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Chapters 86 - 90

Chapter LXXXVI: The Tail

Ishmael gets poetic, announcing, "I celebrate a tail." He offers an incredibly detailed description of the muscles and bones of the whale's powerful tail, listing the movements that it can make in various situations. He suggests that the whale not only swims and fights with his tail, but also uses it for his sense of touch.

As usual, Ishmael ends a very detailed descriptive chapter with an announcement that he cannot describe what he's just described: "The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability to express it." Despite his apparent expertise, Ishmael declares, "I know him [the whale] not, and never will."



Chapter LXXXVII: The Grand Armada

The Pequod continues her course into the ocean around Indonesia, and the crew sees a remarkable sight as they near the island of Java: a great "semicircle" formed by thousands of Sperm Whale spoutings. The men head for their harpoons and begin to chase this herd, in turn chased by boats of Malay "savages" from the islands. Finally, after several hours of pursuit, the herd of whales becomes confused and stops moving forward. Harpoons are cast, and whales are hit. As they wait for the slow death of the wounded whales, Ishmael's boat moves into the calm center of the herd - kind of like the eye of a hurricane. There, the men see something even more remarkable: a large number of peacefully floating whale mothers nursing their gigantic newborn babies, some still attached by umbilical cords, just below the surface. A strange footnote describes the whale breast, and notes that whale milk is so delicious that it "might do well with strawberries."

Meanwhile, in contrast to this serene vision, the wounded father whales grow agitated with pain and begin to thrash dangerously. The boat is trapped between two of these, and narrowly avoids being crushed. In the end, this "easy" attack on a vast community of whales yields only one kill - the rest of the wounded whales escape to the open sea temporarily.



Chapter LXXXVIII: Schools and Schoolmasters

A description of how and why whales form herds, or "schools," such as the one encountered in the previous chapter. Usually, schools are made up of either males or females. In the latter case, the lady whales are usually attended by one older male, resembling the lord of a "harem" who attempts to ward off the "amorous advances" of other males. The schools made up of young males, by contrast, are able to fend for themselves, and in fact are as full of "fight, fun, and wickedness" as most college undergrads. Wound one of them, and the rest usually swim away - in contrast to the lady whales, who tend to protect each other when attacked.

Again, whale life has some metaphoric relevance to our own human society.



Chapter LXXXIX: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

"Fast-Fish" are whales who have been either tied or tagged by sailors from a particular ship. By the codes of whaling law, Fast-Fish are forbidden to any other crew who encounters them. "Loose-Fish," by contrast, are whales who bear no signs of another ship's possession; these can be either whales who have never been hunted or whales who have successfully escaped their hunters. Leave it to Ishmael to take this element of whaling law and make it a larger metaphor for human life: he compares the existence of "Fast-Fish" to exploitative economic systems (evil landlords, inherited property, abuse of workers). "Loose-Fish," by contrast, remind Ishmael of freedom and self-determination: "Rights of Man, and Liberties of the World," and even "men's minds and opinions." Though these two principles seem utterly opposite, Ishmael asks a rhetorical question that suggests something more complicated: "what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?"



Chapter XC: Heads or Tails

According to English Law, if a ship captures a whale off the coast of England, the head must be given to the King and the tail to the Queen - in other words, the whole whale goes to the royal couple. Ishmael tells a story of such a whale, captured by a ship's crew after a long hunt, only to be demanded by the Duke of Wellington (the king's delegate). The ship's crew, all poor sailors, object. They captured the whale, so why should the Duke get the profits? Ishmael investigates the origin of this head-and-tail law, and can find no real reason for it.

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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