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CHAPTER 61: STUBB KILLS A WHALE
Though to Starbuck the squid was an evil omen, to Queequeg it "was quite a different object": a signal that a sperm whale was nearby. (Once again you see the difficulty of interpreting things.)
Queequeg is right. The next day Ishmael spots the broad glossy black back of a sperm whale.
In describing the hunt, Melville seems determined to show how brutal a profession whaling can be. The whale hardly seems like a fiend; Melville compares him to a plump businessman smoking a pipe. As the boats are lowered he grows alarmed enough to swim slowly away, then "sounds"- dives deep into the water. He returns for air, now fully aware of the danger.
Stubb, all the time smoking a pipe, leads his men in the chase. The boat churns through the water. Tashtego hurls his harpoon, and Stubb throws dart after dart into the fleeing creature, who is now spouting so much blood the ocean runs red. Stubb twists his lance inside the disabled whale until it convulses. "His heart had burst!"
"Yes; both pipes smoked out!" says Stubb, scattering the ashes from his pipe on the water. The image of twin pipes makes the whale seem fully as human as Stubb, and makes his death seem all the sadder.
CHAPTER 62: THE DART
In killing a whale, the mate and the harpooner must help row the boat until it is time to shoot at the prey, all the while shouting encouragement to the crew. It's an exhausting task-no wonder so few harpoons find their mark, so many harpooners suffer burst blood vessels, and so many whaling voyages lose money.
Ishmael now describes the crotch, a notched stick inserted into the gunwhale to serve as a rest for the two harpoons (the first and second iron). Once the first iron is thrown the second must be thrown immediately after, or else, still attached to the line, it will fly dangerously around the boat. The danger is multiplied, too, because in a whale hunt there are four boats, each with its own lines and harpoons. Ishmael goes into detail about these dangers now, and they'll become important later in the story.Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version