Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 88 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael tells the reader that one encounters two groups or pods of whales on the high seas. The first school is that of young female whales, accompanied by an older male called by Ishmael the Turk, but known also as the schoolmaster. This “Turk” commands his “harem” of young women, but is typically overtaken later by a younger Lothario, who defeats the “Turk” in a duel over the right to “lie with” the females. The second type of school is that of all young male sperm whales, who run together “as do collegians from Yale or Harvard.” Ishmael states that it can be very dangerous to get caught in this latter school, since their “play” often involves serious violence, and can result in scars worn by the whales for the rest of their lives.
Here Ishmael describes an alpha whale as a “Turk,” which he used previously to describe Ahab, who, as “Sultan” of the ship, again indicating that Ahab and the whale share something, some indefinable strength or influential power. At the same time, Ishmael's descriptions of the whales in human terms—comparing them to harems or groups of young Ivy-League students, further establishes the sense that the whales while mysterious are also not just dumb brutes. That these animals—which the whalers are killing—have a kind of personhood to them.
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