Who told the whale he could suck it

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Who told the whale he could suck it

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Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 9:12 pm

OK, time for the next thread. Here is a modified schedule:

Jan. 1 - 7: to Chapter 21, "Going Aboard"
Jan 8 - 17: to Chapter 41, "Midnight - Forecastle"
Jan 18 - 24: to Chapter 65: "The Whale as a Dish"
Jan. 25 - 31: to Chapter 93: "The Castaway"
Feb 1 - Feb. 7: to Chapter 119: "The Candles"
Feb. 8 - Feb 15: The Blubbery Lay Sinks, Fini!

Here are the chapters for the coming week:

Chapter xli - MOBY DICK - More about Ahab than the Whale, there is some interplay here between the legend of the whale and Ahab's past run-in's with him. Remember the Osiris story during some of this.
Chapter xlii - THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE - "What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid." This is a lengendary chapter of The Dick, to be savored. The footnote on the Albatross - ah! There is something to inspire DFW!
Chapter xliii - HARK! - A bit of foreboding, half-drama, half-novel.
Chapter xliv - THE CHART - We get deeply into Ahab and his plans here
Chapter xlv - THE AFFIDAVIT - It is time to talk about the book itself; Melville steps directly into the book here
Chapter xlvi - SURMISES - Here we begin getting down to the details of how to catch a whale
Chapter xlvii - THE MAT-MAKER - half of the chapter is on weaving, half of the chapter is on spotting whales, with a surprise at the end
Chapter xlviii - THE FIRST LOWERING - the boats head out for a whale, but grave dangers await!
Chapter xlix - THE HYENA - Ishmael asks if the whole universe is a practical joke.
Chapter l - AHAB'S BOAT AND CREW. FEDALLAH - thinking back on what has happened in the prior chapters.
Chapter li - THE SPIRIT-SPOUT - This chapter begins by marking the boat's progress and giving us its bearings, but, then, perhaps disorienting us
Chapter lii - THE ALBATROSS - We begin to understand the whaling community; this is an important theme throughout
Chapter liii - THE GAM - More of the whaling community; watch nationalities in these meetings; also, pay attention to the personalities of the chaptains and officers
Chapter liv - THE TOWN-HO'S STORY - We have some dramatic foreboding here, and an important story-within-a-story; this is among the long chapters of the book
Chapter lv - OF THE MONSTROUS PICTURES OF WHALES - We now progress to more of the whale build-up; a continuation of the Cetology series of chapters
Chapter lvii - OF WHALES IN PAINT; IN TEETH; IN WOOD; IN SHEET; IN STONE; IN MOUNTAINS; IN STARS - again, we are delving into whales looking at in all ways, from all angles here
Chapter lviii - BRIT - Both a Cetology chapter and a bit of a transition
Chapter lix - SQUID - One of the "Mystic" chapters, sheer poetry
Chapter lx - THE LINE - We refocus on seeking The Whale, and come to understand the dangerous teather between preditor and prey
Chapter lxi - STUBB KILLS A WHALE - an important dramatic moment, about half-way through and a whale is taken
Chapter lxii - THE DART - here we have details on the taking of the whale
Chapter lxiii - THE CROTCH - and the details on the taking of the whale gain some practical philosophy
Chapter lxiv - STUBB'S SUPPER - A grand comic chapter, to be contrasted with Father Mapple's Sermon; should we think of this, in any way, as a santified, sacrificial event?
Chapter lxv - THE WHALE AS A DISH - We are what we eat, writ large as a whale

This is a bit of a long week, over 100 pages of book, but several groups of chapters can be discussed together, and hopefully we know see many of the major themes at play, understand a fair bit about Melville's approach to the book, and can really luxuriate in some of the prose and the development of the story.

How are people doing on the book?

Jan 17, 2012, 8:57 pm

A pretty picture from the web page of The New Bedford Whaling Museum, a site everyone should visit! http://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/research-topics/overview-of-north-american-wh...

