Summary and Analysis
As the Pequod enters the "sweet mystery" of the Pacific Ocean, Ishmael understands why most seamen find serenity in these vast waters. That is not the case with Ahab. His purpose intensifies as he prepares for the meeting with the White Whale. The captain asks his blacksmith, Perth, to shape him an especially powerful harpoon. We learn the tragic history of Perth's background and witness a demonic baptism of Ahab's new weapon.
These short chapters begin the final movement of the novel toward a showdown between Ahab and Moby Dick. The serenity of the Pacific contrasts with the turbulence in the captain's soul as he senses that the White Whale must be very near.
Only rarely does Melville stereotype, but Perth's story is told with the excessive sentimentality and predictability of melodrama. Ahab feels compassion for Perth, the ship's blacksmith. In him he sees a fellow wounded human being. At the age of sixty, Perth had been a successful artisan with a youthful, "daughter-like" wife, a comfortable home, and three happy, healthy children. We learn that Perth's life was ruined by alcohol, the "Bottle Conjuror" letting loose an evil spirit: "Upon the opening of that fatal cork, forth flew the fiend, and shriveled up his [Perth's] home." Perth failed at his work. His wife died or, as Ishmael puts it, "dived down into the long church-yard grass." Two children followed her. Perth lost everything, including toes to frostbite one bitter wintry night, resulting in a "yawing in his gait." When Ahab asks Perth why the sparks of the forge don't burn him, the blacksmith responds, "I am past scorching; not easily can'st thou scorch a scar."
Ahab's dark motives become more clear as he has Perth shape a powerful harpoon out of strong steel nails from racing horses' shoes. The captain asks the three pagan harpooners on board to provide the point with a "true death-temper" of their own blood, which they do. In a baptism ritual that would please Satan, Ahab covers the barb with that blood and speaks a Latin alteration of the Christian sacrament: "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" ("I do not baptize thee in the name of the father, but in the name of the devil.")
supplication a humble request or prayer.
blithe cheerful, carefree.
conjurer a magician, sorcerer.
oblivious unaware, unmindful, forgetful.
abated made less in amount, degree, or force.