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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 29: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 29: Day 29: Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb

“It’s very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don’t well know whether to go back and strike him, or—what’s that?—down here on my knees and pray for him? [ . . . ] How he flashed at me!—his eyes like powder-pans! is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don’t sleep then. Didn’t that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds the old man’s hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old man!” 




This is an odd moment in the story where Ishmael, who narrates the tale at first, tells us that Ahab generally does not walk the boat at night because he does not want to wake the sleeping crew with his ivory leg. But one night he forgets and Stubb, thinking he’s being funny, lets Ahab know he is loud. Ahab is pretty pissed and tells Stubb to go back to his crate, like a good dog.

Stubb is really pissed and bites back. Ahab lets Stubb have it. And then we get this internal monologue from Stubb which I am not sure how Ishmael can know about? How could he? But Ish kind of disappears here and the story seems to be coming from Stubb. Just a bit of a switch in narrative voice from Melville, but he makes no apologies for it and the story is good.

What I like from this section is how Stubb isn’t sure if he wants to strike Ahab or pray for him. That’s an interesting conundrum. When I am furious at someone, I rarely think of praying for them - make of that what you will. Stubb goes on to say he has never prayed before. But something in Ahab has touched him, with anger sure, but with something else as well. Compassion?

We also learn that Ahab does not sleep. His bed is a mess in the morning from his violent tossing and turning. We will see Ahab’s sleep again in a chapter to come. All of this is building the character of Ahab and by the end of the book, I’m not sure whether to hit him or pray for him either.

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