Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 94 98 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick | Chapters 94–98 | Summary

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Summary

The whale is cut up and emptied of its spermaceti. Some of the spermaceti has crystallized, and Ishmael and some of the other sailors have to squeeze the chunks to turn it back into a liquid. He finds the task very pleasant, and describes the amazing smell and feel of the oil. Occasionally, he squeezes the hands of others working at the same task and feels quite affectionate toward them. He also describes some of the other tasks of sperm whale processing, including those that take place in the terrifying and dangerous blubber-room.

Ishmael then describes in Chapter 95 how the outer layer of the sperm whale's penis is stretched and worn like a cassock by the mincer, a crewman who cuts up pieces of blubber so it can be rendered of oil in a process that occurs in the try-works, described in Chapter 96. That night as he is steering the Pequod, Ishmael thinks dreamily upon the image of the fire of the try-works, and the ship almost capsizes. He realizes he should have been paying closer attention. The oil is stored in casks in the hold of the ship (Chapter 98). Then the ship is cleaned, and because whale oil is so good for cleaning, the ship is pristine. One of the men in the three mastheads may then sight another whale, and if it is killed, the cycle will begin again.

He interrupts this description of whale oil processing and uses to note in Chapter 97 that because whale oil is used in lamps, the crew has as much lamp light as they desire. At night, the ship looks like an "illuminated shrine."

Analysis

While these chapters focus on the topic of whale oil and spermaceti, the Pequod as an interconnected community is explored throughout as part of the theme of unity and division. In the flurry of activity that comes after a whale is obtained—the various cutting, processing, and storage tasks—each man has his job to do. Some have special roles like the mincer, and some work together on more mundane tasks such as squeezing oil. In this way, the Pequod is again shown to be a microcosm of the world. Ishmael feels quite sentimental about his fellow oil-squeezers as well: "Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy!"

The interconnectedness is also explored from the opposite angle: When one man (Ishmael) doesn't do his job properly, the whole crew is put in danger.

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