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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 96: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapters 95 (skipped) and 96 The Try-Works

“Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!”




If the quote above doesn’t give you goosies, shipmates – come on!


Ishmael is giving us insight into what happens when the blubber of the whale is burned in the pots called the try-works. Apparently, the smell is awful and the heat is intense. The smell, as Ish says, is, “like the left wing of the day of judgment.” So, the picture is painted. This is not a fun part of the whale killing job.


While manning the helm, Ish gets lost in a fiery waking sleep. He is lulled into a hallucinogenic state by the flames and the heat. He has a vision of pagan harpooneers and ancient battles between good and evil. And then, he must fall into a sleep, and when he wakes, he has turned away from the ship’s compass and if he had not woken, the ship would have capsized. While Ishmael was dreaming of The Pequod “freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul,” the ship was going off course. All fit metaphors and foreshadowing. This chapter does a lot of work!


The take-away is not to look too deeply into the fire – the blaze of hell – the artificial sun. Sure flames seem exciting, but they are ultimately a false light. I’m sure Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown would agree!

Quite a complex chapter and one completely worthy of a read. It contains supernatural elements, lessons your grandparents would like, and a lot of truth bombs.

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