Moby Dick Chapter 40 - 42
Chapter 40 - 42
Midnight, Forecastle/Moby-Dick/The Whiteness of the Whale
The men of the ship sit around singing and talking. They get Pip, the cabin-boy, to play something on his tambourine, and they dance to the music. All are eager to hunt the whale for Ahab, but Pip is frightened by their violent enthusiasm.
Ishmael is sympathetic to Ahab's wild desires, and he eagerly learns the history of the whale they are all sworn to hunt.
For some time, Moby-Dick had been seen in the seas most frequented by Sperm Whalers; he was known for his violent attacks, and intelligence that seems greater than that of ordinary whales. Whenever men hunted him, there were awful injuries, and the whale seemed unstoppable. Wild rumors about the White Whale abounded: Moby-Dick was ubiquitous, often seen in two places at once; he was immortal. He could be identified by his snow-white hump and wrinkled forehead.
Ahab is obsessed with finding the whale; he attributes all evil in the world to the whale.
"He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it." Chapter 41, pg. 154-155
Ahab is aware that his goal is mad, but he also believes that his methods for achieving that goal are sane. His need for vengeance has put him apart from humanity, but he can still pretend to be normal, which is how he was able to get the helm of a ship to use to chase Moby-Dick. All the men are with him, and he intends to pursue the whale around the world.
It is the whiteness of Moby-Dick that terrifies Ishmael. The color of white will increase the terror of anything. It is because white symbolizes purity, the absence of anything. Nature covers everything up with bright colors, but white is the truth beneath it all.
"And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?" Chapter 42, pg. 165