Summary and Analysis
Shortly after meeting the Rachel, Ahab distances himself from Pip because he fears a softening of determination in the presence of the child. Growing distrustful of his crew, the captain insists on taking the mainmast watch himself in hopes of spotting the White Whale. A red-billed sea-hawk steals his hat shortly after Ahab is lifted to the lookout post. The Pequod has an ominous gam with the ironically named Delight. Ahab has an important moment of reflection as the encounter with Moby Dick grows near.
The tone of the novel grows even darker, increasingly ominous as the Pequod sails closer and closer to Moby Dick. Ahab feels himself growing too soft with Pip and finds it necessary to distance himself from the loving child. He feels that Pip is "too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health." Ahab will allow no serenity or sanity to deter him. A creeping paranoia causes the captain to distrust his crew. Perhaps some on watch have seen the White Whale but failed to call out! Ahab himself takes the lookout at the mainmast, lifted to the post in a basket. A hawk toys with him, one more taunting gesture from nature, and steals his hat, which Ishmael sees as an evil omen.
The meeting with the Delight reminds us of the dangers of the impending encounter. As usual, Ahab calls out, "Hast seen the White Whale?" Indeed, the Delight's captain has, as evidenced by a smashed whaleboat and a funeral even now taking place aboard ship. One seaman is being buried; the White Whale sent four others directly to their ocean graves the previous day. Ahab wants no part in this recognition of defeat. He orders the Pequod to sail on — but not soon enough to avoid hearing the splash of the corpse as it hits the sea.
Ahab has one last moment of reflection before the chase begins with Moby Dick. It is a gorgeous day on the Pacific as Ahab crosses the deck and gazes over the rail. Starbuck joins him. Ahab recalls his forty years at sea, harpooning his first whale at age eighteen; finally marrying — a much younger girl — when he was past fifty; sailing for Cape Horn the next day. Of those forty years, he has not spent three ashore. He calls himself a "fool." But when Starbuck attempts to persuade him to turn back and go home, Ahab says he is no longer in control of his fate: "What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me?" This is the beginning of the greatest speech in the novel, near the end of Chapter 132, a soliloquy (only a page long) that should be read aloud and in full to be appreciated.
The captain is no stereotype and certainly is no ordinary man. He is a complicated, deep, tortured soul. He even knows he is mad, but he cannot stop himself. Ahab contemplates the beauties of life and death as he notices that "the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay." We all will sleep at last in one place or another. We will sleep and "rust amid greenness." Ahab is ready to die. Unfortunately, he will take his crew with him.
epaulet a shoulder ornament for uniforms, especially for military officers' uniforms.
fain gladly willing
tremulous trembling, timid, fearful.
cozening cheating, deceiving.