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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 73: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

CHAPTER 64. Stubb’s Supper


“Cook,” said Stubb, rapidly lifting a rather reddish morsel to his mouth, “don’t you think this steak is rather overdone? You’ve been beating this steak too much, cook; it’s too tender. Don’t I always say that to be good, a whale-steak must be tough? There are those sharks now over the side, don’t you see they prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up! Cook, go and talk to ’em; tell ’em they are welcome to help themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet. Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver my message.


Here, take this lantern,” snatching one from his sideboard; “now then, go and preach to ’em!”

Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand dropping his light low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation, with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks, while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.”




All I can say about this chapter is that we learn two things: 1. Sharks love to chomp on the parts of the whale hanging off the boat and 2. Stubb is an ass.


Stubb was in the boat that caught the whale and to celebrate he asks the 90 year old black cook to get out of bed and cook him a whale steak. The old cook obeys, how can he not, and Stubb decides to mess with the cook by telling him to go ask the sharks to keep quiet as they feast on the whale.


The old cook, Fleece, is not happy. He thinks this is dumb, but he has to obey this white man or be in trouble for insubordination. Fleece preaches to the sharks, then Stubb tells him it’s not good enough. About this time, I want to throw Stubb to the sharks, but I’m not there, obvs.

Melville uses Fleece – look at the name Fleece, to trick someone - to call out Stubb, to call out white men, to call attention to what 90-year-old black men have to do to stay alive.


Fleece goes back and, in spite of Melville’s terrible attempt at dialect (remember this was 1851) we read this: “Your woraciousness, fellow-critters, I don’t blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can’t be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.” I almost want to read it as this: “Sure, you white men are wicked to us black men, but that’s your nature. Govern your nature though. Be better men than sharks.”


And when Stubb again says to Fleece – preach stronger, Fleece says this: “dey don’t hear one word; no use a-preachin’ to such dam g’uttons as you call ’em, till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless; and when dey do get ’em full, dey wont hear you den; for den dey sink in de sea, go fast to sleep on de coral, and can’t hear not’ing at all, no more, for eber and eber.” In other words, it’s no use to talk to white men. They are gluttons for power, won’t ever hear the black man’s point and this will never change.


This chapter has more to it than meets the eye and I find Melville brave for doing this.

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