Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 102 Summary & Analysis

In a brief and strange chapter, Ishmael states that he has had occasion to measure the exact dimensions of a whale’s skeleton, because he once passed a “holiday” among the Tranque people of the Arsacides islands, and especially among their king, Tranquo, on whose shores a whale was once captured, and its skeleton preserved. Although some in the Tranque tribe argued that Ishmael should not be allowed to measure the dimensions of their “god,” Ishmael nevertheless managed to secret away exactly those dimensions of the sperm whale’s skeleton, which he includes in the following chapter.
Ishmael has tried to analyze the whale by resorting to stories of it in religion and by seeing it as symbolic of certain religious ideas. The Tranque people, though, literally worship the whale that has washed up to their shores. And the Tranque insist that, being a god, the whale not be measured, that it not be bound by measurements but instead that it keep the mystery that is a part of its holiness. To know its size, the Tranque fear, would diminish it, make it something known rather than something that is beyond knowing.
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