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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 50: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 42: Moby-Dick

“What the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,—all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.”




And so this most important chapter comes to an end. Ishmael tells us that everyone knew about Ahab’s madness on board the Pequod. However when the ship finally landed, Ahab was somber, but better. Many men felt the anger of losing a leg would make Ahab a better hunter for whales. And a better hunter meant more money, so if there was any concern about Ahab and the stories men heard about him being held in a straight jacket, it was quickly excused. Commerce always wins, I suppose. Look at Elon Musk.

What the end of this chapter brings us is Ishmael’s voice. He tells us he has no way of knowing what the white whale means to Starbuck, Stubb, or Flask. He knows what the white whale means to Ahab. And to himself now. Everything. And to ‘dive deeper,’ as Ish says, into the subconscious of others is more than he can do. Which I love! But Ish asks us to consider if we, the readers, have ever felt the urge, like Ahab, to try to right our world from injustice.

After this impassioned retelling of the history of Ahab’s loss, Ish tells us that he gave up on rational thinking as to time and place and gave in to the hunt for the whale. He saw nothing but evil in the creature and felt compelled to set things right for Ahab, for himself, perhaps for all of us. Oh – this book!

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