Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 68 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael comments that it is difficult to know whether the whale’s blubber is its skin or is in fact the layer just below the skin—for there is a “skin’s skin” to a whale, which is a fine transparent layer, that can be dried and used as a “bookmark,” or for decorative purposes. Ishmael notes that the whale’s blubber is much like the blanket or “counterpane” of a sailor—keeping the whale warm even in the northernmost climates of the world, near the North Pole.
At the time, it was considered a genuine mystery how a whale was able to survive in the cold northern seas. Here, Ishmael explains what, to contemporary minds, seems common-sensical—that a whale is protected by a layer of fat, which traps heat inside, keeping the whale’s body at a steady temperature.
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