Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 98 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael notes, in the closing of this section of the novel dealing with the ins and outs of the “processing” of the whale’s body, that, after the try-works has burned down the remainder of the whale’s corpse, and after the sperm oil has been stored in casks and placed below decks, the decks themselves are rinsed completely, and the ship is cleaned so totally that one might never know a whale was slaughtered nearby. But Ishmael states that, often as not, after this has been completed, and the men on the ship have been working uninterrupted for about four days, someone up in the masthead calls out that another whale has been spotted—and the whole pattern starts again. Ishmael believes that this is like life itself—whenever one believes one is done with a task, the task renews itself, and the “old routine” continues.
Ishmael also enjoys describing to the reader the many activities and excitements of living on a whaling vessel. One of these derives from the fact that the whale-ship must constantly be readied for its next task, and because space is at a premium, this means that the decks of the whale-ship must be transformed, from butchery to baking oven and back again, before a new whale can be hunted, brought in, and stripped of its skin. Ishmael—always attentive to and impressed with the work that men do—appreciate the abilities of those on the ship’s crew, who are capable of transforming the ship at a moment’s notice.
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