Ahab has the carpenter put together a log and line, replacing the old, rotted apparatus, in order to help him discern the ship's direction and speed. Pip comes to help his captain and so touches Ahab with his madness and sense of loss that the commander takes the child under wing. A sailor falls from the mainmast, drowning when the ship's old life buoy won't float. The carpenter makes a buoy out of Queequeg's coffin.
Ahab's personal control of the ship's fate is further represented by his replacement of the log and line. With this device, a log is attached to the rear of the ship by a long line so that the captain can have some further idea of how the craft is steering and of its speed. Ahab welcomes the opportunity to take charge completely: "I crush the quadrant, the thunder turns the needles, and now the mad sea parts the log-line. But Ahab can mend all."
The captain's compassionate side is touched by little Pip, who comes to help. As he did with the blacksmith, Ahab identifies with this wounded, lost soul. He also sees in Pip further evidence of a cold and cruel universal power: "There can be no hearts above the snow-line. Oh, ye frozen heavens! look down here. Ye did beget this luckless child, and have abandoned him, ye creative libertines." Ahab joins hands with Pip and vows to keep him close.
Turning Queequeg's canoe-coffin-sea chest into a life buoy foreshadows the ending of the novel and renews the theme of death, now contrasted with life and rebirth. Ahab, always struggling with these enormous topics, considers the symbolism: "Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality preserver!" The coffin will play a practical role in helping Ishmael live to tell his tale.
oblique having a slanted position or direction.
libertines people who live unrestrained, immoral lives.
bodings here, ominous, foreboding thoughts.