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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 24: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 23: Day 24: The Lee Shore

“The port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. [ . . .] Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!”



Sometimes Ishmael can sound like a Nietzsche loving university sophomore. But I kind of like it. “The Lee Shore” is not the shortest chapter in Moby-Dick, but it might be the second shortest.

The chapter is all about Bulkington, a crew member Ish sees coming off a four-year whaling journey a few days earlier.

Ish gives us a lovely analogy about how the land represents all the good things in life – comfort, friends, family – but Bulkington seems to resist the comforts of the land and is desperate to turn around after four years on a ship to sign on for another three years on water. And then Bulkington goes overboard and is gone.

Ish wonders, beautifully I might add, if Bulkington knows the truth now? Are humans meant to be free all the time, or should we spend some time tied to the everyday world? Ish, it seems, believes that it’s better to die free than to die living a life of safety, comfort, and (implied) boredom.

What fascinates me is how Ishmael says that in landlessness, the opposite to the safety of home, ‘resides the highest truth.’ So all of us should, as Ish is doing now, take risks, Leave the safety and comfort of what we know, and seek Truth. Bulkington, scholars have claimed, was too much of a risk taker perhaps? Some time on land is necessary? Ish, in his dramatic way, feels it is better to die taking a risk than watching HGTV in a recliner.  

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