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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 120: THE DECK TOWARDS THE END OF THE FIRST NIGHT WATCH
CHAPTER 121: MIDNIGHT-THE FORECASTLE BULWARKS
CHAPTER 122: MIDNIGHT ALOFT-THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

As the typhoon continues, Starbuck warns Ahab that the sails must be taken down, but Ahab refuses. They will lash everything tight to the deck and fight the storm bravely.

While Stubb and Flask follow Ahab's orders, Stubb claims that despite the fear he showed during the lightning storm, he always knew their situation wasn't that dangerous. Even though Ahab seemed to be tempting the lightning, it was never likely that the lightning would strike him. Stubb seems anxious to regain his jolly view of the world.

Later that night we hear another crewman insensitive to whatever dangers Ahab and the storm represent. Tashtego wants to forget the thunder and drink a glass of rum.



CHAPTER 123: THE MUSKET

The typhoon has lost enough of its strength for Starbuck and Stubb to replace the torn sails with new ones; the Pequod's course by the compass is east-south-east; the wind is strong and fair; and the crew sings that all the bad omens seen during the storm have proven wrong.

Starbuck, though, remains disturbed. The new, fair wind will force them to continue Ahab's mad hunt. He goes to notify the captain of the change in weather, but stands in the cabin silently for a few moments. Before him is a rack of loaded muskets, one of them the weapon that Ahab threatened him with. Starbuck reaches for it. The fair wind he's come to report, he knows, will bring only death and destruction to the crew. Ahab is mad: shall he be allowed to drag thirty men to death with him? If Starbuck does not shoot him, Starbuck will never survive to see his wife and child again.

"Shall I? Shall I?" he asks himself. But at last he puts the musket back in its rack.

NOTE: STARBUCK

For chapters now we've seen that Starbuck is, with Queequeg, perhaps the noblest member of the crew, and the man with the best chance to successfully stand up against Ahab. Yet remember what Ishmael said about him: Starbuck's courage could withstand "winds or whales or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world," but not the worse horrors which come from "an enraged and mighty man." Clearly, the first mate has met that man in Captain Ahab. He knows that Ahab's survival means doom for everyone, yet is unable to kill his captain. Is this morality or weakness?

CHAPTER 124: THE NEEDLE

At the height of the typhoon we saw the needle of the ship's compass spin round wildly. But afterwards the compass seemed to repair itself. The next morning Ahab notices the sun shining brightly behind them, while the steersman insists they're heading east-south-east. Ahab is enraged-if they were sailing east, the sun would be ahead of them, not behind. Yet the compass shows an easterly course. Before the ominous news can disturb the crew, Ahab makes a joke of it: the typhoon has turned the compass, an accident that can occur during an electrical storm.

NOTE: THE COMPASS

Ahab has received another warning. Even the compasses, symbols of order and direction, are attempting to force the Pequod to sail away from Ahab's chosen destination. Do you think the universe is seeking to thwart Ahab or to protect him from himself?

Compasses once turned are forever useless, so Ahab decides to impress his crew by constructing a new compass, acting almost like a magician as he makes one out of a lance, a needle, and thread. Once again he's proven that he's master of the universe, "lord of the level lodestone." The ignorant, superstitious crew believes in him, though not happily. "In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph you saw then Ahab in all his fatal pride."

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