Summary and Analysis
In order to attach the blubber hook to a captured whale, a harpooner is lowered to the leviathan's back as it lies nearly submerged alongside the ship. In this precarious position, the harpooner's safety relies on his attachment, by a "monkey-rope," to a crewman on deck. Flask explains to Stubb the reason for hunting a right whale, whose oil is inferior.
The theme of friendship is renewed in Chapter 72 as Queequeg and Ishmael are together again. The harpooner is lowered, off the side of the ship, onto the back of a dangerously bobbing whale carcass in order to attach a heavy, awkward blubber hook. Often the harpooner must remain in that dangerous position for some time as the stripping of fat proceeds. To keep him from falling off, into the jaws of ravenous sharks, the harpooner is attached to his bowsman, the man who pulls the second oar from forward in his boat, by a line called a "monkey-rope." In this case, the harpooner and bowsman are Queequeg and Ishmael. The monkey-rope seems to symbolize their friendship and the links among mankind that help us to survive.
Superstition often plays a role aboard the whaler. An example is the killing and securing of a right whale by Stubb and Flask. The second mate wonders why Ahab would want the inferior oil of a right whale. Flask is surprised that Stubb has not heard that a ship with a sperm whale's head lashed to its starboard (right while facing forward) side, as is the case currently with the Pequod, and a right whale's head lashed to the larboard (left, port), supposedly cannot capsize.
Siamese joined, as with Siamese twins.
maw here, the throat, gullet, or jaws of a voracious animal or fish.
apothecary a pharmacist or druggist.
prodigious of great size or power.