Summary and Analysis Chapters 37-40



As evening turns into night, various characters react to the events of the day. At sunset, Ahab, in his cabin, is pleased with the ease with which he swayed the crew and is outspoken in his determination. At dusk by the mainmast, Starbuck feels incapable of changing his captain's plan and is resigned to his role. At the night's first watch (8 p.m.) atop the foremast (nearest the front of the ship), Stubb's reaction is to laugh at the absurdity of it all. At midnight, in the forecastle some of the crew and harpooners are still partying and drinking wine.


In these chapters, Melville continues to present dramatic scenes, using brief stage directions, soliloquy, and dialogue. There is no narration from Ishmael. In addition to progressing the plot, Melville is able to offer the reader character insights through the thoughts and speech of Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, and assorted crewmen.

Through his cabin windows at the back of the ship, Ahab can see the "white and turbid wake" of the ship's passing and thinks of it as his own momentous impress on the world. His vanity includes an apparent pride in being what he calls "demoniac"; as he says, he is "madness maddened!" He mocks the gods and is determined to be both the prophet of his revenge and its executioner.

Starbuck's response contrasts with most of the crew's in a revealing way. The first mate recognizes that he is no match for his captain and is resigned to Ahab's "Heaven-insulting purpose"; yet he fears the ominous future. Stubb typically tries to laugh at the "predestinated" situation and sings a drinking song. Most of the rest of the crew, representing various parts of the world, are content to party past midnight; they seem oblivious to their journey into doom. An exception is young Pip, the cabin servant who finds terror where the rest see cause for "jollies." We will learn more about his insights in Chapter 93.


turbid thick, dense, and dark.

whelp a puppy or cub.

eight bells here, midnight, the end of the watch that began at 8 p.m. The ringing of a bell marks each half hour of the watch.