Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 96 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael describes the ship’s try-works, a huge brick oven fastened between the foredeck and the main sail, that is used for the burning down into oil of parts of the whale, its blubber and sinews, and other features that cannot be used and sold for profit. One night, after the lighting of the try-works, Ishmael is on tiller-duty, watching the three “pagan” harpooneers standing before it, frying and burning down whale blubber. Ishmael believes that the try-works represent the dark, burning heart of Ahab himself, and of the quest to find Moby-Dick. Ishmael falls into a dream-state, and wakes up with his back to the ship, looking out over the vast ocean. Ishmael then rouses himself, shakes off the strange moment’s dream, and continues steering the ship.
The try works, like many aspects of the whale-ship, has two functions—one real, and one symbolic. In this case, the try works can be used to melt down whale blubber and to produce more whale-oil—part of the ship’s mandate on the open seas. But the try works also seems a window into the “heart” of Ahab—the fiery, monomaniacal frenzy that seizes him, and causes him to continue to hunt for Moby Dick, even as it appears possible that the whale might never be found in all the extensive oceans of the earth.
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