Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
CHAPTER 31: QUEEN MAB
The title of this chapter refers to the fairy queen who in English folk tales governs people's dreams. It's an appropriate title for Stubb has had a very peculiar dream, in which Ahab kicks him and an old man claims it's an honor to be kicked with such a fine ivory leg. The unimaginative Flask can see no meaning in the dream; Stubb takes it as a warning not to speak angrily to Ahab. Captain Ahab interrupts with a shout to be on the lookout for a white whale-your first hint of Ahab's actual goal in this voyage.
CHAPTER 32: CETOLOGY
In this chapter, whose title means the study of whales, Ishmael tries to make sense out of nature. Cetology is a difficult science, he says; some people classify the whale as a fish, but others, noting its lungs, warm blood, and reproductive organs, declare it to be a mammal. Ishmael sides with the first group-wrongly, of course, and perhaps Melville is making fun of sailors who know about whaling but not about science.
Ishmael divides whales into three groups, based on size, and named after different sizes of book pages-Folios, Octavos, and Duodecimos. Once again Ishmael is linking the whale to learning; the whale is in one sense the book that Ishmael wants to study, the book of life. Chapter I of Book I is about the Sperm Whale, the largest, most formidable, and most valuable whale. Its value derives from its spermaceti, oil used for lighting and many other purposes and once mistakenly thought to contain the whale's semen.
NOTE: THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE
Ishmael ends the discussion of cetology by saying that his classification system can't easily be perfected, like all great works, it will remain unfinished. The chapter ends on a note of near-desperation: "This whole book is but a draught [draft]- nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" We've seen that whales represent to Ishmael the mystery of the universe; if he can't fully understand whales, how can he-or anyone-fully understand other mysteries? Perhaps Melville's point is that we cannot.
CHAPTER 33: THE SPECKSYNDER
Ishmael now turns his attention from whales to the routine of the Pequod. A specksynder is a harpooner, whose position of responsibility earns him separate sleeping quarters near the captain's cabin. As for the whaling captain, he commands as much power as any navy skipper. Though Ahab doesn't at first seem to demand all the rights of his position, he still uses his authority to advantage. That immense authority, Ishmael suggests, may have helped corrupt him.
The meal routine, too, is a reminder of Ahab's power, and of the ship's hierarchy. Ahab calls Starbuck to supper; Starbuck calls Stubb; and Stubb calls Flask. Such is Ahab's somber personality that even the boisterous Flask is cowed by the captain's presence.
Though mates and harpooners use the cabin for meals, they seldom spend much time in it otherwise-it belongs to Ahab. And he remains inaccessible.Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version