Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 131 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael states that it is ironic the Pequod should encounter a ship called Delight that is so burdened with woe, the next day. Ahab asks that captain if he has seen the whale, and the captain says he has, and no man can kill it—he has lost “five of his strongest mates” to it the previous day. Just as the captain is dumping the body of the fifth overboard, in its hammock, Ahab has the Pequod turn away, hoping to avoid the terrible splash the body makes against the waves—but the crew hears this sound regardless. The crewmembers of the Delight, meanwhile, comment to each other on the Pequod's use of a coffin as a life buoy.
This final gam before the confrontation with the white whale ratchets up the stakes—Moby Dick is presented as deadly and unconquerable, while Ahab is relentless. Ahab's effort to avoid hearing the sound of the corpse hitting the water may be an indication that even he fears and wants to avoid death, or that he knows his men do and that they are only barely following him. To the crewmen of the Delight, the symbolism of the coffin as lifebuoy on a ship off to hunt Moby Dick is clear.
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