Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 28 30 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 28–30 | Summary

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Summary

Captain Ahab is still nowhere to be seen, and Ishmael is more and more unnerved by his absence, recalling the odd things Elijah said about the man. One day, however, he sees Ahab standing grimly on the quarter-deck. He has a long, white scar that runs from his hairline straight down into his clothing, and a false leg made from the jawbone of a whale. Ahab stares forward, out to sea, for a while, then disappears back into his cabin without a word.

Ahab walks about at night in Chapter 29 as if he can't sleep. His peg leg makes quite a noise, and Stubb suggests muffling the sound so as not to disturb the crew. At this Ahab insults Stubb, calling him a dog. Stubb becomes angry and talks back to Ahab, but Ahab is so threatening in his look that Stubb retreats. Stubb muses that Ahab seems to have something on his mind and that he is "full of riddles." He also reveals that Ahab often goes alone into the hold of the ship, which he finds odd.

In Chapter 30 after Stubb leaves and goes back to his hammock, Ahab sends a sailor to fetch his ivory stool and pipe. He sits and smokes, and Ishmael thinks he looks like a king on his throne. Ahab, however, seems unsatisfied with smoking, noting that it should soothe him but it isn't working, so he tosses the lit pipe overboard and paces instead.

Analysis

Ishmael's anxiety about the enigmatic Captain Ahab is almost overwhelming when suddenly and at long last, Ahab appears. However, rather than satisfying curiosity and becoming more human than myth, Ahab seems to embody the myth. He has holes put into the Pequod's deck, and he places his whalebone leg in them, standing resolutely and staring fearlessly out to sea for long intervals. He has a long scar with mysterious origins: a lightning strike "in an elemental strife at sea." He is grim and brooding. His incessant pacing on the deck of the ship keeps the crew up at night because of the rhythmic thumping of his peg leg. It is no wonder that Stubb asks, "Is he mad?" Others must think so, too.

The pipe that Ahab gives up smoking here (he throws it overboard) is significant because it shows him beginning to shed, one by one, the small pleasures and ordinary tasks associated with being human. He does not want to be comforted, even by the small, calming pleasure of his pipe. He is giving up any human pleasure that might interfere with his single-minded commitment to his mission. The throwing overboard of the pipe is a symbolic act that marks his wholehearted devotion to his task (which, as of yet, he has not told the men about).

This section also teases the reader with a brief mention of Ahab's habit of going alone into the hold of the ship, creating suspense about what might be in it.

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