Moby Dick Chapter 33 - 35
Chapter 33 - 35
The Specksynder/The Cabin Table/The Mast-Head
There is a large importance attached to harpooneers; in the old Dutch Fishery, the command of a whale ship was split between the captain and chief harpooneer, called a Specksynder. Things have changed between now and then, but the harpooneer is still treated with respect; he lodges in the same area as the officers and the captain, and he takes his meals in the captain's cabin.
While whaling is generally a more familiar and family-like business than merchant sailing, the customs of where the officers eat and sleep are still rigorously upheld. And even though Ahab is not given to shallowness, he still follows this form, using it to maintain a position of superiority over his men, like that of a king.
"Oh, Ahab! What shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!" Chapter 34, pg. 122
At noontime, Dough-Boy the steward tells Ahab that dinner is ready. Ahab tells Starbuck, then goes below. Starbuck waits enough time for Ahab to seat himself, then tells Stubb, and leaves. Stubb lounges, then tells Flask, and goes below; finally, Flask follows.
Although the mates could be inclined, on deck, to speak roughly to the captain if necessary, once below at the dinner table they are completely humble and inoffensive around him. They wait for him to serve himself, so each can be served in turn, and they dare not speak of anything. Flask is the last person to sit down, and also the first to get up again, since he has to leave as soon as it seems that Stubb is ready to go. This means that he almost never gets to finish a meal, and is almost always hungry.
After the mates and the captains are done eating, the harpooneers come in and eat. They are much more relaxed than the mates.
The cabin is exclusively the domain of the captain, which implies that the other men are just visiting it, even if they sleep near it. They do not belong inside, because of Ahab's reclusive nature.
It is during the more pleasant weather that Ishmael has his first time up on the mast-head, a perch up atop one of the ship's masts where one can be on the look-out for whales. There is a long history of mast-head standers, from the Egyptians to Napoleon.
The ship has three mast-heads, which are kept occupied from sun-rise to sun-set; it is hypnotic, dull work, and over the course of a three or four year journey, the time each man spends up on it amounts to several months. It is not extremely safe, with just two planks to stand on.
Ishmael admits that he kept a miserable watch, because it was easy to fall into a reverie while standing up there alone. He warns ship captains not to hire introspective looking young men to sail with them, for they will be unable to concentrate on the sea to look for whales.