top of page
  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 79: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

CHAPTER 72 The Monkey-Rope



“It must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at both ends; fast to Queequeg’s broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrow leather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time, were wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honor demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me down in his wake. [. . .] Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother; nor could I any way get rid of the dangerous liabilities which the hempen bond entailed.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. [. . .]

*The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order to afford the imperiled harpooneer the strongest possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder.”




I love this odd little chapter. It goes into a great deal of detail about the Monkey Rope – the rope that is tied from the harpooneer to his helper. The harpooneer stands on the back of the whale after it is harpooned and the whale, naturally, is pissed. So it flails. And to keep the harpooner from going down with the whale, Ishmael, in this case, is tied to Queequeg, the harpooner.


This gives Ish the opportunity to wax philosophically about how mankind is, in many ways, tied to each other. If one of us goes down, we all go down. This is a cool way to look at life. Invisible ropes and all. YET – Ish then says this tying of a rope between the harpooneer, and the helper ONLY happens on The Pequod. Hmmm – how convenient to allow for a philosophical moment, right?


Still, it is a good moment to consider, and this is a work of fiction, right? Sometimes I forget this is a book, not a factual event. Melville can do whatever he wants, even create a fake situation with a monkey-rope.

6 views0 comments


bottom of page