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Chapters 51 - 55

Chapter LI: The Spirit Spout

Several weeks have gone by. The Pequod has traveled through four separate whaling grounds, with no success. Finally, at midnight Fedallah spies a silvery jet of water - the spouting of a whale - and calls the crew. However, as if by miracle, the spout does not reappear, and the chase is abandoned. A few days later, it happens again. It seems that the Pequod is being led out to sea by a phantom whale, which stops appearing only when the ship reaches the rough waters of the Cape of Good Hope.

Chapter LII: The Albatross

The Pequod encounters another whaler called the Goney (a word meaning "albatross"), the first of several ships that will appear in the novel. The ship has been at sea so long that she has been bleached white by the sun, and resembles "the skeleton of a stranded walrus." The few remaining members of the Goney's crew are dressed in rags, and gaze silently at the Pequod. When Ahab asks his inevitable question: "Have ye seen the White Whale?" the Goney's captain raises his megaphone to respond, but it falls into the sea. The Pequod presses on, "bound," as Ahab cries out, "round the world!" Ishmael comments that such voyages, in pursuit of "demon phantoms," never come to fruition: "they either lead us on in barren mazes, or midway leave us whelmed."

Chapter LIII: The Gam

A "gam" is "learnedly defined" by Ishmael as the kind of social interaction that usually happens when two ships cross paths in the vast ocean: they exchange news, make friends, eat a meal on board one of the ships. Unlike merchant ships, which Ishmael compares to snobbish "dandies," whalers spend so long at sea that they would never pass another ship without engaging in a "gam." Except, of course, if one of the ships is the Goney and the other is manned by the maniac Ahab.

Chapter LIV: The Town-Ho's Story

No jokes about this chapter's title, please. It refers to the next ship encountered by the Pequod, and the bizarre tale that she reveals during the gam that follows. In a particularly strange narrative move, Ishmael decides that he will tell the tale of the Town-Ho in "the style in which I once narrated it at Lima (Peru), to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve, smoking upon the thick-gilt piazza of the Golden Inn."

Thus, the chapter involves dialogue, as various remembered Spaniards ask the narrator, Ishmael, to explain further.

The story is as follows: the Town-Ho leaves Nantucket, and somewhere at sea begins to fill with water. The crew can't find the leak, but they figure that using their pumps to draw the water back out won't be too much trouble, and they begin to do so. Among the crew are Steelkilt, a handsome and headstrong "Lakeman" (from the Great Lakes) and the ugly Radney, a Nantucketer and the ship's first mate. One day, when at the pumps, Steelkilt begins to mock Radney (who does not work at the pumps himself), and Radney takes offense. After the pumping ends, Radney orders Steelkilt to sweep the deck - an intentionally insulting order. Steelkilt refuses. Radney insists, threatening Steelkilt with a hammer, and finally striking him with it. Instantly, Steelkilt reacts - breaking Radney's jaw - and he and his friends inform the captain that they will no longer man the pumps. Meanwhile, the ship is filling with water ... and the captain sends the rebels below deck to starve until they change their minds. Some give up, but not Steelkilt and his closest friends; they prepare a mutiny. Steelkilt, however, is double-crossed by his friends, who tie him up and hand him over to the captain, who prepares to flog him. Steelkilt announces, "if you flog me, I murder you." The captain does not heed, but prepares to flog ... until Steelkilt whispers something to the Captain which makes him immediately untie the Lakeman and grant him pardon (we are not told what he says).

Steelkilt bides his time, preparing a murder weapon with which to kill Radney (an iron ball wrapped in a net). Before he can accomplish his plan, however, the ship is confronted by ... Moby Dick. The sailors lower the boats to try to spear the whale, but instead Moby Dick capsizes Radney's boat and devours him. The Town-Ho abandons the hunt and reaches Tahiti, where Steelkilt deserts with most of the crew. The Town-Ho that the Pequod encounters, then, is manned almost wholly by Tahitians, who replaced Steelkilt's followers. However, Ishmael ends the story with a strange announcement: "I trod the ship; I knew the crew; I have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney."

Chapter LV: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales

Another "catalogue" chapter, in which Ishmael "paints" the form of the whale with reference to numerous artists and sculptors, from Ancient India to nineteenth century France. He concludes, however, that the whale is "the one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the very last," since with the exception of actually going whaling in person "there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like."

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Prefaces
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
Chapters 56 - 60
Chapters 61 - 65
Chapters 66 - 70
Chapters 71 - 75
Chapters 76 - 80
Chapters 81 - 85
Chapters 86 - 90
Chapters 91 - 95
Chapters 96 - 100
Chapters 101 - 105
Chapters 106 - 110
Chapters 111 - 115
Chapters 116 - 120
Chapters 121 - 125
Chapters 126 - 130
Chapters 131 - 135
Epilogue



 






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