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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 85: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 81 The Pequod Meets the Virgin

“It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground—so the last long dying spout of the whale.”



Relax – the Virgin is a ship the Pequod happens to meet. It is also the title of this really long chapter. Let me sum the action up for you – the two ships meet, but before Ahab can get any info about the white whale, the captain of The Virgin comes aboard The Pequod with an empty oil can in his hand asking Ahab if he can borrow any oil. The guest ship, apparently, has not caught any whale and has no oil for lights.


Ishmael makes, perhaps, a joke about how the other captain was: “hinting that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery is technically called a clean one (that is, an empty one), well deserving the name of Jungfrau or the Virgin.” Hardy-har-har, right?


Anyway, then the crew of the Virgin spots a whale. Both ships go running for it and a really great story of the chase takes place. Both ships send out their whaling boats with The Pequod clearly holding the better whalers. The action is tight and Melville describes it so you feel you are there – right in the center of the melee. But in a couple of instances Ishmael seems to feel compassion for the whale. He thinks of the number of years the whale has been on the earth. When the whale is caught and the men find an old harpoon beneath the whale’s skin, Ish wonders: "What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous cabinet.”


What I find compelling about this chapter is the action, of course, the compassion Ish feels for the whale, and the fact that in the end, the whale sinks. Neither ship gets any oil. So the business goes. But I was strangely touched by Ishmael’s narration of the whale’s death. Some chapters are all about whaling – and the world.

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