Moby Dick "God's Foot Upon The Treadle Of The Loom"

Herman Melville

"God's Foot Upon The Treadle Of The Loom"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: On a whaling boat the first rule is to stay in the boat. Once on the cruise after the albino whale Moby Dick, "a most significant event befell the most insignificant of the Pequod's crew," little Pip, the Negro cabin boy. While chasing a whale in the boat of the second mate, Stubb, Pip jumped overboard. Although warned by Stubb that if he jumps again he will be abandoned, when the boat is rapped on the bottom by the struck whale, Pip leaps a second time, and is abandoned, though only temporarily. By chance he is left in the water longer than Stubb meant him to be, and is finally rescued by the Pequod herself. The passage about Pip's rescue and the consequence of his having been in the sea is one of Melville's richest and profoundest:

. . . By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense. . . .