Chapter 81, “The Pequod Meets the Virgin”
Another gam with the German ship Jungfrau (Virgin) and its Captain de Beer reveals no information about Moby Dick. In fact, the Virgin has come to the Pequod for oil; it is out and has no whales. The Pequod gives oil to the Virgin, and meanwhile, whales are spotted, so the crews of both boats give chase.
Of the group of whales, the men are only able to attack a slow, aged whale with only one fin, and blind. The piteous whale is overmatched and killed by the Pequod’s three harpooners. They tie the dead whale to the ship but have to cut it loose, and it sinks to the bottom; thus it was a useless slaughter. When another herd is spotted, the Pequod lets the Virgin go after them and laugh, for they are fin-backs, too fast to catch, and the Virgin’s crew is seen, puffing and rowing hard.
Analysis Chapter 81
All the gams demonstrate difficulties of communication with Ahab’s ship. This captain speaks almost no English, and his crew is inexperienced and incompetent, thus scorned by the Pequod’s men, who set out to rival them. Nevertheless, the Pequod is unable to keep the whale because it tips the boat so far, they have to cut it loose. The old whale is described sympathetically, not like the previous monsters, perhaps indicating Ahab’s men have gone too far in hunting it. He has lost a fin, like Ahab. Even Starbuck holds back from throwing the last dart.
The name of the visiting ship is surely a reference to the “foolish virgins” at the biblical wedding. The wise virgins bring extra oil for their lamps, so when the wedding is delayed, they have enough. The foolish virgins are not so prudent, have no oil for their lamps, and are barred from enjoying the wedding. The Virgin is in some distress, with no oil and no proper knowledge of whaling. The contrast to the Pequod helps to underscore Ishmael’s points on the great skill and forethought needed for survival. Yet, Ahab’s men perhaps bear the sin of pride and are unready in a different sense for their coming battle.