Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 91-105: Inferno

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here. Then, share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Things get heavy in this section. We’re nearing the home stretch, and you kind of get the sense it’s not going to be a happy ending. I feel the weight of allusions and imagery and stuff I probably don’t fully “get” in this section, but I loved it. I can’t pick out a particular quote, but I felt like we’re decending into hell.

There are some lighter moments in this section too, particularly, when Ahab finds a BFF who lost an arm, but I’m focusing on the dark stuff – as usual!

Ship on Fire: “The Try-Works” was my favourite chapter, at least since “Cetology”. It describes the oven-like structure where blubber is boiled in huge pots. The Pequod becomes a ship on fire, which is am image and an idea full of history and myth. Some great lines about the hellish process of getting that oil:

Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by this own body… it smells like the left wing of judgement; it is an argument for the pit.

The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed.

Actual try-works, circa 1925. Via

Actual try-works, circa 1925. Via

Fly Like An (S)Eagle: This quote made me gasp. It’s on the list of “important quotations” over at SparkNotes so I’m not the only one who felt something.

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

Every Sperm is Sacred: I don’t know what I can say about the chapter “A Squeeze of the Hand.” You kind of have to experience it for yourself. A sample:

I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me…let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

These guys get it. Via

These guys get it. Via

Tune in Next Week: Endangered species deniers, Ahab keeps it real, and a storm’s a brewin’.

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  • A six year old girl accompanied her family on a whaling ship in 1868. She kept a journal. This website is fascinating!
  • This ultra-conservative website compares Ahab to Hitler and Obama and is not crazy at all, nope. Bonus: rants about “pro-abortion” like that’s a thing, and like it had anything to do with the book. Oy.


You must click through to the Storify. “Classic Ahab!”

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 also loved the quote about the eagle. Good stuff.

    Since I’m the one who has commented on all of the whale-genital stuff…I got a huge kick out of the coat-from-skin-of-the-whale-penis part. Hey buddy? Nice coat.

    The boiling down of the oil was extremely interesting to me, too. I don’t know why I don’t remember a lot of this from when I read the book the first time, but I had no idea they processed the oil right on the ship. That must have been kind of scary–can you imagine your ship catching fire in the middle of the ocean?

    • ebookclassics

      I wondered about processing the oil and having a fire on the ship, as well. I think Ishmael even mentions the potential danger on any particular boozy night when the crew on duty fall asleep at their posts.

    • lauratfrey

      I totally missed that it was a whale dick lol. I just went back and read that chapter. OH. My. God.

      Yes, that’s what I was imagining, it’s such a scary image. But the photo I found makes it look much more tame.

  3. ebookclassics

    Thought I was falling behind, but think I’m still keeping up with your schedule. Truthfully, I want to get to end to find out what happens, but feel it’s not the kind of book you can rush through even if you tried. I liked the encounters with the Rose-Bud and Samuel Enderby best in this section because they were funny. The blubber squeezing and ambergris harvesting was just gross to me, so I must be reaching my tolerance level for Melville’s detailed descriptions about every single part of the whale. Wikipedia says: “Freshly produced ambergris has a marine, fecal odor. However, as it ages, it acquires a sweet, earthy scent commonly likened to the fragrance of rubbing alcohol without the vaporous chemical astringency.” Blech!

    • lauratfrey

      mmm fecal odor…

      Yes, there were some really light, funny bits in this section. They just didn’t stand out for me. I think we’re reaching the end of wierd/gross descriptions!

  4. greenpete58

    Reading small sections of the book, like you post, has more impact (for me at least) than when I read the entire novel. I read this book twice, and until seeing the Catskill eagle passage here, I wasn’t aware how profound it is. I know it’s sacrilege, but maybe someone should publish an abridged version of “Moby Dick” that includes only the choice cuts.

    • lauratfrey

      Oo that is sacrilege! When I started reading Les Mis, I had an abridged version and didn’t know it. I took a break for a while, then took out a different version from the library and I was SO confused, because there was all this “new” stuff. I was mad when I figured out there was an abridged version 🙂

  5. Angry Vegan

    Why is it with classic novels things start to pick up around 75% in? I’m glad you are doing this blog or i may not have made it this far… These men are way to into the sperm… Button mention about the stow away being left to die? That chapter kind of woke me up from the dullness of whale anatomy.. I’m back in it now!

  6. jaynesbooks

    I am really behind, but still sticking with it. At this point I am so tired about hearing the physiology about the white whale and tired of Melville’s philosophizing; its getting rather redundant and while we got a bit more of the “story”, there still wasn’t much to please my appetite. I am starting to see why people don’t read the book and if they start, they usually quit. I am only reading to the end to say that I actually I have read it, but already know what rating I am likely to give it once I have completed it. Le sigh.

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