This chapter takes the form of a very short tale regarding Perth, the ship’s blacksmith. Perth’s life has been mostly a story of “ruin,” as Ishmael puts it: Perth lost feeling in both feet owing to frostbite, during a snowstorm; and after marrying and having two children, his house was robbed, and Perth fell into a depression so deep he was unable to continue working as a smith in the house’s basement. His wife and two children each died from sadness and lack of material comfort, and Perth was forced to find a new life, and source of income, aboard whaling vessels: thus he is a member of the Pequod’s crew.
A short fugue chapter, in which, in this case, Ishmael relates the sad life of the ship’s blacksmith, called Perth. Ishmael inserts this story, perhaps, to show the many different routes a man might take to land on a whaling vessel. For some, the vessel presents an adventure and an opportunity. For others, the whaling ship is a last resort and a refuge—a place where, after life is ruined, one might still make a living and attempt to start anew.