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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 128: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE RACHEL

As a large ship, the Rachel, bears down on the Pequod, something about it indicates bad news to the superstitious Manxman. Ahab asks his question: "Hast seen White Whale?"

"Yes," the answer is, followed by another question: "Have ye seen a whale-boat?"

The Rachel's captain climbs aboard the Pequod.

Ahab, fearful that the Rachel may have killed Moby-Dick before he gets his chance, learns instead that while chasing the whale one of the Rachel's boats was lost. For a full day the ship has been searching for its missing craft. The Rachel's Captain Gardiner asks Ahab to join the search, for Gardiner's own twelve-year-old son is aboard the missing boat. But Ahab is deaf to the captain's pleas, and orders the Pequod to sail on.

NOTE: THE RACHEL

"She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not." Melville ends the chapter with a reference to the biblical mother of the Jewish people. The themes of isolation and loss are brought up as they were at the start of the book. We'll see them again, along with the Rachel itself, at the novel's end.

CHAPTER 129: THE CABIN

Ahab is leaving his cabin to go up on deck when Pip takes his hand to follow. Ahab tells him to remain behind. His human sympathies for the boy may cause him to lose his inhuman obsession with Moby-Dick, and Ahab now loves his madness too much to want that. When Pip begins to weep, Ahab tries to smother his own feelings of sympathy with anger: "Weep so and I will murder thee." He leaves Pip to talk madly to himself.



CHAPTER 130: THE HAT

The Rachel's news that it encountered Moby-Dick only a day before has added new fire to Ahab's obsession. He paces the deck day and night, taking his meals there, never seeming to sleep. His grim determination has infected the rest of the crew as well. Only Fedallah seems immune to Ahab, though in some strange way he seems at the same time to be Ahab's slave.

When four days go by without sight of the whale, Ahab decides that Moby-Dick will never be found by a Christian watcher, only by a pagan or by Ahab himself. He raises himself to the masthead by means of a special line, ordering Starbuck to see that the line remains secure. Does Ahab think that despite Starbuck's rebellion, the first mate is the most trustworthy of all the crew? Or does he wish to force Starbuck to commit himself to the hunt for the White Whale?

As Ahab stands in his perch, a screaming sea hawk flies away with his hat and drops it into the ocean: clearly another bad omen, yet another omen that Ahab ignores.

CHAPTER 131: THE PEQUOD MEETS THE DELIGHT

The Pequod's last meeting with another ship is with the "miserably misnamed" Delight, which carries a whaleboat newly shattered by Moby-Dick. "The harpoon is not yet forged that will kill the whale," the Delight's captain says, and when Ahab presents his blood tempered harpoon, he only warns "God keep thee, old man." The whale has killed five of his men, and the body of only one was recovered and given a proper burial. The burial service resumes with the words "may the resurrection and the life-" but Ahab interrupts with orders to sail on. He wants no part of resurrection, or of life.

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