Jan 17, 2012, 9:07 pm

I have read up to LVI--Of the Less Eroneous Pictures of Whales, but realize I need to go back and reread a couple of the earlier chapters. I have in my book two of the "pictures" referred to in this chapter, and will try to figure out how to get them into the thread.

Jan 17, 2012, 9:09 pm

You are ahead of the game! I get the sense some are ahead, some are catching up, few are following right along, but all are enjoying so far.

There's a way in which this is the toughest part, right in the middle of the book. So much done, but so much to go!

Jan 17, 2012, 9:13 pm

Others are still on shore.

Jan 17, 2012, 9:15 pm

Ah, but you've sailed in some of these waters before!

Jan 17, 2012, 9:26 pm

Aye, cap'n, I'm an old hand these parts, sailed through the whiteness and hacked through the blubber. But I'm yet to make it to the bitter end.

Jan 17, 2012, 9:36 pm

Arrrrrrgh my hearties. I have found my glasses (god be praised) and am now ahead. Tashtego has just been reborn.

My mother is here for two weeks, so I"m not sure how much time I will have to contribute. I will try to check in regularly. Great discussion so far everyone, and I love that picture!

Jan 18, 2012, 6:31 am

I am on Mab. Several other reading obligations are presenting themselves, and, anyway, going slow means a little treat at some time during the day or night. I'm heating up for the terrific Cetology.

Jan 18, 2012, 7:51 am

oh yes, the footnote on the Albatross is fantastic, and so is the very short chapter called the Albatross. Such beautiful prose and images...

Jan 18, 2012, 11:32 am

Sam, definitely enjoying. I find myself stopping sometimes to just ruminate on what a great writer Melville was. Just goes to show there is a time and place for everything.

I am ahead for now, but when I read your posts I find that I must have been skimming in some places so I have to go back and reread. I have a great appreciation for your posts and for those of all the others who know how to analyze and write.

Jan 18, 2012, 10:18 pm

I'm a few chapters past the comparison between the right and sperm whales. The old whale has just been killed.

I ran into the same thing with another Victorian author; a chapter filled with tremendous excitement, followed by a few chapters of calm. The pattern is successful, at least for me, with the result that I stay up late reading, knowing something exciting could happen at any time.

Also, while I know this isn't to be discussed for a few days, the comparison chapters are really good, although I thought he was a little hard on the right whale.

Jan 19, 2012, 11:17 am

Probably a little hard on Kant and Locke, too, though pretty funny.

Jan 19, 2012, 6:04 pm

All these killing scenes. I'm afraid my 21st century bleeding environmentalist heart is hoping the whales win.

Jan 19, 2012, 7:07 pm

14: Yeah, me too. I have already cast Ahab as the bad guy and the Whale as the good guy, I'm afraid.

Jan 19, 2012, 8:38 pm

I wonder if it is a "girl thing"? I join in the sentiment for the whales. As to Ahab, it is not hard to cast him as the bad guy. He is, after all, crazy.

Jan 19, 2012, 8:46 pm

Me too! Any blokes share this?

Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 8:50 pm

I'm with you, and I think Melville is too. He sure makes you feel for those whales.

Jan 19, 2012, 9:59 pm

I am for the whales, and, in particular, The Whale.

But I am surprised that most here seem to be.

Jan 19, 2012, 10:09 pm

I believe that it was in the chapter Stubb Kills a Whale that the first killing of a whale occurred in the book, and I was deeply saddened when I read that. The remaining killings were not much better for me; I didn't want to wait to the end for the whalers to get their comeuppance. The description in one of the articles in the back of my Norton Critical Edition about how they actual killed the whale pretty much offended me.

I wondered why Ishmael got off lightly. Do chroniclers get a special pass?


Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 10:16 pm

>15 anna_in_pdx: Surely Ahab is meant to be the bad guy, Anna? I've just started that book A_Musing recommended, the Nathaniel Philbrick, and in speaking of the universiality of MD he says that Ahab has been likened to Hitler, and other similar historical figures - obsessed with destroying something irreplaceable at any cost (to put it over-simplistically).

