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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 58: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

“It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self.”




Melville understood craft and language, for sure. I highlighted some of the soothing letters used in this passage, but I could have done that for the entire chapter. Melville pictures a lazy day on board the Pequod. The men are weaving mats, the sea is calm, silence prevails. The reader is lulled by the sound of the words into a moment of calm as well. The ‘s’ sounds work as waves rocking us into a drowsy moment.


Then, Tashtego, “wildly and eagerly peering towards the horizon” spots whales. The silence is broken. Excitement returns as the whales are described and all men jump into action. But Melville didn’t mean for his reader to be excited by the whale alone. Instead, we read this: “But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.”


The mystery returns. The men Ishmael heard but never saw on board the ship. The sounds Stubb heard coming from below deck. All is revealed. Ahab has company.


I love how Melville controls the reader’s emotions as we read. We have been lulled into a false sense of what this book was about. Now, the excitement begins! Brilliant!

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