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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 53: Musings From A Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 44: The Chart

“While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and forever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.

But it was not this night in particular that, in the solitude of his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts. Almost every night they were brought out; almost every night some pencil marks were effaced, and others were substituted. For with the charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.”




While I failed to remember the mystery of the book, I never forget the beauty of the language. Here is the brilliant of Melville on full display. I mean, look at the writing! If you want to learn, as we writers say, how to show not to tell, read the chapter The Chart. We are shown who Ahab is.

So after Ahab rallies his troops, he goes back to his quarters and we are shown what life below deck looks like for the tortured captain. We see the heavy lamp swaying above his head and how that lamp throws shade on Ahab’s head. The charts (maps) that Ahab is working on mimic the lines upon his own brow. The man and the mission are one and the same – lodged in the body and the mind. Monomaniacal, Melville calls it. A complete obsession with one thing. The whale. The journey to the whale. The act of revenge.

And we are shown how fate, that invisible agent, traces the lines across Ahab’s head. Melville seems to show us that this fixation with the whale is not all Ahab’s fault. It’s his fate to fight this demon. It’s his fate to trace the path of vengeance.

Oh man – I know how it ends and I still can’t wait to read more!

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