Chapters 55-60 Summary and Analysis
Few pictures of whales are accurate because the true majesty of the whale can be seen only in unfathomable waters. However, there are many pictures of whales. A crippled beggar in London holds a painted board depicting the scene in which he lost his leg. Sailors carve and etch whale bone and whale teeth, a craft called scrimshanding or scrimshaw. With imagination, whales can be seen in the stars and in undulating mountain ridges.
The Pequod cruises through a meadow of brit, the yellow substance eaten by right whales. Daggoo raises the cry for the White Whale, but what he has sighted is really a huge, white squid. Starbuck considers it a bad omen.
Typically, the whaling line, the line attached to the harpoon, is run through a series of complicated turns from bow to stern, enclosing the six-man crew in its coils.
Discussion and Analysis
In this section, the reportorial style of the material devoted to the pictures of whales contrasts with the more poetic style of descriptive passages such as this:
“But one transparent blue morning, … when the long burnished sun-glade on the waters seemed a golden finger laid across them …, when the slippered waves whispered together …; in this profound hush … a strange spectre was seen.”
The “spectre” is the squid. The diction used to describe its appearance creates a mystical atmosphere, as does the use of the biblical word in the line: “Lo! in the same spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose.”
The theme of the duality of man is repeated when Ishmael compares the land and sea. “do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?” he asks his readers. The analogy refers to man’s savage, untamed nature represented by the sea and to his gentle, peaceful nature represented by an island in that sea. Never venture from that metaphorical island, he says, for there is no return. Ahab is one who has done that, both literally and figuratively.
The unity of man is suggested in the image of the whale line, but the image is not positive. All humans are connected by virtue of the fact that they are all in the same mess, so to speak. “All men live enveloped in whale-lines … but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.”