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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 91: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 87 Schools and Schoolmasters

“Another point of difference between the male and female schools is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a Forty-barrel-bull—poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as themselves to fall prey.”




Melville, via Ishmael, has a conversation about the sexes. After describing the way male whales behave with their ‘harems,’ Ish spends some time bringing human qualities to male and female whales. The boy whales are rowdy, “full of fight, fun, and wickedness.” Until they go looking for girl whales, however. Then they become serious.


But the quote above is pretty interesting. If a male whale gets in trouble – a fight or hit by a harpoon – his buddies book it. They leave their friend alone and care for themselves. The girl whales, however, stick together. But, Ish tells us, sometimes in protecting a friend, a female whale will fall prey to a predator.


So which is the better position? To leave behind a dear friend to save ourselves or to stick with a friend only to put ourselves in harm’s way? Is this a question Ishmael wonders about in regard to himself as we near the end of the book?


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