Monday, October 29, 2012

Moby-Dick Big Read,Chapters 26-32

Laura Ford illustration of Chapter 26
Melville uses chapters 25 and 26 to introduce readers to other key members of the Pequod crew and to applaud the qualities of the working class.  As George Cotkin points out in Dive Deeper, Melville also makes clear his allegiance to the Democratic Party of his day by heaping praise on President Andrew Jackson.  Both chapters are entitled "Knights and Squires."  (See illustration to the left.)

Captain Ahab finally makes an appearance in Chapter 28, a chapter appropriately titled "Ahab."  Ishmael has grown more and more apprehensive in anticipation of finally meeting the captain, but the man has remained in his cabin so long that Ishmael no longer expects to find him on deck at the beginning of each new day.  For that reason, he is very startled one morning actually to find the man himself standing there:
 "...so soon as I leveled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me.  Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck."
The chapter is particularly well read by Anthony Wall, whom I believe to be an award-winning BBC producer.  Good readers make all the difference.  I find myself becoming irritated with those who read the words as if they deserve no emotional input from the reader, and by those readers who continually flub their lines by skipping words or reading them out of order.  The good readers, however, are a joy.

 Then in Chapter 29, "Enter Ahab, to Him Stubb," as Ahab hurls personal insults at one of his officers, it becomes clearer what the captain's state-of-mind is as the voyage begins.  In explaining Ahab's tendency to pace the decks in the wee hours of the morning, Melville makes an observation that shows how little the sleeping habits of old men have changed in the last 150 years, "Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death."  I can attest to the truth of that one.

Chapter 30, "The Pipe," sees Ahab toss his beloved pipe overboard as he dedicates himself exclusively to the task at hand: taking his revenge on the white whale that snatched his leg from him.  Anything that distracts him from that task by giving him pleasure or by soothing him has to go.

Chapter 31 is a rather strange chapter during which Stubb shows how dismayed he still is by his confrontation of Ahab by describing a disturbing dream he had following their run-in.

And, finally, Chapter 32, "Cetology," is a long one in which Melville discusses every type of whale likely, or unlikely, to be encountered during the voyage.   The narrator displays a good understanding of the various classes and families of whale as known at the time, but comes down hard on the side of those who consider the whale to be a fish, not a mammal. The length of the chapter could make for a rather tedious reading experience, but Big Read reader Martin Attrill makes quick work of it while managing to keep it all interesting.

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