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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 71: Musings From a Sixth reading of the Great Book

CHAPTER 61. Stubb Kills a Whale


“Wet the line! wet the line!” cried Stubb to the tub oarsman (him seated by the tub) who, snatching off his hat, dashed sea-water into it.* More turns were taken, so that the line began holding its place. The boat now flew through the boiling water like a shark all fins. Stubb and Tashtego here changed places—stem for stern—a staggering business truly in that rocking commotion.

*Partly to show the indispensableness of this act, it may here be stated, that, in the old Dutch fishery, a mop was used to dash the running line with water; in many other ships, a wooden piggin, or bailer, is set apart for that purpose. Your hat, however, is the most convenient.”



There is a lot of charm in this book and here is one place where I see it clearly. Ishmael begins by describing his time in the mast looking for whales. The rocking of the boat makes him drowsy and he feels as if he has left his body and he is simply rocking by the force of the waves.


When a whale is spotted, Ish cries out and Stubb’s boat is the first to harpoon the whale. We are told the story of the kill by Ish and it feels like we are sitting alongside him in a boat watching the action unfold.


We do get soem very descriptive passages about the techniques used in killing a whale. The part about wetting the line is pretty cool. Ish, an insider, almost whispers to us in an aside – Sure, we used our hats to cool the line, but the Dutch do it this way and others use this tactic . . .  It’s inside knowledge, like only Melville would know. And I swear I can hear his excited voice in these lines. And I love it!

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