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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 60: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 49: The Hyena

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker.” 



I have a good friend who says, when a series of sucker punches are being thrown your way, we just have to curl up in a ball now and then and take the punches. Ishmael has just been punched. He was plucked from the ocean after his whale boat capsized while hunting a whale. Dramatic indeed!


At first, Ish wants someone to blame. He asks Queequeg if Starbuck is as good a boat pilot as people say. Queequeg says yes. Then Ish asks Stubb if this kind of boat tossing is normal. Stubb says yes. Then Ish asks Flask. Yes again. So Ish decides that since he can do nothing about the inevitable dangers of whaling, he’ll just go with it. Ish does decide to update his will, however.


I feel like the old Ishmael is back in this chapter. Being real with us. Being relatable. Sometimes life throws a lot at us (or, as Ish says ‘the old joker’ does) and after a while you just have to shake your head and ride it out.

This is also another way for the sole survivor of tragedy to distance himself from any blame. In the midst of learning his job and following a crazy cult leader of a captain and being pushed around by fate, Ish is blameless for what is about to happen.  It’s the ‘old joker,’ it’s Ahab, it’s fate. It’s all so interesting!

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