Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 118 123 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 118–123 | Summary

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Summary

The Pequod enters the Sea of Japan, and Captain Ahab uses his quadrant to find the ship's latitude. His intention is to continue south to the equator. Speaking to the quadrant he says, "what after all canst thou do? ... Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon." Deciding that the quadrant is useless because it cannot predict the future, he crushes it. Soon after this event in Chapter 119, the ship sails into a violent typhoon that tears the sails from their masts and damages Ahab's whaleboat. Lightning strikes the bare masts and makes them look like glowing candles. Starbuck is ready to turn around and go home. Ahab reveals that his long scar was the result of being struck by lightning, and he reaffirms his commitment to killing Moby Dick. Starbuck suggests taking down a sail in Chapter 120 but Ahab refuses, saying everything should just be lashed down. Stubb and Flask argue in Chapter 121 about whether Ahab's mission puts them in more danger than a typical whaling voyage, with Stubb saying it does not. Meanwhile, Tashtego lashes the sail in Chapter 122 and wishes for rum. Later, when the weather goes from "foul" to "fair" in Chapter 123, Starbuck goes to Ahab's cabin to report this. Several muskets are lined up in Ahab's cabin, and Starbuck briefly considers killing Ahab while he sleeps. He decides not to and leaves the cabin while Ahab is still sleeping, then tells Stubb to go report on the weather instead.

Analysis

This section clearly shows Captain Ahab's descent into complete irrationality, and some of the mates begin to really worry about the outcome of this voyage. In a fit of temper, Ahab angrily destroys an important navigational tool because it cannot tell the future. Almost as if to condemn Ahab's folly, a storm providentially comes up and damages the ship badly. Starbuck, appalled at the damage as well as at Ahab's obvious lack of good judgment, seems to realize that Ahab might need to be removed from power if they are to survive. However, he does not act; he only considers it. He almost justifies murdering Ahab, saying, "Is heaven a murderer when its lightning strikes a would-be murderer in his bed?" But thinking of his wife and child, he cannot follow through. Flask, too, shows uncharacteristic anxiety about the danger Ahab is putting them in. The tension escalates as these normally imperturbable sailors begin to realize the path they are on.

The storm, as well as the fact that Ahab is already scarred from a lightning strike, supports the characterization of Ahab as being opposed to God—a devil or under the influence of the devil. God's judgment, in the form of lightning from Heaven, has fallen on Ahab before, and God continues to judge his actions.

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