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Chapters 41-42 Summary and Analysis

Summary
As encounters with Moby Dick become more frequent among whalers, rumors about him grow more fantastic. Some say he is ubiquitous, that he could be in two places at once. Others say that he is immortal. Many ascribe to the creature a kind of malignant intelligence.

Ishmael learns more about Ahab’s encounter with Moby Dick. His three boats stove in and his crew swirling in the eddies, Ahab futilely plunged a six-inch blade into the whales’s flank. It was then that Moby Dick took his leg in his great, crooked jaw.

Ahab’s madness came upon him during the homeward voyage. For months, he lay in his hammock, “his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another” and so made him mad. Later he was able to hide this madness. The Nantucketers believed that his going back out to sea was the best thing for him.

Ishmael speculates on Ahab's and his own feelings for Moby Dick. Ahab “piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down.” For Ahab, Moby Dick embodies the very essence of evil. Ishmael’s feelings for the whale have more to do with its color. Although whiteness may signify beauty and innocence, it is also the color of the horse upon which Death rides and the color of a corpse’s skin. More frightening to Ishmael is that whiteness is an absence. It is blankness.

Discussion and Analysis
“Moby Dick” and “The Whiteness of the Whale” are more attempts by Ishmael to comprehend. In these chapters, he analyzes and reasons, but admits that “to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go.” Furthermore, he hints at an ambiguity of feeling for Moby Dick; for at the beginning of his chapter on whiteness, he uses the qualifying phrase, “what at times he was to me.”

Regardless, Ishmael is bound to Ahab and seems fated to help him in his...

(The entire section is 486 words.)