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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 135: THE CHASE-THIRD DAY

The third day dawns so fair it might seem to some a newmade world, but not to Ahab. From his perch on the mast-head he takes a long look at the sea as if it might be his last. Starbuck begs him once again to halt the chase, but for the third time Ahab says, "Lower away." As a final warning, his boat is surrounded by sharks, sharks that feed on the dead. Yet Ahab speeds confidently on.

Suddenly, Moby-Dick rises to the surface. Maddened by the harpoons already in him, he smashes Flask's and Stubb's boats. And when he turns around, he displays, lashed to his side, the body of Fedallah.

NOTE: FEDALLAH'S PROPHECIES

Two of the conditions for Ahab's death have now been met. Fedallah has died, and Ahab has seen a seagoing hearse not made by man: the whale itself. Two more remain unfulfilled: that Ahab see another hearse made of American wood, and that Ahab die by hemp.

Stubb and Flask and their crew have returned to the Pequod, leaving Ahab's boat to fight the whale alone. Out of tiredness, or perhaps out of malicious deceit, the whale seems to slow down to allow Ahab's boat to catch up with it. Ahab is about to throw his harpoon when the whale writhes sideways, tipping the boat. Two oarsmen are knocked to the gunwhales and a third is thrown into the sea.

Then Moby-Dick sees the Pequod. And instead of turning to continue its fight with Ahab, it advances toward the ship. Stubb and Starbuck see the whale swimming mightily towards them. Starbuck wonders if his lifetime of goodness and piety has brought him only to this cruel end. Stubb realizes his jolliness will not help him as the whale smashes his enormous head vengefully against the ship's bow.



NOTE: THE MATES

The mates retain their personalities to the very end, and their different ways of looking at life. Starbuck asks if after a lifetime of conventional piety he must still meet death at the hands of the whale. Stubb hopes he will be remembered as a jolly fellow. And the materialistic Flask can only hope that his mother has collected part of his pay. Melville seems to be saying that against the mightiest forces of nature no ordinary philosophy is enough.

Ahab now sees the second hearse, made of American wood: the Pequod. He's cut off even from the "last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains," that of going down with his ship. His hate unceasing, he throws a harpoon at the whale; it stabs Moby-Dick, but the line tangles and catches Ahab around the neck, and, in fulfillment of Fedallah's prophecy, pulls him, strangled, into the water.

The topmost masts of the Pequod, with the harpooners still watching from the mast-heads, disappear beneath the waves. The sinking ship has become the center of a whirlpool that is carrying every bit of wreckage, every human life into the depths. As Tashtego defiantly nails Captain Ahab's flag to the masthead, a hawk lands there and is pulled down with the ship, a bit of heaven dragged into hell. And the sea rolls on unchanging.

NOTE: AHAB'S DEATH

This last chapter shows us both the madness and the glory of Ahab. Hatred has taken him completely over, yet there is a nobility in that hatred, and a greatness in his defiance. He is destroyed, but not conquered.

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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