Finally the meat of the matter gets set on the table. This is the equivalent of going to dinner at the house of someone you really don't like and having to sit through their vacation slides before dinner.
Ahab finally makes his mission known. We learn that he is after the White Whale for taking his leg. He means to get him, damn the consequences. This is where I really need to pay attention to the message behind the story.
"Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the
Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is
what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land,
and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What
say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave."
This is the great passage paraphrased by Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my favorite movies. The book Moby Dick is clearly seen in the ship Botany Bay on Ceti Alpha V. Clearly, this is the substance of Ahab's one-tracked madness. He will not only chase the whale unto the eternal damnation of hell itself but take his whole crew with him, asking them to "splice hands" with him. This is the crux of the matter that will be called upon again in the analysis of this book. Its applications to the worldly realm is significant. A singular obsession of any person can be deemed their own "White Whale."
"but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance."
Starbuck is the only one on board who mutters any kind of disapproval, acting as sort of the conscience of the crew. Could you imagine signing on for a voyage to get as many whales as you can, the more you get, the greater your share of wealth, and then the crazy captain wants to hunt a single whale out in the middle of the Pacific?
"my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!"
Ahab noticeably strikes his "chest," and the crew says it sounds "hollow." Has Ahab no soul? Did the whale take more than his leg? Will he not recover his soul unless this happens?
"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from
blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems
Starbuck again states how he disapproves. This time though it specifically states being "blasphemous" with all the religious connotations that brings.
He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength,
with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I
hate...I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd
strike the sun if it insulted me.
I really do love this line, also paraphrased in Star Trek II. This is another focus point, placing the White Whale on a pedestal. Ahab, as humanity, cannot be seen as being lesser strength than anything. Ahab sees the White Whale as desiring even more ill in the world, the "malice," however, Ahab cannot understand it; it's "inscrutable." Could this be anything in life--or is it religious too?
Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby
Dick to his death!
Like a congregation of worshippers, the men drink to this phrase, like Communion, and shouted out together.
The hardest part to reading this chapter, as I came in after reading it out on our porch, is that I had to wait 189 pages for it. In a modern novel, this scene would come first and then all the other stuff would flashback to how Ishmael got into this predicament. And they would have also cut out all that Cetology whale science crap.