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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 57: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 46: Surmises

“To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew, for example, that however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was over Starbuck, yet that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual man any more than mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual mastership; for to the purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in a sort of corporeal relation.”




It’s crazy how parts of Moby Dick read like a cult leader’s guide to brainwashing.


Ishmael does a lot of surmising in this chapter. He seems to be inside Ahab’s head to where we see that Ahab sees how Starbuck works. Although Ahab has Starbuck in his pocket, Ahab knows power over men is limited. Starbuck has a spiritual realm to him which Ahab can’t compete with.

Ahab also recognizes that the time people spend wanting to be heroes has a shelf life: “Granting that the White Whale fully incites the hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round their savageness even breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in them, still, while for the love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they must also have food for their more common, daily appetites. For even the high lifted and chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to traverse two thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre, without committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious perquisites by the way.”


Ahab decides that the only way to keep his crew on task to hunt the white whale, is to allow them to hunt for other whales too. That way they will see money in the bank, so to speak, and Ahab can keep control over their ‘daily appetites.’ You have to give it to Ahab – he understands people.

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