Jan 20, 2012, 7:59 am

Historically, did people side with Ahab? Maybe it is that we (maybe particularly the types of people in this group) have a different attitude toward animals today?

Jan 20, 2012, 11:01 am

Melville does include some of the preachiness present in Victorian novels (like Black Beauty, for example), in his exhortations to think of the dangers faced by the whalers when you light your lamp at night, but his focus is on the seamen, not the whales.

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 11:26 am

We've got a couple dramas in here - Ahab v. crew, Ahab v. whale; to the extent he sympathizes with any of his characters, I do think it is the crew, as RG says.

I think a lot of people see Ahab in a faustian light, as a flawed tragic hero, while seeing the whale as embodying a likely intelligent evil force.

I don't, I see the whale as embodying a natural force that is at once in separable from the divine and relatively unconcerned with people. But, throughout, very inscrutable. And, hey, we all like nature and plnats and things, right?

And how tragic is Ahab? Doesn't he bring all this on himself?

Jan 20, 2012, 11:38 am

24: "I think a lot of people see Ahab in a faustian light, as a flawed tragic hero,"

Yes, that was what I was reacting to. I have not read this book before, but I have certainly heard of it, and that was the impression I had of the Ahab character.

Edited: Jan 21, 2012, 8:18 am

I don't have the sense that Melville thought the whale was evil. Certainly he does not sympathize or empathize with it. The 19th century perspective most probably would have been that the whale is something that is useful to man when it is caught and its parts are rendered.

Nor can I see Ahab as a tragic hero--his demoniac/ monomaniac behavior takes him far from such a role IMHO.

Jan 20, 2012, 12:24 pm

Some things I've been collecting for a local reading of MB --

Tristin Lowe's Mocha Dick

Re: Ahab and Faust
Nancy Sanders's Faust and Ahab: two characters between the demonic and divine

and an anecdote, there seems to be at least one person named Melville Faust living (or having lived) in Louisiana.

Jan 20, 2012, 9:09 pm

I agree with you lisa, I don't think the whale is a force of evil at all. The text creates sympathy for the whale in the reader (wait till you get to the massacre chapter). The only evil whale is Moby Dick, and there the malevolence is as much a projection of Ahab's obsessions as anything else, and as much as an obsession of Ishmael's regarding the colour white.

Jan 21, 2012, 10:17 pm

I love the chapters 'the spirit spout' and 'the albatross'. Some beautiful images, reminds me of the pillar of smoke and fire that guided that chappie -what was his name?- in the Holly Bibble.

In the 'Town Ho' chapter we get a clue to an important structuring device on which the whole architecture of the book is based. Ishmael says to his interlocutors:

I will tell you what our Canallers are, for such information may throw sidelight upon my story.

the novel is built on two different styles and perspective: 1) the fictional story, and 2) the non-fictional, expository, informational chapters, which Mellville includes in the hope that they will 'throw sidelight upon the story'.

Edited: Jan 22, 2012, 8:50 pm

I have a long-overdue post on "The Whiteness of the Whale", a post that has been much shortened and simplified as I've reworked it. I am going to try to get back to regular postings again and catch up to where we are, I'm afraid this last week got away from me. http://thetreadleoftheloom.blogspot.com/2012/01/whiteness.html

I love the Spirit-Spout. Feels very haunting.

You know, others have argued a sort of "two-book" appraoch to Moby, but I tend to see more than that in the structuring - every time I try to separate non-fictional and fictional, parts of them merge and most of them seem in-between. It all gets me back to the weaving metaphors, with warp strands going one way and woof or weft strands going the other, building a pattern between them. Yet the strands are of a similar type, they're yarns, even if they may differ in size or color or fabric.

Jan 22, 2012, 9:12 pm

oh yes, the weaving metaphor: together the fiction and the non fiction make up the fabric of knowledge.

