Moby-Dick Big Read, Chapters 36-50: Discussion

Warning! Spoiler alert for all these chapter discussions. Enter here knowing that the plot and characters will be discussed in detail.

I found Chapter 40, “Midnight, Forecastle” really hard to follow in the audio reading, despite the fact that the reader, Clive Charlton, is terrific. It sounded like a lot of different characters are speaking, but I couldn’t make sense of it. When I looked up the text, I found that it’s all set as a script, basically, a play that we’re reading.

Amazing to see this, such a surprise to find that Melville just breaks into another form entirely. I scrolled back to the previous chapters and found that this dramatic form began in Chapter 37, “Sunset.” Ishmael’s voice is nowhere to be found in Chapters 37-40.

Starbuck’s meditation in Chapter 38, “Dusk,” is resonating pretty heavily for me at the moment, as first mate Starbuck mulls the fact that he can do nothing about Ahab’s madness except to do his duty. “For in his eyes I read some lurid woe would shrivel me up, had I it. Yet is there hope. Time and tide flow wide.”

And Stubb’s take on it all: “A laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer; and come what will, one comfort’s always left—that unfailing comfort is, it’s all predistinated.”


Yes, and then later there is a chapter starting with the words “I, Ishmael,” so we have some idea that the narrator is back.
I’ve just listened to “The whiteness of the Whale” for the first time. Some nineteenth century ideas in there, certainly.

I’ve tried Chapter 40 a couple of times and failed to see where it was going.