Moby Dick: Chapters 55-60

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Chapter 55, “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales”
Summary
No one has been able to draw a whale properly. The most ancient image is in India. Guido’s picture of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea monster is supposedly a whale. Ishmael runs through the known portraits, dismissing them.
 
 
Chapter 56, “Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales”
 
Summary
Of the scientific drawings, Beale’s is the best; of engravings, the French—Garnery and H. Durand.
 
 
Chapter 57, “Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Sheet-Iron; In Stone; In Mountains; In Stars”
 
Summary
The true whale hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois, says Ishmael, admitting he is one. In their spare time whalers like to carve objects in whalebone, wood, or metal, called skrimshandering. Some of the best likenesses of whales are in these carvings. Only a whale man can see the true shape of the whale, and he can see him in mountains, clouds, or the stars.
 
 
Chapter 58, “Brit”
 
Summary
The Pequod comes on a patch of brit or yellow substance that right whales feed on. Ishmael reflects that the sea both nourishes and destroys its creatures. Fish eat other fish, and even the whale can be killed by a storm. The sea, even when calm, holds terrors.
 
 
Chapter 59, “Squid”
 
Summary
As the Pequod nears Java, Daggoo sees a white mass in the distance and calls out, “The White Whale!” The boats lower and Ahab’s leads. When the mass rises, it turns out to be a giant squid, an omen of bad luck to whalers. Squid are frightening with their snakey arms and are believed to be food for the sperm whale, making the whale seem even more fierce.
 
 
Chapter 60: “The Line”
 
Summary
Ishmael next describes the whale-line that lies coiled in the boat, attached to the harpoon and 1200 feet in length. It whizzes out with such power it can take off an arm or a leg. It is of great importance to prepare it and wind it, so there are no kinks.
 
 
Analysis Chapters 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60
Ishmael gives a lot of whale lore and knowledge of whaling to prepare for the action to come. Again, the lack of knowledge about the whale’s true appearance gives it mystery. The average person can only know it through hearsay. He draws a few lessons along the way, such as the peril of the sea and whaling, and yet, no matter who you are, “All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters around their necks” (60. 280). Therefore, one should be as terrified sitting by a fireside as in a whaling boat. The whale-line will prove to be the death of Ahab.
 
 

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