Summary and Analysis
One quiet night while working near the rear of the ship, one of the seamen hears a mysterious sound, perhaps a human cough, beneath the hatches of a part of the ship where the crew never is allowed. The source of the sound remains unidentified. Meanwhile, Ahab spends his evenings poring over charts of the world's oceans, searching for patterns in the movement of whales. Ishmael feels it is time to swear certain facts to the reader so that we might believe the story that he is telling us.
Some of the mystery of the voyage is still unexplained. What were those shapes that Ishmael thought he saw entering the boat on Christmas morning? Are they related to the strange sounds heard below the hatches near the captain's quarters? Ahab may know, but he is not talking. The captain spends most evenings trying to guess where Moby Dick might be. Ishmael assures us that whales do migrate in certain patterns, but the sperm whale's routes vary more than most, and it's a big world.
In Chapter 45, Ishmael attempts to convince the reader that the story he tells is consistent with possibility. As if he were swearing an oath, Ishmael reveals that Ahab is justified in believing that his own harpoons still ride Moby Dick and that he may well be the one to kill the White Whale; such odd things have happened. Nor is it unique that Moby Dick is recognizable; so are several other sperm whales, some given names. Foreshadowing events later in the novel, Ishmael warns that hunting whales in an open boat is very dangerous and that sperm whales have even been known to attack and sink large ships. Ishmael is concerned that, without these "plain facts, historical and otherwise," the reader "might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable" or, worse, an allegory. He asks us to suspend our disbelief, we must suspect, because this is a grand, mythic journey with so many tempting, hidden meanings. Ishmael asks us to stick to the story.
scuttle-butt a container for drinking-water aboard ship; information passed at such a place.
ratification approval or confirmation.
affidavit a written statement made under oath.
facetiousness joking or trying to be amusing.
Saul of Tarsus original name of the biblical Apostle to the Gentiles, Saint Paul.