Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mapple begins his sermon with a prayer and a hymn, the latter taken from the end of the first chapter of the Book of Jonah in the Bible, in which Jonah is “swallowed by a whale.” Mapple states that the story of Jonah is important for two reasons: it provides advice for men and women who wish to avoid a life of sin; and it provides advice, too, for leaders of men, or “captains” in life, who wish to keep others from sin. Mapple begins retelling the story of Jonah, framing it in terms of a man on a whaling vessel in the nineteenth century. Mapple emphasizes that Jonah is “fleeing from God” because of crimes and sins he has committed, and Mapple seems also to blame the greed of the captain for letting Jonah on the ship, since Jonah promises to pay the captain a large sum of money for safe passage.
One of the first references in the novel to the story of Jonah, which will be reinterpreted and rehashed throughout the narrative. Ishmael seems to accord a primary importance to the story, because it is in the Bible, and because it is one of the first instances in recorded literature in which man interacts with a whale. Notably, too, Jonah is saved by God after being swallowed by the whale—he is tested, but is ultimately redeemed. Yet Mapple's sermon also touches on the captain, who in this case makes selfish decisions based on money. The emphasis on captains foreshadows Ahab, though Ahab's "sin" has nothing to do with money.
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Mapple continues with the story of Jonah: God sends a storm to upset the ship on which Jonah travels, and Jonah comes abovedecks, telling the crew that he believes he is the cause of the ship’s distress. The crew then throws Jonah overboard, and Jonah is saved from drowning by being swallowed, whole, by a “leviathan,” or whale. In the whale’s stomach, Jonah repents and tells God that only He can guarantee Jonah’s “deliverance,” and God, pleased that Jonah exhibits such devotion in his time of crisis, eventually allows Jonah to escape the whale’s stomach.
Readers of the Hebrew Bible often forget that Jonah was punished, and swallowed by the whale, as “repayment” for disobeying God’s direct orders to go and preach in a certain part of the Mediterranean region. Jonah’s time in the whale causes him to realize that God is in fact all-powerful, and only when Jonah submits then is Jonah set free and allowed to return to the land.
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Thus Mapple draws to the conclusion of his sermon, and to his original “two points” of the Jonah story. He reiterates that Jonah recognized his sins and repented, and for that he was saved. But Mapple also explains the nature of Jonah’s original crime, from which he wished to flee and to board the ship in the first place—that Jonah was to preach God’s word and failed to do so, that Jonah had disobeyed God’s orders. Mapple states that the story of Jonah is, for him and for others who are “pilots of men,” a warning about shirking one’s duty, about ignoring God’s commands, about believing that there is a morality other than God’s that dictates man’s actions. Mapple closes his sermon by asking, “what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”
Mapple therefore reinforces this “moral” to the story—that, like Jonah, the sailors who leave from New Bedford must always keep in mind the orders of their superiors, and must avoid doing what their own conscience tells them, as that conscience might be wrong, or cowardly. Of course, Ahab, Ishmael’s captain, considers himself a god aboard his own ship, and therefore Ishmael would be obeying both his “captain” and his “lord” if he were to follow Ahab’s commands. And, for the most part, Ishmael is in fact obedient to Ahab’s wishes. Yet Mapple's sermon continues to resonate as Ahab's mad refusal to submit, his belief in his own destiny to kill Moby Dick, endangers all. Should the men submit to Ahab as Jonah does to God? Should men submit to their human leaders?
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