How to Read Moby Dick

a guide for first-time readers

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Reading Section 5

Chapters 87 - Epilogue

Vocabulary Section 5

Read straight through to the end. Melville has introduced his conflicts and themes. Ishmael has become transcendental in his descriptions.

Continue to note how the literal is a springboard to the abstract or elevated. Reality is a mask for the illusion.

Chapters  87 - 109                 

Almost every chapter is elevated. The chapters that impress me are 88 and 89. With which ones do you especially relate? In other chapters we gain further insight into the characters and personalities of both Ahab and Starbuck. In this section Little Pip crosses the line into irrationality, and Ahab becomes his protector.

Chapters 110 - 130

Events become darkly ominous. Queequeg lies in his coffin. Note the imagery in 112, The Blacksmith, and 113, The Forge.
The Pequod Meets the Rachel, 128, is a final reflection on Ahab's monomania.  Rachel is a Biblical allusion. Check the meaning on the Allusion List.

Chapters 131
- Epilogue

Do you think the ending fanciful, totally not really possible?  Actually, the possibility and reality of it happening in this way is told in tales of whalers and in their folk songs. Listen to a folk song based on a true story written in the 1840s by a sailor named Scammon. Tommy Makem sings.
The story of the sinking of the whale ship, Essex, as recorded by First Mate Owen Chase in 1821 was a gripping tale read by many, including a young Herman Melville. You can order a reprint of the original text with maps and a facsimile of Melville's notes on Chase's book, Shipwreck of the Whaleship 'Essex'.

ahab hunt2 pip    

Student Art: Click on picture to see larger image.