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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 113: THE FORGE

Perth stands at the forge, and Ahab approaches him holding a small leather bag. The sparks from the forge surround the two men, making them seem like brothers in the fire. Still, Ahab says, the smith's sorrows are nothing compared to his own; for the blacksmith to know true woe he would have to go mad, as Ahab has. There's something genuinely moving and pathetic about Ahab as he asks if Perth could smooth out the brow that has been wrinkled by his obsession with Moby-Dick. But the smith answers that those seams are the one thing he can't repair.

Ahab orders Perth to make a harpoon from the nailstubs of racing horses' steel shoes-the strongest material blacksmiths ever work with. Before Perth can finish, Ahab himself takes over, working in the flaming forge while the fire-worshipping, demonic Fedallah seems to give a curse or a blessing on the effort. Next come the harpoon's barbs, made from Ahab's own razors. And at last the weapon is ready to be tempered-made stronger by sudden cooling. Most metal is tempered in water, but Ahab's harpoon will be tempered in pagan blood. He orders the three harpooners to cut themselves for him.

"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" howls Ahab blasphemously. "I baptize you not in the name of the father but in the name of the devil." Ahab takes the weapon and returns to his cabin, where Pip's laughter can be heard.

NOTE: A RELIGIOUS RITUAL

When Ahab says he baptizes the harpoon not in the name of the father but in the name of the devil, he's calling attention to the fact that the forging of the special harpoon is a hellish parody of creation itself. The weird ceremony is further evidence that Ahab is attempting to make himself into his own God, as Lucifer attempted in his rebellion.



CHAPTER 114: THE GILDER

The Pequod sails into Japanese whale grounds, and the crew is so busy they work 20 hours at a time. During these mild days, Ishmael says, the ocean is so lovely that "one forgets the tiger's heart that pants beneath it"forgets that underneath the serenity lie danger and death. Even Ahab feels the calm, though for him it can never last.

Ishmael, too, knows that the calm is only temporary. Life is as full of storms as of good weather; we grow from infancy to old age-and then what? Where lies the final harbor? (You'll remember that Ishmael had only "intuitions" of the heavenly.)

You should compare the three views of the ocean in this chapter. Ishmael is full of appreciation of its loveliness yet bothered by doubt. The religious Starbuck sees the beauty overcoming the evil. And matterof-fact Stubb proclaims only that he is jolly. Looking at the ocean becomes a metaphor for looking at all of life.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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