Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 81 83 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Chapters 81–83

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 81–83 of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick | Chapters 81–83 | Summary



The Pequod meets up with the Jungfrau, a German whaling ship captained by Derick De Deer. Captain De Deer comes aboard the Pequod to ask for some oil because his ship has run out, not having caught a whale. He tells Captain Ahab he has not seen the White Whale. As he goes back to his own ship, they suddenly come upon a pod of whales, and both ships lower their boats. The three harpooners from the Pequod succeed in harpooning and killing one whale, which turns out to be extremely old. When they cut into the whale they find an old, corroded harpoon embedded in his flesh. Suddenly the whale begins to sink and pull the Pequod over with it, so the crew must cut it loose. The Jungfrau begins to chase a fin-back whale, which looks like a sperm whale but is "uncapturable."

Ishmael then explains in Chapter 82 that many heroes of old have been whalemen, including Perseus, St. George, Hercules, and "Vishnoo" (Vishnu). In the next chapter, he evaluates the biblical story of Jonah. He discusses some discrepancies and difficulties presented in the biblical text when viewed from the perspective of a whaleman.


Ishmael says near the beginning of Chapter 81, "At one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch and Germans are now among the least." The encounter with the Jungfrau seems to support this assessment: they have not been able to kill any whales, so they are out of whale oil (which they need for lamps and other uses). They fail to capture the sperm whale in the contest with the Pequod's crew, and they foolishly chase after a fin-back whale, mistaking it for a sperm whale.

Ishmael continues on the topic suggested by the meeting with the Jungfrau: the history of whaling. He reasons that whaling has a honorable history going back to antiquity, and provides as examples several heroes of old who were, he believes, whalemen. It is an understatement to say that his logic is a bit of a stretch; he says that St. George's dragon was, in fact, a whale, citing Ezekiel's phrase "dragon of the sea" as evidence. Before he leaves the topic of whaling history, Ishmael cycles back to the story of Jonah—another reminder of Father Mapple's sermon.

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