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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 36 - 40


One morning, Ishmael notices that captain Ahab is pacing up and down, brooding about something. Ahab goes down to his cabin and even from there, Ishmael can hear the sound of his ivory leg hitting against the floor as he is walking. Later, he comes out on the decks and summons all the crewmembers. He shows them a Spanish gold coin and declares that whoever spots a giant white whale with a crooked jaw will get the coin as a reward. The harpooners immediately guess that he is referring to the white whale Moby Dick. Ahab tells them that it is Moby Dick, who had bitten off one of his legs. Further, he informs the crewmembers that Pequod will search from one end of the ocean to the other for the ‘monstrous’ whale. Ahab asks them if they will help him in reaching the goal. The crewmembers agree and cheer the announcement. Only the chief mate Starbucks remains quiet. When Captain Ahab asks him if he is with him, he replies that by doing so, only his (the captain’s) vengeance will be served. He reminds Ahab that the purpose of their journey is to hunt down the whale for commercial use. But Ahab ignores Starbuck and asks the steward ‘Dough boy’, Pip to get wine for everybody. And they all drink, cheering: "Death to Moby Dick!"

In the following chapter Ahab is sitting alone in his cabin, and gazing out of the window. It is evening and the setting sun transforms the ocean into a golden color. Watching the scenery, Ahab says that it is iron and not gold that makes him happy. There was a time when the sunrise nobly spurred him and the sunset soothed him, but not any more. So he moves away from the window and takes comfort in the fact that all the crewmembers except one 'stubborn' officer were with him in his pursuit for Moby Dick. He resolves that (perhaps for the ninth time) he will destroy the whale that bit off his leg.

In the next chapter, Starbuck is standing by the main mast thinking about the, incident that evening. He hates himself for having given into Ahab’s wishes, but he also realizes that Ahab will meet his death in his mad obsessive pursuit for the whale and that Starbuck should help him kill the whale so he is forever gone. As he stands there thinking, he hears shouts of revelry from the seamen’s quarters.

Meanwhile, Stubb is also thinking about the evening, where Ahab announced his mission. He decides that the only way to come to terms with it is to laugh it off. For ‘a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer".... So the wisest thing is to accept it, as it is all predestined.

That night, in the seamen’s quarters, the drunken sailors talk, sing and dance. Pip, the ‘dough boy’ is the only one who is afraid and asks the white man’s god to have mercy.


In the scene, where Ahab exhorts the sailors to help him find Moby Dick, the reader for the first time learns the reason behind Ahab’s restlessness and gloominess. For it is the white whale, which has dismembered his leg, that torments his mind. Day and night, Ahab can only think in terms of "Death to Moby Dick." The reader also learns a little more of Ahab’s magnetism as he wins all the men (except Starbuck) to his mission - to chase Moby Dick "round Good Hope and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up." Ahab’s thirst for revenge and his iron like resolve to destroy Moby Dick is revealed in the chapter. That the harpooners sanction the death of the whale only adds to the fervor on deck. Starbuck alone feels that the Captain’s evil pursuit to avenge the whale is blasphemous. Thus, the contradictory views and nature of the captain and his chief mate is evident from this incident. Whereas Ahab has imbued the whale with malevolent intent that represents the evil in the world, Starbuck sees it only as a "dumb brute." Both of these views are limited as well as diametrically opposed to each other. In the following chapter - First Night Watch, the author reveals Stubb’s reaction to the very same incident.

While Starbuck in the previous chapter is dejected, but completely aware of the dangers involved in sailing on a ship controlled by a monomaniac like Ahab, Stubb takes the situation lightly, deciding to laugh it off and accept it as something predestined. His thought is situated only in the present whereas Starbuck sees that Ahab’s speech will have serious repercussions.

In the chapter where the sailors are seen dancing, singing and shouting merrily in a drunken spree, the reader is introduced to several sailors of various nationalities and distant lands. There are sailors from Nantucket, the Middle East, England, Span, Portugal, Sicily, France, China and even from Iceland. All of them have various views on hunting the white whale but they also reach consensus on following Ahab’s lead. In doing so, the ship represents, the nineteenth century America, as a ‘melting pot’ where people from various nations, tribes and distant lands with varied cultures contributed in building the young nation.

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