Summary and Analysis
These five chapters discuss activities aboard ship after the removal of blubber from a whale. The men work together to take the oil from the blubber, by manual labor and heat, in the bright light produced by the very oil they harvest. After the oil is cooled and sealed in casks, the crew cleans up the ship and themselves. Then the cycle begins again with another whale sighting.
In contrast to Pip's isolation, here (in processing the whale blubber) the men join in a communal effort that is sociable and businesslike. Ishmael finds it a pleasant task to squeeze the crystallized sperm oil. Sometimes his hands meet the hands of his fellows with an "abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling." The camaraderie is palpable; he is overcome with serenity.
The process is imbued with certain rituals. One of the more interesting involves a mixture of fertility rite and religion. The penis of a bull whale, more than six feet in length and a foot in diameter, is cut off, lugged aboard ship, and skinned. The skin is dried, trimmed, and shaped into a rude cassock (a vestment worn by a clergyman) for the mincer, who wears it as he minces large chunks of blubber for the pots. Ishmael compares this to a religious service, the mincer a candidate for an "archbishoprick," the pun clearly intended. This ceremony is similar to some of the harvest rituals or fertility rites of agrarian societies, the whale's reproduction being essential to a continuation of the profession and symbolically honored.