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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 65: THE WHALE AS A DISH

Ishmael turns his attention to the whale as food, giving examples of cultures that considered whales a delicacy. But today's landsmen don't like the whale, partly because it is too fatty and partly because it seems terrible for "man to eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light" (whale oil is burned for illumination). But Ishmael won't let those of us who live on land off so easily. We eat land animals, and come Judgment Day a cannibal may be judged less harshly than "...thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-defoie-gras."

CHAPTER 66: THE SHARK MASSACRE

Normally, when a whale like Stubb's is tied to the ship late at night the tired crew waits until dawn to start the butchering-the "cutting in." But thousands of sharks are tearing at the carcass; when Queequeg and another seaman stab at them with whaling spades the sharks only grow more vicious. Even after death they're nasty, one of them almost biting off Queequeg's hand. "Queequeg no care what god made him shark," the harpooner says, "wedder Feejee God or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin." Now it's Queequeg bringing up the nature of God and the universe. And with his hand hurting as much as it does, the answer is: God is a savage. Do you think Melville intended this to be the true answer, or just a human reaction to pain?



CHAPTER 67: CUTTING IN
CHAPTER 68: THE BLANKET
CHAPTER 69: THE FUNERAL

The butchering of the great whale begins in an atmosphere that is distinctly un-Christian. The bloody work is being done on the Sabbath, and the whalers might as well be offering up oxen to pagan sea gods. Melville uses great skill in describing the butchering process; these chapters are marvels of clear, journalistic description. Cutting tackles are lashed to the masthead; with a great tilting of the ship, blubber hooks are attached to the whale, and the whale is stripped of its blubber in the way you might peel an orange.

The blubber, Ishmael says, is the whale's skin, and on an average sperm whale it will weigh eight tons. The whale wears its blubber like a blanket that keeps him warm in cold seas, cool in warm ones. The whale possesses the "rare virtues" of thick walls, strong individual vitality, and interior spaciousness: man should model himself after the whale. But Ishmael knows that's not likely to happen.

Once the whale has been stripped of its blubber and been beheaded, it's cut loose from the ship to float away. still enormous, the carcass is a terrible sight, and its funeral mourners are terrible, too: vultures and sharks.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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