Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 46-60: Digressions

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

“digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;-they are the life, the soul of reading”

-Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

Only nine of these fifteen chapters have much to do with the main narrative, and of those, maybe five really move the story forward.  The rest could kindly be called digressions. I know some of my fellow read-a-longers are probably a little (a lot?) frustrated with all the tangents and biology lessons. The quote above is from another book with multiple digressions that frustrated me so much that I didn’t finish it. However, I’m still loving the oddball chapters in this book! This time around, we get one chapter on “monstrous” pictures of whales and one chapter on “true” pictures of whales. No, they simply couldn’t be combined. We also get chapters on other artistic renderings of whales, on whale food, on giant squid, and, my favourite, a fantastic story about another ship altogether, the Town-Ho.

Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Chapters 46-60

  • Steelkilt: Doesn’t that sound like the name of a summer blockbuster, perhaps starring an evil Scottish robot? No? Okay. But it was the name of a sailor aboard the Town-Ho, who figured in the lengthy disgression Ishmael treats us to. The Town-Ho chapter is so random, but I raced to finish it during a lunch hour. Lots of violence, intrigue, and mutiny. I’m not sure what the point was, apart from showing us that life on the seas, or maybe more accurately, the people who choose to live that life, are pretty bizarre – lest we think it’s just the Pequod and her crew.
  • Foreshadowing: There’s been plenty of heavy foreshadowing before this section, but Melville really lays it on thick:

Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves.

  • Ahab's WifeAhab’s Wife: She’s not mentioned in this section, but when Ahab breaks out his secret crew of whalers and just generally becomes more and more intense, I keep reminding myself that he’s got a young wife and baby at home, and wonder, do they figure into his mindset at all? And what is she doing while all this  is going on? I mean, MD is clearly a book by a guy, about guys, for guys, and I know Melville’s not going to address it. I Googled “Ahab’s wife” just to see if anyone else was wondering, and found a book called Ahab’s Wife was written in the 1990s and apparently, it’s pretty good! The New York Times says:

 In ”Ahab’s Wife,” Sena Jeter Naslund has taken less than a paragraph’s worth of references to the captain’s young wife from Herman Melville’s ”Moby-Dick” and fashioned from this slender rib not only a woman but an entire world. That world is a looking-glass version of Melville’s fictional seafaring one, ruled by compassion as the other is by obsession, with a heroine who is as much a believer in social justice as the famous hero is in vengeance.

Tune in Next Week: Well, let’s just say Greenpeace wouldn’t be too happy with what’s coming up next.

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Yay, fellow Edmonton Book Blogger Brie is getting into the swing of things!

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.



  1. Pingback: Moby Dick Read-A-Long: Sign Up! | Reading in Bed
  2. Heather

    I didn’t mind the digressions in this section, and the story of the Town Ho was definitely my favorite of them…and not only because it could have been a VERY different story, considering its title. Hee!

    I always wonder about Ahab’s family at this point, too. I really don’t think they are much in his mind. His monomania has taken over. “Wife? What wife? I HAVE A BABY?!” Yeah.

    I also like when the narrator (I can’t remember if it’s Ishmael for this part or not) discusses WHY the whiteness of the whale adds to its terror. The color white DOES being contradictory feelings/fears depending on its use or where we see it in nature. I’m glad Melville brings it up and devotes a bit of discussion to it.

  3. ebookclassics

    I think it would be interesting to read Mrs. Ahab’s perspective on things. Apparently Ahab’s wife (played by Gillian Anderson – yes, Agent Scully is everywhere!) briefly appears in the 2010 mini-series showing how Ahab has a nice life in Nantucket, but is so obsessed with Moby Dick he’s willing to leave it all behind to get his revenge.

    Glad you enjoyed the Moby Dick links I tweeted!

    • lauratfrey

      Gillian Anderson is in everything! I loved her in Bleak House. And.. omg… looking at her IMDB… she was in the mini series adaptation of The Crimson Petal and the White, which I must now obtain immediately…

  4. Pingback: Reading Roundup: June 2013 | Reading in Bed
  5. jaynesbooks

    I am sorry I am late, but I am catching up with the book. Personally felt that this section was a little dry for my liking. While I understand that Melville likes to digress about life and whaling, it feels almost like he just constantly does this and honestly, I just want him to get to the story! I liked the first few sections in which one actually had some sort of a story, but I am going to trudge through and complete it (and hopefully soon!). Later 🙂

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