Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 49 Summary & Analysis

Once he returns to the Pequod, Ishmael makes the rounds, asking Queequeg, Stubb, and Flask if it is a common occurrence for whale-boats nearly to capsize when hunting the whale. All men tell Ishmael that this is in fact a common occurrence, and that Starbuck is one of the more careful and conscientious of the boat-captains among whalers. Thus Ishmael decides, once he is back safely below-decks, to draft up a copy of his last will and testament, since it appears that every time a boat is lowered for a whale, Ishmael could lose his life. Ishmael has written wills before while on merchant vessels, but he thinks it more likely on this whale vessel that he could lose his life. He also says that, whenever he “outlives” one of his wills and returns to shore safe and sound, he feels like “Lazarus returned from the dead.”
Another reference to a Biblical story, this time the tale of Lazarus. Lazarus was a man who died and was buried in a tomb, only to be brought back to life by Jesus after several days. The Lazarus story is believed by some to pre-figure, or foreshadow, the story of Jesus’s resurrection after his crucifixion. Here, Ishmael himself will be “saved” after the capsizing of the Pequod—by the life-buoy made from Queequeg’s coffin—and therefore Ishmael, too, will appear to die, only to be brought back to life at the last moment.
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