From Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish
“What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”
Melville begins this chapter with a Whaling Code. Whether it is true or not, Melville tell us that the code says that fast-fish are fish who are caught and bound to something – a boat, a hook, a line. They ‘belong’ to the party who has bound them.
Loose-fish are free. But, upon closer reading, we see that loose-fish just haven't been caught yet. They are 'fair game.' And aren't we all just on the cusp of being caught and bound by something?
In the last line of the chapter comes a hard truth – humans are both bound to an external force(s) and simultaneously free. In this ocean we currently swim in, that feels more than true.