Moby-Dick By Herman Melville Summary and Analysis Chapters 29-31

Summary

Ahab spends less and less time in his cabin. "It feels like going down into one's tomb," he is heard to mutter. His nightly pacing on deck, his whale-jaw leg thumping, disturbs some of the crew below. When Stubb humorously asks the captain if the noise might be muffled, Ahab calls the second mate a dog and ten times a donkey, dismissing him. Ahab finds no comfort in a smoke and hurls his lighted pipe into the sea. Stubb has a disturbing dream.

Analysis

These chapters cast further illumination on the character of Ahab. As the Pequod sails farther south and nears the area where whales might be found, its captain grows increasingly restless. His habit of walking the deck at night is particularly disturbing to some of the crew who are trying to sleep below. Stubb's cautious, good-natured attempt to have the captain somehow muffle the constant thumping of his artificial leg is met with hostility from Ahab. Aboard a whaler in the mid-nineteenth century, Ishmael points out, the captain is king.

We see further into Ahab's troubled soul after Stubb is dismissed. Lighting his pipe by the binnacle lamp, the captain sits for an apparent moment of serenity; his mind, however, takes no pleasure in peaceful contemplation. It is driven toward a single goal. He casts the pipe into the waters as brusquely as he dismissed Stubb and resumes his pacing on the planks.

We also learn more of Stubb. In addition to the biblical Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-22), Stubb has an eleventh ("Think not") and a twelfth ("Sleep when you can"). But this night, sleep brings no respite to Stubb. He dreams that Ahab kicks him with the old man's ivory leg. When Stubb kicks back, the second mate's leg flies off. Ahab suddenly turns into a pyramid; as Stubb kicks at that, a hunchbacked "badger-haired old merman" calls him to desist and says that it's an honor to be kicked by a man as wise as Ahab. Like most of the rest of the crew, Stubb is confused and troubled by his captain's behavior; but he is also drawn to the monomaniacal commander, respects him, sees him as a great man, and will follow Ahab anywhere.

Glossary

aught to any degree.

binnacle an upright, cylindrical stand holding the ship's compass.

Queen Mab in folklore, a fairy queen who controls people's dreams.

monomaniacal irrationally preoccupied with one subject.

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