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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 84: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 80 The Nut

“For I believe that much of a man’s character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.” 



Ishmael is back to reading the whale’s head. He has moved to the brain now. Ish believes that the skull of a whale is much like a human skull. This is more criticism of the phrenologists and the way we ‘read’ people.


What Ish is also doing is pointing out what is important in folks. Sure, brains are good. Smart brains are good too, but the backbone of a person is what counts. Hard work and good intentions make a ‘full and noble spirit.’ Ish himself believes he has a good backbone and here is where he decides to make decisions about others.


It seems repetitive to hear Melville/Ish go after the phrenologists, but he is trying to make a point. We can’t judge others by the supposed size, shape, or weight of the brain. Judge instead by good deeds, strength of character, and maybe even stop judging!

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