Moby Dick: Chapters 8-9

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Chapter 8, “The Pulpit”
 
Summary
Father Mapple, a white-haired chaplain who had been a harpooner in youth, enters and mounts the pulpit, shaped like the prow of a ship. He drags the rope ladder up after him. The wall behind shows a painting of a ship in a storm with an angel over it. From this, Ishmael derives a lesson: “The world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow” (8. 39). Seeing Mapple withdraw into the pulpit, Ishmael believes it signifies his spiritual withdrawal to get ready to deliver the sermon.
 
 
Chapter  9, “The Sermon”
 
Summary
Using nautical language, Mapple addresses the congregation as “shipmates.” First, they sing a hymn about Jonah’s deliverance from the whale, and then Mapple delivers a whole  sermon on the same topic. He dramatically recounts Jonah’s willful disobedience of God’s commands, and how he was punished. In order to save the ship from God’s wrath, the sailors threw Jonah overboard, and he was swallowed by a whale. Jonah knows he was justly punished, repented, and was cast ashore without harm.
 
As the storm howls outside the church, Mapple underscores the lesson of Jonah: if we obey God, we have to disobey ourselves. The other lesson has to do with any “pilot of the living God” who like Jonah is bidden to speak truth in the face of falsehood. Such a one must go “against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, [standing] forth his own inexorable self” (9.47).
 
 
Analysis - Chapters 8 and 9
Mapple and his sermon not only comment on life in general but also are famous bits of foreshadowing of the voyage of the Pequod and Captain Ahab’s story. Jonah, like Ahab, sets himself against fate or God’s will, but unlike Ahab, Jonah repents and thus is set up as an ideal for sailors and any “pilot of the living God,” meaning a preacher, like Father Mapple, or a leader like Captain Ahab. Ahab makes a different choice than Jonah does.
 
 

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