Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 102 105 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 102–105 | Summary

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Summary

Ishmael notes that he has mostly described the outside of the whale, so now he's going to describe its "innermost bones"—its skeleton. He says that on a previous trip they caught a whale cub, and he was able to examine its skeleton close up. He also claims that he visited a place where the people were using a whale skeleton as a temple. There he had taken the opportunity to measure its bones, recording them in a tattoo. In Chapter 103, he details what those measurements were. In Chapter 104, he turns to describing fossil whales, and this makes him reflect on the passage of time, which he points out "began with man" because humans invented the idea of time. In Chapter 105, he considers whether whales are truly getting smaller over time, as the fossil evidence seems to show, or if, like humans, they will actually grow larger with time. He wonders about their continued survival in the face of so much hunting, but concludes they will survive.

Analysis

Throughout the narrative, Ishmael is concerned with his credibility. He anticipates that his audience may not believe what he has to say about whales and whaling, so he goes to lengths to explain how he learned certain facts or why his opinion is better than another's. In Chapter 102, he approaches the topic of the skeleton of the whale by actually putting words in the reader's mouth: "But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale? ... Can you land a full-grown whale on your deck for examination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not." He then says that while he didn't have a full-grown whale for his examination, he had a small one. On the basis of this and a few other credentials, including a visit to the imaginary "Tranque" temple, readers are encouraged to take his views seriously.

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