Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

This chapter is structured as a small play, set on the forward deck of the Pequod. A group of sailors from countries all over Europe begin dancing on the deck, as a kind of wild celebration they say is brought on by Ahab’s exhortation to them (to kill Moby Dick), and by the wine Ahab has had them drink. A Spanish sailor gets into a fight with Daggoo, but the sailors all scramble when a storm rises and they must go about “battening down” the ship to prepare for it. Pip, a small African boy who was taken onto the boat some time earlier, speaks quietly to himself, asking for God’s help to protect him from the crazed and drunken sailors around him.
A bizarre chapter, and one of the first of numerous “playlets” that dot the novel. Melville uses these plays as a way to fully capture the diversity of people and thoughts on the ship without having to filter them through he consciousness of a narrator. It is interesting that in a novel so concerned about omens and prophecies and the impossibility of interpreting such things, that Melville sometimes feels the need to eliminate the interpretive force of an interpreting narrator from his book. It is interesting to note that, in this chapter, it is unclear where Ishmael has gone, or if he is even the narrator of the “playlet” at all.
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