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Chapters 76 - 80

Chapter LXXVI: The Battering-Ram

The whale's head is shaped the way it is so that it can serve as a battering ram, hard as horse's hooves and able to withstand the strongest attack.

Chapter LXXVII: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

This chapter describes something called "the Baling of the Case:" the careful opening of the massive tough head of the Sperm Whale in order to retrieve the precious contents located right below the top of the skull: the "case" containing hundreds of gallons of spermaceti (Ishmael compares the case to a "tun," or barrel, of "Heidelberg" Rhine wine). This substance is a pure oil with an intoxicating odor, and the most valuable part of a Sperm Whale's yield.

Chapter LXXVIII: Cistern and Buckets

The case is tapped by Tashtego, who skillfully drives a spade, and then a long pole, into just the right point on the top of the head after being lowered down onto it by a rope. He then lowers a bucket into the hole and brings it up full of the valuable fluid. There is a "queer accident," however. Tashtego falls into the case, and is nearly drowned in spermaceti. Daggoo climbs up to help him, but the entire head, all the while suspended alongside the ship, comes crashing down into the sea with Tashtego inside. Queequeg heads overboard at once, and finally returns to the surface after a successful rescue dive, and prevents Tashtego from a most "precious perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest of fragrant spermaceti."

Chapter LXXIX: The Prairie

The Sperm Whale's head continues to fascinate Ishmael, who finds that its noselessness adds to its grandeur and sublimity. The full front of the whale's head, that blank battering ram, is in fact almost unbearably majestic to our narrator, expressing a "god-like dignity." But he admits that it is still nearly impossible to interpret the characteristics of the whale's face: "I but put that brow before you," he proclaims, in another moment of whale-as-text. "Read it if you can."

Chapter LXXX: The Nut

Ishmael ponders the whale's "true brain," or lack thereof. Why should such an enormous head contain no brain to speak of? Perhaps it is because most of the whale's "thinking" is done in his highly developed spinal column. Ishmael notes that one's "backbone" is often a better mark of character than a "skull."

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 - 5
Chapters 6 - 10
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Chapters 131 - 135


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