Chapters 120 121, 122, 123, and 124 “The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch”; “Midnight—the Forecastle Bulwarks”; “Midnight Aloft—Thunder and Lightning”; “The Musket”; “The Needle”
Ishmael reverts to dramatic scenes to tell the building tension in the ship and show the driving action towards its ends. Starbuck urges Ahab to strike the sail to save the ship in the storm, but Ahab refuses. He tells the crew to lash everything down. The storm gradually gives way, and the helmsman is able to steer the craft again.
Starbuck goes below to inform the captain of the change. He sees the musket before the door, and his hand goes to it. He could kill the madman in his sleep and save the ship and go home to his wife and child. Or he could chain Ahab up. The temptation passes, and he returns to the deck.
In the morning, Ahab goes on deck to check the course and is angry when he finds the compass needle says one thing, but the sun proves they are headed the opposite direction of where Ahab wants to go. The storm has turned the ship around, and the compass needles were destroyed by the lightning. Ahab commands the ship turn into the storm again and builds his own compass needle, a feat that seems almost supernatural to the crew.
Analysis Chapters 120, 121, 122, 123, and 124
It seems even nature tries to keep Ahab from finding Moby Dick, but Ahab’s will proves stronger, as he builds another needle. Ahab is proud, feeling superior to nature.
Starbuck’s moral trial with the gun is heart-wrenching, for he recognizes that all men have a bit of Ahab in them when he is tempted to kill his captain. He weighs the lives of his wife and child and the thirty crew members against Ahab’s life and still is unable to do it: “Starbuck seemed wrestling with an angel” (123. 507). He feels overmastered by Ahab’s will, for even chaining him up would not stop him, he knows. Killing him is the only way to stop him, but none are equal to that task.