matches Ahab's leg: it is a fake, made from sperm whale bone. Ahab, of course, gets very excited, and rows over to discuss limbs with the captain and to "shake bones together." Of course, the culprit for the arm-amputation was Moby Dick - and Boomer tells the story of his narrow escape. Ahab asks Boomer to help him hunt the White Whale. Boomer, however, is no Ahab: he wants nothing more to do with Moby Dick, and is shocked to witness Ahab's frenzied determination to seek him. "Is your Captain crazy?" Boomer whispers to Fedallah, but gets no answer as Ahab and his men return to the Pequod to resume the pursuit.

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