Jan 22, 2012, 10:49 pm

Just catching this thread, haven't read Sam's post yet. I'm head for the moment, well three more days. I'm at chapter 82 (The Honor and Glory of Whaling.)

Jan 23, 2012, 5:39 am

Thanks for the post on The Whiteness of the whale Sam. That was one of the chapters I found intriguing if a little dense at times.

Ishmael/Melville gives us a big clue at the start of that chapter.

But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught.

I have at last caught up with the group, I have just finished "The Town-Ho's story" It was nice to get back to reading a novel again be it only a novel within a novel, but I assume totally relevant.

Jan 23, 2012, 12:56 pm

Sam - great post.

I found myself happily lost in the whiteness chapter, but I also found it difficult to hold on to. It's mostly slipped away already.

Jan 23, 2012, 1:10 pm

I think the whole thing is about ambiguity and uncertainty; whiteness seems to slip away on us.

Town-Ho reminds me of many of Melville's short stories.

I think Murr really has the feel for Alter without having read it, and for the diction type comments. I've reread his comparison a couple times, and it's really interesting.

Jan 23, 2012, 5:39 pm

Thanks for the whiteness chapter stuff. That chapter was the biggest slog for me. The cetology stuff was fun, with the folios and quartos, and such and the later chapters comparing whale types was fascinating, but the evil color chapter was an effort. Worse than the mistreatment of Pip, the special coiling of rope chapter and the massacre chapter combined.

Will you be explaining the importance of the rope chapter?

Edited: Jan 23, 2012, 5:55 pm

I hadn't been working on a rope chapter, but by the massacre chapter, do you mean the chapter with the sharks? Or the one where they are in the midst of the huge school, killing what they can?

I'll have to take a look at ropes. I'll at least give you some thoughts here.

Jan 23, 2012, 6:38 pm

The huge school. And then Melville goes on and on about how there will always be plenty of whales. Learn from the buffalo, dude!

Jan 23, 2012, 6:46 pm

The part there where they are trapped within the pod I liked; a sort of Jonah story. I will have a bunch to say on that chapter, if I can turn the notes into something sensible.

Jan 23, 2012, 6:53 pm

I wonder what Melville would think if he could know about the decimation of whales and how most of them are protected in most countries now.

Jan 24, 2012, 7:28 am

This is the painting (aquatint) by Garneray (in my text Melville has misspelled the name as Garnery) that Melville is so taken with in the chapter "Off the less erroneous pictures of whales, and the true picture of whaling scenes.

It seems at times that Melville is intent in including the whole history of the whale in his Moby Dick.

Jan 24, 2012, 8:27 am

I get a lot of dramatic tension from looking at the whale from all angles - it is part of what builds up an animal as a character worthy of an epic struggle for me. Think of Moby in comparison to St. George's Dragon, for example. I thinfk he learns something from Milton and Spenser how to create non-human characters with depth, but then runs with it. I don't think I got all that my first read, many moons ago, but I do very much this re-read.

Interesting painting; very directly engaged struggle with the whale pretty far out of the water.

Jan 24, 2012, 10:12 am

Sam - I just read the King George chapter, and was thinking of Spenser.

#40 - I've somehow always been comparing this book to oil exploration. First because this whaling was a search for oil. Second because the same morality applies - destroy to get the oil, and societal justification - that the need demands the means. The third because the mentality is comparable for the crews on the boats/rigs. I think that if Melville were alive today, he would be writing about Macondo. The vast ocean would be replaced by the vastness of time.

(#36 - RG - I actually loved all those chapters...still thinking about the rope in whale boats flying away around the crews.)

Jan 24, 2012, 10:58 am

Moby Dick obsessions get very strange sometimes: http://www.ebay.com/itm/260940598024

Jan 24, 2012, 11:09 am

Barry, I have that one and "Hunting the Right Whale" in my book. If I could figure out how to get the photo off of my phone onto my computer, I would post it. Or, if I could remember to take a photo with my digital camera at home I would post it.

Jan 24, 2012, 11:20 am

45> email it to yourself? or if no email access on your phone, text it to your email address?

