Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 55 57 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 55–57 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapters 55 and 56, Ishmael notes that most representations of whales with which land-dwelling folks are familiar bear little resemblance to real whales when seen up close. He gives a catalog of various ways whales are presented as monsters, and he attributes this to the fact that most people only see beached whales, not the noble creatures they are when at sea. Then he gives some sources for greater depictions of whales. Finally, in Chapter 57 he discusses the sketches and engravings made in various materials, often by sailors who had seen whales firsthand, noting that these are often much more accurate than other depictions.

Analysis

In these chapters, Ishmael touches on ideas that come up repeatedly in the novel: the nobility of the whale as a creature, and the fact that whales and whalemen are generally misunderstood. He promises to eventually "paint to you as well as one can without canvas, something like the true form of the whale as he actually appears to the eye of the whaleman." But first he will explain all of the ways most people get it all wrong when it comes to whales. Because they only see beached whales, they never see one in its natural environment, where, of course, it is much more majestic. This sight is reserved for whalemen, who operate in close quarters with whales. It stands to reason, then, that people should trust whalemen's depictions of whales. And this is why readers should trust Ishmael on the topic rather than believing other sources.

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