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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 119 - 123


While the storm is raging, Starbuck asks Ahab to give instructions that the topsail be struck. Ahab refuses. Instead he orders that the sail be lashed, so Stubb and Flask are told to go to the forecastle to lash down the anchors. At this moment, Stubb realizes that even if the storm rages on all night Pequod will survive it.

The storm abates. The sailors quickly change the sails, while the helmsman who had been thrown on the deck due to the wind and waves can now stand and steer vessels. Starbuck goes down to inform the captain about the slight change in the weather.

At the door of the cabin, Starbuck’s eyes fall on the captain’s musket, with which Ahab had threatened him. For a moment, he wonders if he should take the musket and kill the captain in order to take over the ship and return home to his family. He wonders if chaining Ahab is a better idea than shooting him down. Then, realizing that none of this will lift the ship from the misfortune it has fallen to, he places the musket back in its place and returns to the deck.

The next morning, Ahab appears on the deck to see the storm receding. Sunrays can be seen here and there through the cloudy skies. When Ahab asks the helmsman what course he is taking, he says, "east by south east." On hearing this, Ahab loses his temper and strikes him down, calling him a liar. However, when the compass tells Ahab that the helmsman is speaking the truth, he realizes that the storm had forced the ship to turn back. So Ahab orders the ship to turn again straight towards the direction of the abating storm. He then makes a new compass for himself as the crew looks on. When the new compass starts working, Ahab is pleased and his eyes are filled with ‘fatal pride.’


Here, Starbuck instinctively realizes the danger that lay in the course taken by Ahab. He wants to stop Ahab, but his good and pious nature prevents him from taking any action against the captain. At this point, Starbuck knows he must kill Ahab in order to save himself and the men yet he cannot do so and therefore Ahab and the crew will be destroyed.

Ahab’s obsession reveals itself to the point of madness in the incident where he strikes the helmsman. The storm like the terrible storm in the biblical story (Jonah and the Whale) is symbolic. For it comes as a warning and even turns the ship from its course. The reversal of the needle reveals that the Pequod is being controlled by forces larger than Ahab yet he refuses to acknowledge this and therefore will carry out his own fate-- death.

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