Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 52 54 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 52–54 | Summary

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Summary

The Pequod is southeast of the Cape of Good Hope, entering the Indian Ocean, when it encounters the whaling ship Goney on its way home. This ship is greeted by "Have you seen the White Whale?" Because he receives no answer, Captain Ahab fails in Chapter 53 to extend any of the courtesies one captain often will grant another. This is unusual, and Ishmael explains that the normal course of events when one whaling ship meets another is to have a "gam," where the ships' captains, crews, and mates mingle and share news together.

Chapter 54 is told by Ishmael to friends at the Golden Inn in Lima, Peru, after the novel's events take place, but it concerns the events directly after the previous chapter. After meeting the Goney, the Pequod encounters the Town-Ho, another whaling ship. The Pequod and the Town-Ho have a gam, and Ishmael learns about a conflict between Steelkilt, a respected crew member of the Town-Ho, and Radney, a mate. Steelkilt had planned to murder Radney because of the conflict, but Moby Dick arrived and pulled Radney under the water, preventing the murder.

Analysis

"Goney" is another name for an albatross, a bird that is supposed to signal good fortune for sailors. It is not good fortune in Captain Ahab's opinion unless he can get news of the White Whale, so he quickly continues on his way, coming soon to another whaling ship, the Town-Ho.

Part of the Town-Ho's story is told to Ahab, but another part is kept secret—told to Tashtego in confidence and later divulged by Tashtego while talking in his sleep. The secret part had to do with the "visitation of one of those so called judgments of God which at times are said to overtake some men." To save Steelkilt from committing murder, "Heaven itself seemed to step in to take out of his hands into its own the damning thing he would have done." So Moby Dick, as the agent of God, avenges the wrongs done by Radney, saving Steelkilt from a damning deed in the process. Ahab never hears this part of the story.

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