The Chase for Moby—Day 2


The Chase for Moby Dick, “the grand god,” continued on Day 2. The crew of the Pequod were transformed by the chase. As Ishmael described it:

“The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirrings of the previous day the rack of the past night’s suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless, way in which their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled along. The wind that made great bellies of their sails, and rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of that unseen agency which so enslaved them to the race.”

They were one man, not thirty.

Like the American motto: e pluribus unum. Out of many one. But this crew, were one in this unholy chase. I have always said, the essence of religion is connection. The crew of thirty were connected in an unholy cause. But they were connected, even if the religion was black. As Ishmael said, they “were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to.” Now blasphemously, Ahab had become their God.  “How they still strove through that infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destroy them.”

Astonishingly, with the harpoons stuck to him, Moby Dick breached the surface:

“…not by the peaceful gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, show his place to the distance of seven miles and more…this breaching is his act of defiance… as in his immeasurable bravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to Heaven.”


Or was it hell? Then Moby Dick turned upon the three “devoted boats” that had “planted irons in him.” They were devoted like true believers clinging to their god. But the god in fury turned on the 3 boats and “seemed intent on annihilating each separate plank of which those boats were made.” Finally the men in their mad pursuit had created the vengeful creature Ahab thought he was. The whale attacked Ahab’s boat from beneath the surface:

“Ahab’s yet unstricken boat seemed drawn up towards Heaven by invisible wires,–as arrow-like, shooting perpendicularly from the sea, the White Whale dashed his broad forehead against its bottom, and sent it turning over and over, into the air, till it fell again.”


The white whale almost succeeded in shoving Ahab toward heaven.


Starbuck again tries to persuade Ahab to give up the quest:

“Great God! But for one single instant show thyself,” cried Starbuck; “never, never, wilt thou capture him, old man—In Jesus’ name no more of this, that’s worse than devil’s madness…thy evil shadow gone—all good angels mobbing thee with warnings:–what more wouldst thou have?  Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish till he swamps the last human? Shall we be dragged by him to the bottom of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the infernal world? Oh, oh, impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!”


Starbuck knows this chase leads to hell, not heaven. Ahab probably knows it to, but still can’t stop. Ahab says, “Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed.. Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fate’s lieutenant; I act under orders.” Ahab thinks, as so many do that are on mad quests, that he is following God’s ordersthe grand illusion of so many quests.

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