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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 52 - 54


Here Ishmael explains that when two ships meet or one whaler meets another, during calm weather, they have a ‘gam.’ Ishmael defines gam as a social meeting of two (or more) whale ships generally on a cruising ground, when after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats crews; the two captains remaining for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other." Ishmael says that ‘Gamming’ is unique to whaling ships. This is because when two merchants ships meet on the sea, they pass each other without exchanging a single word. As far as the men-of-war boats are concerned, they meet after a string of rituals like bowing and scrapings and a ducking of ensigns that shows there is not any genuine feeling of good will on either side. On the other hand, slave ships do not pause to meet at all, as they are in such a hurry to run away from each other. When pirate ships meet, only one question is asked: "How many skulls?" After answering it, they move away.

The next chapter gives a detailed account of a rather ugly brawl between a mate, Radney and a sailor, Steelkilt on the ship ‘Town-Ho,’ which is one of the ships that the Pequod meets on the sea. This ship gives the crew on the Pequod more information about the white whale. During the gam one of the sailors gives some news about a tragic event that had occurred that did not reach Ahab because it had been narrated to Tashtego who eventually spilled the beans in his sleep. He had spoken so much in his sleep, that the other seamen forced him to narrate the entire story.

To put it very briefly, Radney, the mate on ‘Town-Ho,’ had ordered Steelkilt to sweep the deck. Steelkilt refused and Radney had taken a dislike to him. Radney in a fit of anger threatened Steelkilt with a huge hammer to implement his orders. Eventually Steelkilt lost his temper and told Radney that if the hammer so much as ‘grazed’ his skin, he would have to face the consequences. Radney went ahead and attempted to hit him, getting his jaw smashed. In the fight that ensued between the officers and the seamen, the captain instead of making peace aggravated it by threatening Steelkilt and his men with flogging as punishment for their misbehavior. The seamen revolted against the captain’s unjust decision.

After this incident, all the seamen had gone back to work. But under Steelkilt’s influence, they all decided not to call out for any whale that is sighted. For a short while, an uneasy calm prevailed on the ship. In the meantime Steelkilt made a devious plan to kill Radney, the mate.

However, the next morning, one of the sailors shouted out that he had spotted the legendary white whale Moby Dick on the waters ahead. The boats were lowered. Radney headed one of them, and Steelkilt was the chief oarsman. As the boat approached the whale, Radney stood up to attack Moby Dick. Suddenly, the boat hit against a sunken ledge underneath, shaking the boat violently. The result is that the standing mate lost his balance, and fell on the white whale’s back. The furious whale seized the mate between its jaws and disappeared into the water. After some time it appeared on the surface with some tattered pieces of Radney's clothes. The four boats tried to catch the whale, but Moby Dick escaped.


In the chapter, ‘The Gam’, Melville’s knowledge and the ways of the sailors is revealed to the reader. In the next chapter, through the incident on the ‘Town-Ho’, the author reveals another aspect of the white whale. Until this chapter, the impression one has about Moby Dick was that he is a wicked and ferocious whale but through this story, he seems to be a symbol of divine justice as he kills the evil Radney.

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