Chapter 82, “The Honor and Glory of Whaling”
Ishmael returns to the subject in the extracts: the antiquity of whales and whaling. Perseus, he declares, was the first whaleman, who rescued Andromeda from a whale. St. George and the dragon is another whale story, he claims, for dragons and whales are often confused. He also claims Hercules, Jonah, and the Hindu god, Vishnu, as whale men. Vishnu sanctified the whale by taking it as one of his incarnations in order to retrieve the sacred scriptures, the Vedas, from the bottom of the ocean.
Chapter 83, “Jonah Historically Regarded”
Jonah’s story is questioned by practical whale men of Sag Harbor, for how could he survive a whale’s stomach, and how could he have been vomited on dry land near Ninevah, a city on the Tigris river?
Chapter 84, “Pitchpoling”
Ishmael brings up other facts about whaling. Pitchpoling, for instance, is the practice of throwing lighter lances at a whale racing vertically over the water.
Chapter 85, “The Fountain”
The whale spout, considered from every angle, is considered an unknown phenomenon, for no one knows what it consists of or why the whale blows out the blow hole on top of his body. Is it vapor, water, or poisonous fluid? Ishmael decides the spout is the whale’s deep thoughts.
Chapter 86, “The Tail”
Finally, he considers the whale’s tail, which becomes a weapon, since it can move up and down and side to side. Oddly enough, a whale uses the tail chiefly against men and not other whales.
Analysis Chapters 82, 83, 84, 85, and 86
As usual, Ishmael weaves a fascinating blend of fact and myth. Vishnu as a whale makes us think again of Moby Dick as a possible symbol for God instead of Ahab’s devil. At the same time, he humorously de-mythologizes the story of Jonah, saying the facts don’t add up.
He further elaborates on the contest between belief and doubt in “The Fountain.” The whale may indicate his deep thoughts through the spout, and the occasional rainbow seen in a whale spout indicates the seal of heaven on that thought. Ishmael also imagines his own thoughts as a spout from his head: “And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; may deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye” (85. 370). Melville manages to hold the middle ground right through the novel, and Ishmael is that middle ground, who bears witness fairly to everything he sees.