Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 50 51 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 50–51 | Summary

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Summary

Stubb and Flask disagree about whether a man with one leg should be on a whaling boat. Ishmael considers whether the Pequod's owners would approve and decides they would probably not; this is why Captain Ahab brought his men on secretly. He also notes the crew were surprised at this turn of events but quickly grew used to it, as Fedallah's men integrated easily into the crew.

Weeks pass in Chapter 51, and one night Fedallah sees a "silvery jet" that indicates the presence of a whale. The crew gets ready to deploy the whale boats and waits tensely for confirmation. But although every sailor says they saw it one time, no one can confirm a second sighting. They begin to believe it is Moby Dick, "alluring" them on in order to finally turn on them in some remote place. Throughout the days of this chase, Ahab silently and stoically watches.

Analysis

Continuing to develop the theme of authority and obedience, Ishmael discusses the fact that Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg, the Pequod's owners, would probably not have approved of Captain Ahab's going out on a whaleboat, and they most certainly would not have approved of his modifications to the fourth whaleboat or his hidden crew. Therefore, Ahab has made all these arrangements secretly to avoid trouble with his employers.

If Bildad and Peleg do not have authority over Ahab, then who does? Ishmael implies that the devilish Fedallah, who is accompanied by his "subordinate phantoms," may have influence, or even authority over Ahab: "he soon evinced himself to be linked with Ahab's peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort of a half-hinted influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even authority over him."

Indeed, for the next stretch of ocean, Fedallah does seem to take a guiding role. His sighting of the Spirit-Spout results in the ship following it for several days into the troubled seas and windy conditions near the Cape of Good Hope.

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