How to Read Moby Dick

a guide for first-time readers

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Reading Section 4

Capters 66 - 86                  Section 4 Vocabulary

Congratulations!  You have finished one-half of this journey.

Section 4 has high detail on various aspects of hunting and dissecting the whale. Do not become bogged down with the literal detail. The detail can be interesting and exciting, but Ishmael's application of the literal details to human endeavors and the human condition is the exclamation mark he is trying to communicate.

Consider Chapter 66. This short chapter describes the killing of sharks in high detail. But take note of the last paragraph. It gives insight into Queequeq's philosophy. What is it?

Chapter 68 describes the skin and blubber of the whale in great detail. Note the last paragraph--a direct elevation and application to humans. Ishmael learns from Nature:....Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou too remain warm among ice.... Here is a direct lesson, and Ishmael wants us to know it. This is Romanticism--We observe Nature and we learn about ourselves.

The lessons that Ishmael learns and tries to communicate is why you are reading. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a poet is one who knows the transcendental and can communicate it to others in any manner. Ishmael has become a poet--He is now communicating lessons learned from Nature. He is a poet in the ancient tradition.

  1. Read the following chapters for lessons/elevations  (applications to humans or the human condition). Take notes, showing the literal to elevation:

Chapter 69 The Funeral--the stripping of the whale.

Chapter 70 The Sphynx--the beheading of the whale. Ahab teaches the lesson here (as observed by Ishmael).

Chapter 72 The Monkey Rope--the cutting in (stripping the blubber) of the whale; also, the monkey rope itself.

Chapter 75 The Right Whale's Head--a comparison with the Sperm Whale's Head               described in Chapter 74. The lesson comes at the end of Chapter 75.

  1. Suggested journal entry: List at least 4 other chapters, explaining the literal to elevation for each.

  1. In Section 4 you will have two gams. With each gam, make note of how Ahab acts and reacts. The sailors enjoy the gams because it gives them an opportunity to visit with others and receive news from home. Why does Ahab want to have the gams?

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