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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 19: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 16: Day 19: The Ship

I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody—desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it’s better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. [. . . ] Hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!”



Ishmael finds out that Ahab has not only been moody, but ‘desperate moody,’ which sounds pretty bad to me! We also hear Ahab has been ‘savage.’ And still, the old Captain tells Ishmael, it will pass. Uh huh. I’m not sure I ever saw these dire red flags in past readings. The language so specific – desperate. Savage.

But, we hear that Ahab is a good captain. Cool.

The line I’ve always loved in this book is the one where we are told that no matter how messed up Ahab is, he ‘has his humanities.’ And I have found that to be true through every reading of the book. Ahab is kind to Pip, regretful about Starbuck, a man without a leg.

Hawthorne, Melville’s bestie, wrote about visible and invisible sin. A man with a wooden leg is a man with a visible tragedy. Ahab has trouble climbing ladders, walking on the deck, keeping his wooden leg from splintering. I feel for him. I see his humanity. Let’s see if I still do through this reading, but I like this reminder to look for those humanities.

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