Summary and Analysis
Some of the Bachelor's good fortune seems to have transferred to the Pequod, which captures four whales in one day. Ahab's boat stays out to guard one whale overnight, during which time Fedallah offers the captain an important prophecy. As the Pequod heads for the equator and the anticipated meeting with Moby Dick, Ahab destroys his quadrant, complaining that it only tells him where he is, not where he shall be or, more important, where Moby Dick is. The ship encounters a typhoon, which Ahab refuses to allow to defeat him.
The dark, ominous atmosphere, almost a feeling of doom, increases aboard the Pequod despite the capture of four whales. Spending the night with his private crew on their open boat, guarding one of the whales that could not be taken to the ship in daylight, Ahab wakens to tell Fedallah of a recurring dream about hearses. The mysterious Fedallah then reminds Ahab of a private prophecy, which he now expands. When Ahab dies, he will have no use for either a hearse or a coffin, according to Fedallah. Before he can die on this voyage, the captain must see two hearses on the sea. One will not be made by mortal hands; the other will display wood grown in America. Fedallah will die before Ahab but later appear to the captain and serve as his guide. Finally, only a hemp rope can kill Ahab. The captain is first amused and then confused by the prophecy. How can there be hearses on the sea? And how can he die by rope — the gallows? No, Ahab must live forever if these prophecies are to come true. He will "slay Moby Dick and survive it!"
The sudden typhoon challenges even Ahab's fury and reveals more of his character. The crew wants to flee the storm, but Ahab insists on fighting it. His response to the power of nature is defiance. We learn conclusively that a lightning bolt caused Ahab's long scar, but he does not cower when lightning sets the three masts to flaming like some giant religious candelabra. When his own harpoon is set ablaze, he brandishes it at the crew, threatening to impale the first sailor to quit his post. Starbuck pleads with him: "God, God is against thee, old man; forbear! @'tis an ill voyage!" Ahab stands fast. He reminds the crew of the oaths they took to hunt the White Whale. Finally, he claims to "blow out the last fear" and, with a blast of breath, he extinguishes his harpoon's flame.
weal well-being, welfare.
effulgent radiant, brilliant.
Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin a cryptic biblical phrase from Daniel 5: 5, 25-28, which Daniel sees as a curse from God. Here, Melville is illustrating the gravity of the situation.
tableau a striking, dramatic scene or picture.