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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 90 - 91


A week after its attempt to catch a school of whales, the ship meets another whaling ship, a French whaling ship, the Rosebud / Bouton de Rose, with two dead whales tied to her sides.

The dead whales are diseased and a foul odor is emanating from them. According to Ishmael, some ships capture sick whales; not withstanding the fact that the oil obtained from such subjects is of a very inferior quality. So strong is the stench of the sickly dead whales, that the crew on the Pequod could smell it even before the ‘Rosebud’ was sighted. On seeing the dead whales, Stubb the second mate is certain that they are the same whales that the Pequod had harpooned, a week ago, but could not capture.

Ahab asks Stubb to inquire about the white whale. Stubb does so, with his hands on his nose. When he tells Ahab that the answer is no, Ahab retires to his cabin. There is only one person on the Rosebud who can speak English and so Stubb is invited to the Rosebud. On meeting the French captain, Stubb insults him. But the English sailor translates it into advice, saying that there is every chance of an epidemic breaking out on board, due to the diseased whales. The captain drops the whales into the sea and the ship moves on. When Stubb discovers that the whales are indeed the ones harpooned by his crew a week ago, he digs into the flesh of the bodies floating on water and brings out several handfuls of a yellowish substance. Meanwhile, Ahab orders Stubb to return to the ship, or else they will leave him and go on.

In the next chapter, Ishmael explains that the sticky yellow substance that Stubb dug out of the foul-smelling whales is called ‘ambergris.’ This substance is formed only in the bowels of a sick and dying whale and is used as an ingredient in perfumes and claret wines. It is unfortunate that this valuable substance is found in whales, which give out such an appalling stench.


Through the meeting with Rosebud, the author evokes irony. The Rosebud is anything but sweet smelling just as in life; everything is not as it appears to the eye. A ship with a name like Rosebud smells absolutely foul. However, the irony is that the sick, dying whales create a rare substance in their bodies that is used in perfumes and claret wines. Here the duality of the world is shown again. Not everything can be read in only one way; often- deeper meanings occur beyond the surface of appearance.

In these chapters, the witty and sharp nature of Stubb is revealed as he insults the French captain to his face and then leaves with a prize of ambergris. Once again the Pequod meets another ship and fails to adequately communicate with it.

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