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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 47: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 41: Moby-Dick

“Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale had escaped alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that some whalemen should go still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed; or if indeed he should ever be made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues away, his unsullied jet would once more be seen.”



The tales of Moby-Dick become wilder and wilder. Ishmael tells us that some sailors claim to have seen him in two places at the same time. Others claim the white whale is immortal. He was killed, but lived to maim again. And it’s not a whale that looks like Moby-Dick, for Ishmael describes the whale in detail: “It was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out—a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump. These were his prominent features; the tokens whereby, even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at a long distance, to those who knew him.

Why so much about the mystical qualities of Moby Dick? Because anything else would mean everything that happened was for nothing. For a crew of men to follow a simple whale, means they were all beguiled by one man, Ahab. By creating a whale who is, god-like, the mythical story builds. The chapter gets deeper, but in my opinion, all of this is Ishmael’s defense of why the men bought into the idea of Moby Dick.

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