Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 67 72 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 67–72 | Summary

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Summary

Ishmael notes that the cutting in—or removal of the blubber from the whale—took place on the Sabbath, then describes the procedure in great detail. He explains in Chapter 68 that the skin of a whale and its blubber are really part of the same thing, and that it is removed in long pieces called blanket pieces. Then he notes that this blubber/skin layer does act like a blanket to keep the whale warm in cold water. Then he describes in Chapter 69 the way that the crew, once they have stripped the whale of its profitable parts, lets the carcass go.

In Chapter 70, Ishmael notes that before the carcass was let go the head was removed, which is a difficult task. Stubb is such an expert that he does it in 10 minutes. Captain Ahab speaks reverently to the severed head but is interrupted by shouting—another ship has just been sighted.

The ship is the Jeroboam, captained by Captain Mayhew, who says there is a sickness aboard his ship in Chapter 71. A strange man aboard Jeroboam named Gabriel, who thinks himself a prophet, has claimed the sickness is his doing. When Ahab asks about the White Whale, it turns out the Jeroboam had a run-in with Moby Dick. The mate on the Jeroboam, Macey, had harpooned the whale but not killed it, despite Gabriel's warnings not to attack. Then Macey had been swept overboard and killed. Many of the sailors find this portentous.

In Chapter 72, Ishmael describes how, while the whale carcass is being stripped of blubber, he and Queequeg are connected by a "monkey-rope" tied to each of their belts. This gives a little security to Queequeg, who is on the whale cutting while Ishmael is on deck. The technique makes Ishmael feel that they are like twin brothers with intertwined fates. Ishmael explains how Queequeg was given a drink of grog as a reward for being the harpooner of the whale.

Analysis

Captain Ahab's words to the severed head—which looks like the Sphinx of Giza—are an entreaty: "speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest." However, he realizes that the secrets known by the head will never be known: "O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets ... and not one syllable is thine!" This private moment is another glimpse into Ahab's inner thoughts—mad and melancholy, yet beautiful.

If the whale's head is unable to speak, the same cannot be said for Gabriel, another prophetic character with a biblical name. Gabriel can't seem to stop talking, despite Captain Mayhew's repeated attempts to get him to stop. This strange character yells to Ahab: "Beware of the horrible tail!" when asked about the White Whale. He believes Moby Dick to be God incarnate.

The description of the monkey-rope is a revisiting of the idea that ropes and threads are related to fate and destiny. Ishmael considers this rope "strongly and metaphysically." As he does this, he feels that his "individuality" merged with Queequeg's, and that his free will had been taken away by the fact that "another's mistake or misfortune might plunge" him into "unmerited disaster and death."

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