Monday, July 12, 2010

Moby Dick Challenge, Week #4

I made it through week #4 of the Moby Dick challenge hosted by Book Snob. I've now read up to chapter 86 of the book. This week was a lot better than the past 2 weeks. There was a lot more action and exciting stuff happening so it wasn't as big of a chore to read as it was last week.

In this section of the book, the crew of the Pequod finally catches and kills it's first sperm whale of the voyage. Melville was quite descriptive and it's an exciting part to read. After the kill the crews get right to work in harvesting the animal for it's various uses. They peel the blubber off the sides of the animal which is compared to a rind of an orange, encompassing the entire beast. The whale is decapitated and hung off the side of the boat and they harvest all the "sperm" from the animal. The "sperm" is not literal but actually a paraffin type substance and is only given the name because of the way it looks. (Yep, going to leave it at that)

You get a very good grasp on the extreme dangers of whaling in this section. Besides the dangers of the chase which we saw when Ishmael had his near death experience, working on the whale has it's own dangers. There are plenty of sharks that are led to the area by the blood of the whale and stop by for a bite which I'm sure would cause a major issue if anyone slipped into the water. However it's not the sharks that cause a problem here. One of the Harpooners, Tashtego, slips and falls INTO the whale which causes it to start sinking with him entombed with in it. I do believe these boys deserve some hazard pay!

While working on the first whale the crew is able to kill a right whale as well and the Pequod now has two whales hoisted, one on each side. Apparently to have a sperm whale head on one side and a right whale head on the other is a sign of good luck and means that the ship will not sink. These chapters obviously dealt a lot with whale anatomy which can get a bit boring but not so much as the whale biology lesson a few chapters back.There was also a little bit of comedy as a German boat comes near and explains that they have run out of oil for their lamps. They haven't been as fortunate as the Pequod but this is merely explained by the fact that the Germans just aren't that good at whaling. The crew of the Pequod helps them out but as the visitor is rowing away everyone spots some whales up ahead. Suddenly the friendliness ends and it becomes a chase as the two crews try to beat the other to the whales. Despite having a bit of a lead the German loses to our friends on the Pequod, who get the kill. Those chapters were quite entertaining and you see how competitive the industry was at the time.

All in all, it's getting better and as we near the end I am hoping that we keep up the momentum. Only two more weeks and a little over 200 pages to go. Check out my partners in this journey Book Snob and Book Snob Wannabe to hear their thoughts on the book.
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1 comment:

Man of la Books said...

I don't know where you live, but if you are in the Northeast you might want to go visit New Bedford, MA as well as the other small whaling towns in the area.

It does give you a new perspective on the book (and take a whale watching tour - they're fantastic).

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