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‘The Night-Cloaked Deck’
Under a Troubled Master-Eye #3: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter 29
Enter Ahab; To Him, Stubb
“Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic… For sleeping man, ‘twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of the unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outside world. Inward they turned upon the soul…”
Remarking of the wakefulness of old age, Ishmael relates the gnawing torment of Ahab, for whom entering his cabin, at once his dwelling and his step upon the hierarchal stair, is soul-crushing. Ahab bemoans the narrow realm of his power as if it were a self-dug grave, making his crippled way in grim contemplation of some bleak destiny.
Stubb makes the mistake of suggesting Ahab pad his ivory leg so as not to wake the men below decks and Ahab emerges full-blown in his wrath as an elemental creature of dialogue:
“Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb, that thou wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one [1] at last—Down, dog and kennel!”
Stubb protests strongly, shirking the burden of being thought a dog and Ahab advances with murderous intent:
“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”
Stubb breaks, stumbling away involuntarily, suffering a double wound, to his honor and his identity. Near half the chapter is devoted to Stubb mulling over his dishonored and dislocated plight, a psychological state that many men of Melville’s time must have felt as they gave up the ways of their forefathers and entered workhouse and factory as economic ciphers.
-1. Men below decks swaddle themselves in sail cloth which also serves to be sewn into after death as a burial sack.
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