Chapters 48-51 Summary and Analysis
Fedallah: Ahab’s mysterious harpooner
Ahab’s boat is lowered by Fedallah and his crew. Fedallah is tall and dark and has one tooth protruding from his lips. His braided white hair is wrapped around his head like a turban. Ahab takes his place at the helm of his whale boat. All the other boats are lowered as well.
Just as Queequeg throws his harpoon at a whale, the boat is swamped. Ishmael, Starbuck, and the others are thrown from the boat, but manage to pull themselves back in. They are separated from the others and lost all night in the storm and fog. At dawn, the Pequod finds them. After this incident, Ishmael makes out a will.
Fedallah spots a silvery spout. The Pequod is never able to catch up with it although it appears every night at midnight. As the ship nears the Cape of Good Hope, the weather becomes cold; the ocean, treacherous.
Discussion and Analysis
Fedallah is associated with evil. When Ahab questions him, Fedallah “hisses” a reply. He is dark and dressed in “funereal” black. Ishmael imagines him the offspring of the devil who “consorted with the daughters of men.” Fedallah’s crew are yellow-complexioned Manillans, believed to be agents of the devil by some sailors.
Fedallah and his crew are described as “dusky phantoms fresh formed out of air.” On a symbolic level, they are spiritual for they represent Ahab’s dark alter ego emerging as he comes closer to the object of his vengeance. Similarly, the spirit-spout, believed to be that of Moby Dick, represents the vengeance luring Ahab to destruction.
At the same time, the spirit-spout is spotted, flocks of sea-ravens perch upon the stays as if the Pequod is uninhabited, “a thing appointed to desolation.” The heaving black sea is metaphorically compared to a conscience “in anguish” for the “suffering it had bred.” The atmosphere of “The Spirit-Spout” chapter is grim and foreboding.
Ishmael’s writing his will seems an acquiescence to his fate. His acceptance of his mortality takes a weight from his heart. “Here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction,” he tells himself jokingly, expressing his new “desperado philosophy.”