You Don’t Know Dick

It’s the morning after the big “Let’s Get Moby Dick” dance party. Ishmael extricates himself from under a pile of dead-drunk sailors still sleeping it off. And although his brain is pounding from a massive hangover, he begins to ruminate.

Okay, he says. I don’t remember much about last night. But I’m pretty sure that when all the others took oaths of violence and revenge, I, Ishmael, was one of that crew. My shouts had gone up with the rest. But now that I’ve sobered up, I’m wondering if I just got all caught up in some mob mentality. I don’t know the first thing about this white whale that everybody calls Moby Dick.

So Ishmael starts asking around. “With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster.” Some are facts; other just “wild rumors.”

·        He’s white: “He had gained his distinctive appellation of the White Whale; a name, indeed, literally justified by his vivid aspect, when seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.” So pretty!

·        He’s ubiquitous: “He had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one and the same instant of time.” Just like Santa Claus.

·        He’s as big as a whale: A “leviathan” of  “uncommon magnitude,” “uncommon bulk,” and “enormous girth.” He would break the scale at a Whale Weight Watchers weigh-in.

·        He’s ugly: He has “a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead,” “a high, pyramidical white hump,” and “a deformed lower jaw.” A face only his mother, Mrs. Dick, could love.

·        He has a temper: He possesses “great ferocity, cunning, malice, and direful wrath.” If chased, he didn’t just swim away with his tail between his legs. Oh no. “He had several times been known to turn around suddenly, and, bearing down upon his pursuers, either stave their boats to splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship.”

·        He’s thick skinned: Even if “groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed.” Names will never hurt him, either.

·        He does bodily harm: “Such calamities did ensue in these assaults—not restricted to sprained wrists and ankles, broken limbs, or devouring amputations (cf. Ahab’s leg)—but fatal to the last degree of fatality.” He left the fishermen not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Yet more stories emerge, each one nastier than the one before. Ishmael grows increasingly alarmed.

Finally he hears the details of Ahab’s encounter with Moby Dick. How Ahab had attacked the white whale with a “six-inch blade”—not exactly choosing the best tool for the job—and subsequently became “unlimbed of a leg.” Adding insult to injury, Moby Dick was especially mean about it. “No turbaned Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him with more seeming malice.”

Ishmael has heard enough. And now that he’s fully acquainted with Moby Dick’s dossier, he would very much like to abandon ship. But that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. Not for a least another 300 pages.