Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 78 Summary & Analysis

Tashtego mounts the sperm whale’s head and, hoisting it above the decks, lowers buckets into it with a winch, in order to catch the sperm whale oil. After about the “eightieth or ninetieth bucket,” however, Tashtego slips and falls into the open sperm whale’s head, and the entire head tumbles into the water. Daggoo rushes after him, thrusting into the top of the head in order to give Tashtego something to grab onto, and by which to be pulled out; but Stubb worries that Daggoo will succeed only in clobbering and injuring Tash with the spike. Queequeg, accustomed to saving people in the water, dives in after Tash, and, from the water, slices a hole in the sperm whale’s head, pulling Tashtego out of the hole and up to the surface, to safety. Ishmael comments that it is as though Queequeg were “midwife” to Tash, and that Tash was literally “delivered” this way, like a baby.
Another instance in which Queequeg must rescue his fellow sailors. That the saving is characterize as a "birth" is significant and thematically rich. It puts Tashtego in the position of dying and then being reborn, much like Lazarus. But in this case Tashtego—a non-Christian—is saved by the bravery and fellow-feeling of Queequeg, another non-Christian. So it is not Christianity that generates such miracles but rather the fellow-feeling, generosity, bravery, which exist across cultures. Further, the saving of Tashtego links birth with death (the whale's and almost Tashtego's) and violence (Queequeg's cutting into the head).
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