Jan 24, 2012, 11:29 am


My partner, an avid reader of Slate, passed this on to me knowing I am reading this book. Enjoy.

Jan 24, 2012, 12:24 pm

There was a man from Nantucket
Who only made love in a bucket.
One day he set sail
In search of a whale
But the whale looked at him and said suck it.

Jan 24, 2012, 1:48 pm


Jan 24, 2012, 3:20 pm

he said fuck it not suck it

Jan 24, 2012, 3:20 pm

i was there

Jan 24, 2012, 4:25 pm


I was there too. The whale said "suck it." "It" was big.

Jan 25, 2012, 10:31 am

Your unseemly behavior, Ur, will not discourage me from filling and sending the box, eventually.

Edited: Jan 26, 2012, 9:02 am

I read today the chapters 72-75, where Melville describes the cutting up of the whales and then talks about the whale heads. Just after the Jeroboam's story (chapter 71) everything seems to get more sinister and the humour when Flask and Stubbs are talking about Fedallah has become gallows humour. In the monkey-rope chapter it is revealed that only on the Pequod are two shipmates tied together in such a way that if one slips and drowns then the other is expected to share his fate.

I like the image of the two whale heads secured on either side of the boat likened to philosophical talk:

by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe, So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over the way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight, Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Jan 26, 2012, 7:43 am

I have finished the book. When should I expect the arrival of my free harpoon?

Jan 26, 2012, 11:58 am

>54 baswood: I particularly like the admonition to throw them (philosophers) all overboard. Sorry U.

Jan 26, 2012, 3:37 pm

Read "The Castaway" yesterday...wow, just wow. That is a headful to think about. And, now I understand Sam's blog title.

Jan 26, 2012, 4:53 pm

When I read that I was reminded of a movie I had wanted to see but missed. It had to do with recreational divers or swimmers left behind by their boat. The implication was that they were never found and that the movie was a stark but compelling depiction of the couple's end. I suspect that abandonment at sea would be mighty discouraging.


Jan 26, 2012, 5:04 pm

I keep picturing poor pip with only his head above water and miles of open water in every direction...yes, that would be discouraging.

Jan 26, 2012, 5:22 pm

Ah, I've been tied up at work, I need to open a new thread and get some of my post finished for the blog! RG - Congratulations! Would you like your harpoon to be tempered with the blood of pagans, or just a normal tempering?

Bas, I absolutely adore that image, and keep coming back to it; yes, we might sail straighter and faster without Locke and Kant and their "big heads" weighing us down, yet we can sail straight and slow with both of them. Of course, it stinks a bit....

Isn't the Castaway the greaest chapter? In December, I began a blog post on Pip, when I was writing one on each of the major characters, and I just can't finish it; there is too much there. He begins with his tambourine entertaining the sailors, he sees God, he goes mad, he becomes to Ahab as Queequeg is to Ishmael in some ways.... I keep feeling like one of the deepest "keys" to Moby Dick that I can't fully fathom is Pip, and then I think that, perhaps is what the book is all about, the unfathomable....

Jan 27, 2012, 6:22 am

"I suspect that abandonment at sea would be mighty discouraging."

Mr. Durick, such pessimism.

Jan 27, 2012, 11:39 am

An observation: for a book seeped in religion with lots of Biblical references and discussions, there's not much Christ in this whole book. A lot of old testament allusions, not a small number of Hindoo and Islam references, a whole bunch of Egyptian and classical mythology references, but just not very much new testament-y.

I think of 20th Century American writers, and religious references are overwhelmingly gospel/New Testament - Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Nathaniel West. All crucifixtion/redemption allusions. There are plenty of opportunities for such references in Moby Dick, but Melville prefers Jonah and Job.

Jan 27, 2012, 1:36 pm

Just read "The Honor and Glory of Whaling" which I found LOL funny. Of course this chapter is a microcosm of what you said in #62, Sam. Old Testament, classical mythology, Hindu, but no New Testament.

