CR Episode 181: Moby Dick, Part VII

Moby Dick: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales, by Rockwell Kent
Moby Dick: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales, by Rockwell Kent

Download Link: Released on 26 June 2023

The panel discusses chapters 52-59, with special attention given to how the structure of the narrative both anticipates and surpasses post-structuralist critiques whilst challenging the genre of the novel and changing the attitudes of its readers.


  1. Another lovely episode and week under our belt! This continues to be a fascinating journey! I’m amazed at how much there is to discover and ponder in this novel!

    The podcast is such a huge help in opening this novel up for me. It would have been a novel I put off for years, but I’m so glad we’re reading it now! And it’s going so fast! Halfway already!

  2. Hey there friends. I’ve binged all of your Moby-Dick episodes to date and I have to say I’m grateful for all the new conversations about my favorite book.

    That said, I think there are a few subjects you’d benefit from fleshing out in more detail, and you two seem to be the correct agents for the task.

    1- The cross of Christ symbolized
    2- Melville’s attempt at conveying Christ as redeemer and yet dismissible to nearly all.
    3- Queequeg and his attributes
    3- A definition of truth in the Town-Ho’s story

    To expound on these thing via comment would not do justice, but what I have to say on these just about knocked me over when I figured it out. Would one of you be available for a brief call or zoom if we followed up via email? You’re both clearly a lot smarter than me but this book has brought me to tears more times than I can recall, and as someone who exited Christianity entirely, Melville, years after my love for Moby-Dick began, re-introduce me to the cross and the resurrection and I am grateful.

  3. Hi Dr. K. and Dr. C.

    I just discovered your podcast this week and you are already halfway through my favorite book! As you have discussed, much of the fun of Moby Dick is that it is so vast and deep that there is an unending wealth of interesting topics to discuss. I have really enjoyed your insights into the book.

    Two thoughts on the chapters in this episode –

    We spend the entire book with the post-Pequod Ishmael relating his story about the Pequod, but we only are given tiny glimpses of what his like is like. The Town Ho chapter is one of those glimpses. Here we find him drinking at the Golden Inn with his buddies in Lima. He seems much happier, more socially connected, and affluent than the suicidal Ishmael in the first chapter. Another glimpse is Ishmael dissecting a baby sperm whale on a whaling ship – it doesn’t seem like he is a common sailor. Could he be a gentleman naturalist? Another time he is in England inspecting a whale skeleton and tattooing the dimensions on his arm. We know he had the time to read widely What happened to him after being picked up by the Rachel? Did he go on the lecture circuit with Queequeg’s coffin? Was he an attraction hired by P.T. Barnum? Did he reconcile with his wealthy family? Or, like Pip, did he go mad floating alone on the ocean and this book is the work of his deranged brain? Speculate, please!

    On the pictures of whales

    Both Moby Dick and the Pequod are described as having many singular details – some the same, some different. One is white, the other black. Both are “tricked out” in the weapons of their enemy – Moby Dick with harpoons and spears, the Pequod with sperm whale teeth and jaw. Both are covered with markings like inscrutable writing – Moby Dick with heiroglyphical cyphers and the Pequod’s like “Thorkill-Hake’s carved buckler.” Moby Dick is a live animal and lives below the ocean. The Pequod is made of wood (dead plants) and exists on the ocean. The Pequod has three masts and Moby Dick has three holes in his starboard fluke.

    There is a beautiful contrast between the two at the end of the book. Moby Dick is surrounded by birds who land on the harpoons sticking out of his back. When he dives, the birds take off into the air. In contrast, when the Pequod is sinking, it brings the “bird of heaven” down with the ship.

    Thus, it is very curious and astounding to me that almost all the depictions of Moby Dick and the Pequod are of a generic whale and a generic whale boat. It is rare to see any of these features illustrated. I don’t think there is an answer to this – it just seems like a huge lost opportunity. If you know of any good depictions, please let me know.

    I will post other comments on the earlier chapters. I know responding to them may disrupt the current flow of the discussion. So, If you don’t answer them I will understand.

    O< O< O< (these are whales . . .)


  4. Hi Dr. K. and Dr. C.

    This comment goes back to Chapter 18 His Mark.

    I was surprised when I first found out that different editions use different symbols for the mark Queequeg makes to sign his name. Rockwell Kent is the only illustrator I have found who made an attempt to show the “exact counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his arm” that Ishmael describes. Unfortunately, the typesetters for the original editions – and for the majority of modern editions I have seen, use a symbol like a Maltese cross which looks like an X. People interpret this as meaning Queequeg’s intent was to sign in English but that he was illiterate. However, his tattoos had deep symbolic meaning and he undoubtedly (in my reading) was signing his name in his own language. Just like Peleg insulting Queequeg by ignoring his real name and calling him Quohog, the typesetting of books continues to insult him by not attempting to show a symbol that would better represent his name. Do you have any ideas about how to contact publishers to request they change Queequeg’s mark in their next edition?

    O< O< O<


    P.S. Dr. C. wondered about the illustration of the block and tackle in The Specksynder. I have an original Rockwell Kent book and this is one of his illustrations. I found a copy that I could afford – the spine is destroyed but the illustrations are fine.

  5. Hi Dr. K. and Dr. C.

    This comment is in reference to the two Chapters titled Knights and Squires.

    The Captain is clearly the “King” of the ship. When I first read Moby Dick I found it odd that the three captains of the Pequod – Ahab, Peleg, and Bildad – are referred to by their first names, whereas all other captains are always referred to by their last name. This is emphasized when the captain of the Virgin is called by his first name, Derek, when they lose all respect for him. However, if you consider the Pequod captains as “kings”, then kings are called by their first names (e.g. King Charles, not King Winsdor). Any other ideas on this?

    Who are the Knights and who are the Squires is less clear. It seems Ishmael is providing reasons why the harpooners are, or should be, the Knights. The fact that the first chapter titled Knights and Squires only discusses Starbuck, suggests it is unclear which one he is. On the Quarterdeck, Ahab requires the mates to be cup bearers to the harpooners. In a later chapter, Ishmael critiques the current method of whaling. He thinks it would make more sense for the harpooner to not row and to both harpoon and stab the whale to death. This would diminish the role of the mate to only steering the boat towards the whale. Is this Ishmael wanting to promote Queequeg because of his great fondness for him? Or is this a deeper meditation on the value of labor vs management? Please discuss!

    O< O< O<


  6. Doctors, it’s time to stop teasing us and release a special Star Trek episode of CR! The Wrath of Khan would make a delightful bookend to Moby Dick!

  7. Thank you for your podcast. I am almost through Moby Dick and am enjoying your insights on what I have already read. I came to read Moby Dick because Cormac McCarthy loved it and was influenced by it. He was so correct about its profound nature. Thank you again.

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