Chapter 133, “The Chase—First Day”
Standing at the rail at night, Ahab catches the odor of whale and alters the course of the ship to follow. He is raised to the crow’s nest at first light, and he is the first to spot the White Whale and claim the gold doubloon for himself: “It is Moby Dick!” Ahab tells Starbuck again to stay on board. The boats are lowered and give chase. He has a white hump, wrinkled brow, and a recent lance in his back, yet he swims joyously along.
But it is the calm before a tornado, for he withholds “the full terrors of his submerged trunk” (133. 539). Finally “the grand god revealed himself” (133. 539) by breaching, and then dives. He disappears for an hour, but soon they notice birds flying around where he will come up near Ahab’s boat.
Ahab looks down to see a tiny speck of white speeding towards the surface, and suddenly there is Moby Dick’s open mouth yawning and shooting through Ahab’s boat. He shakes the boat like a mouse in his teeth. The men are thrown in the sea, and Moby Dick encircles them in contracting circles towards Ahab’s head as the center. The Pequod comes to the rescue of the men.
Analysis Chapter 133
Ahab is maddened to be helpless in the whale’s jaws again without being able to strike. The concentering circles around Ahab in the sea recall Ishmael’s description of the concentric peaceful circles of the grand armada, and the tame whales. Here the circles are reversed and deadly, getting smaller, closing in on Ahab.
When Starbuck tells him the close call was an omen to give up, Ahab says, “Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors!” (133. 544) This at once announces his sense of loneliness, feeling of abandonment by God, but even more, his defiance. His colossal loneliness makes him equal to fate or Moby Dick himself. He asks no help from man or god. He will be the tragic hero.