Edited: Jan 27, 2012, 2:02 pm

63: I was laughing at it too. I felt he was "protesting too much" in a way. But also being kind of tongue in cheek.

Jan 27, 2012, 6:14 pm

I am amazed!! really amazed that Mob-Dick only made number 64 in the 100 best gay and lesbian novels. The compilers have obviously not read chapter 78 "Cistern and Buckets" A homosexual farrago and/or an erotic masterpiece. Sounds like Melville was having great fun here right from the first sentence when he describes Tashtego's erect posture.

This chapter cracked me up, great stuff.

Jan 28, 2012, 6:12 pm

Chapter 81 "The Pequod Meets the Virgin"

This turns out to be a chapter that celebrates the triumph of young America over devious and tired old Europe. However once the prize is won it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Once again there is so much to read into this story within a story. The whale is no monster here, it is a pitiful thing.

Jan 29, 2012, 1:22 pm

So far, Melville has not at all depicted the whale as a monster. Really, all of them are just minding their own business when these ships descend upon them to try to kill them.

Of course, I don't know if this will change when we actually encounter Moby Dick. My opinion at this point is that Melville thought whales were amazing animals.

Jan 30, 2012, 5:48 pm

Humour in the whale, Moby-Dick a comic masterpiece.

Today I read "The Pequod meets the Rose-bud" In this chapter Melville has great delight in taking the piss out of the French. He had done a similar thing to the German's in "The Pequod meets the Virgin"

Thinking back over my reading so far and I am finding much of this book to be hilarious. Right from the start we had the comedy of Ishmael sharing a bed with the cannibal and then breaking down the door when queequeg was meditating. There are so many funny incidents along the way. The captains table for instance and Tashtego falling inside the sperm whale head.

Every time Stubbs appears I am getting ready to laugh, he has got to be one of the funniest characters in 19th century literature.

Jan 30, 2012, 5:55 pm

It reminds of me of my surprise when I finally read Hamlet and Brothers Karamazov. Nobody told me they were comedies, but now I know that great book must be (exceptions be damned).

Edited: Jan 30, 2012, 9:57 pm

We need a blog post on a comic tale including Stubb. It's been a while, but here we go: http://thetreadleoftheloom.blogspot.com/2012/01/filling-bottomless-bellies.html

Barry, Stubb is indeed hilarious. I think I too often just meld he and Starbucks and Flask together when I'm just remembering the book.

Jan 30, 2012, 9:52 pm

For discussion of the next round of chapters: http://www.librarything.com/topic/131929

I will be posting blogs in somewhat disjointed order from here on, as I get them done.

Lisa, I think in some of the chapters like The Grand Armada we really see how much Melville actually likes whales; I think he is, in many ways, much fonder of nature than of people.

Jan 31, 2012, 1:23 pm

Good stuff from the Loom, Sam.

Mar 25, 2012, 8:47 am

I keep wondering what Melville would have made of the whales' sonar. I'm dying to tell him.

"Hermann, this'll blow your mind..."

Mar 25, 2012, 10:11 am

you mean Dory's imitation of the whale song in "Finding Nemo" ? Melville would have thought the XXth century barking mad !

Mar 25, 2012, 10:24 am

Where would whales talking to each other fit in Moby Dick, and how?

By the way, that footnote about whale milk going well with strawberries--welcome to hell-fire, H. M.!

Is it possible to milk whales, I wonder? I'm afraid they'd have to be unconscious...

Mar 25, 2012, 10:39 am

Well I know some people who give goats handjobs, This expertise might help

Mar 25, 2012, 11:04 am

Goat people are great kidders.

I'm not sure that's the same as being great with kids. Who wants to be great with kids anyway--leave it to the whales.

I detect plenty of warp in me, but where's the waft?

Mar 25, 2012, 11:05 am

I'm unravelling, I'm unravelling...!

Mar 25, 2012, 11:42 am

THere she blows!

Mar 25, 2012, 4:57 pm

Murr, you werp.