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Chapters 46 - 50

Chapter XLVI: Surmises

Ahab continues to plot his pursuit of Moby Dick, aware now that he must somehow silence the dissenting opinions of men like Starbuck. He decides that he must give the sailors some other satisfaction in the meantime while they pursue his ultimate prey. Ahab resolves, then, to observe the "customary usages" of the whale ship, and even to allow his men to hunt the usual kinds of commercial whales.

Chapter XLVII: The Mat-Maker

Ishmael and Queequeg sit on deck, helping each other to weave something called a "sword-mat," used on the harpoon boats. This rhythmic activity, of course, leads our philosophical narrator to compare himself to one of the Fates, weaving the stuff of his own destiny on the Loom of Time. This speculation is interrupted, however, by a cry from the mast-head: a whale has been spotted!

Chapter XLVIII: The First Lowering

To pursue the whale more effectively, small harpoon boats are lowered into the sea alongside the Pequod. The three pairs of leaders (Starbuck/Queequeg, Stubb/Tashtego, and Flask/Daggoo) are joined by another crew, never before seen on the Pequod: a crew of "yellow" Arabs, including the mysterious harpooneer Fedallah, to be led by Ahab himself. The appearance of these shadowy friends of Ahab reminds Ishmael of the words of warning spoken by Elijah before the Pequod set sail. But his attention is distracted by the beginning of the chase: the four boats, manned by the mates and rowed by sailors, begin to draw near to the whale that swims ahead. We hear the different kinds of encouragement each mate gives his boat: Starbuck offers gentle but intense urging to his oarsmen, Flask jumps up and down and pretends to offer his wife and children to his men if they row harder, Stubb ironically says "take it easy, I say, and burst all your livers and lungs!" while Ahab whispers a mysterious and possibly evil set of commands to his dark crew.

This chapter conveys some of the breathtaking excitement of the chase, as the narrator describes the churning water, the speed with which the men attempt to follow the bubbles of the submerged whale, and finally the impossible daring with which the harpooneers climb and balance on the prows of the rushing rowboats and aim their points at the whale as it surfaces. In this episode, it is the sharpshooting Queequeg whose harpoon sails first toward the whale. But he misses, and their boat is swamped. The men of Starbuck's crew, including Ishmael, manage to find their oars and use them as life-preservers. But the boat is gone, leaving the men to float terrified in the night sea, waiting to be rescued by the ship or by another of the whale boats. Finally, at dawn, they see the Pequod and swim to her - Ishmael chillingly notes that the ship had not only given up the whale, but had also "given us up," and would have made no further search effort for the men overboard.

Chapter XLIX: The Hyena

The desperate adventure at sea leads Ishmael to conclude that the entire universe seems to be "a vast practical joke," a conclusion reaffirmed when Queequeg tells his friend that such accidents are not at all rare on whaling ships. Realizing that there is nothing to do but laugh in the face of such terrible danger, Ishmael goes below deck, makes his will, and feels much better.

Chapter L: Ahab's Boat and Crew: Fedallah

Flask comments that, false leg or no, he's never seen Ahab kneel. Ahab's unholiness is made even clearer by the sudden appearance of his mysterious yellow crew, none of whom is known to the rest of the men. The sinister Fedallah, in particular, seems to be on board only to assist Ahab's maniacal hunt for the white whale.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 - 5
Chapters 6 - 10
Chapters 11 - 15
Chapters 16 - 20
Chapters 21 - 25
Chapters 26 - 30
Chapters 31 - 35
Chapters 36 - 40
Chapters 41 - 45
Chapters 46 - 50
Chapters 51 - 55
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Chapters 126 - 130
Chapters 131 - 135


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