Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 57 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael rounds out his chapters on depictions of whales by stating that the best sketches and carvings he has seen of leviathans were done by old sailors themselves, including a famous beggar, stationed on a London street for about ten years, who has next to him a board depicting an action scene with a whale. Ishmael states that whalemen often develop the ability to carve whale figures in various objects they find on their vessels, or they do this in their spare time after having left a life of whaling for good. Ishmael closes the chapter by stating that he, and other sailors, have often found that they can draw “constellations” of whales in the sky—that even in the heavens, one can find the shape of a whale traced out between the stars.
Ishmael reserves pride of place to those men who, untutored in the fine arts, nevertheless produce pictures of whales aboard whale-ships themselves, and in so doing fully elevates the value of the knowledge of direct experience. And at the same time he connects that knowledge to the celestial and therefore to fate—these same whalemen who can create whales better than scientists or artists, also are so affected by their experiences with whales that they see the whales in the stars.
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