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Moby Dick

Moby Dick(1956)

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In 1841, merchant sailor Ishmael, having spent too much time on land, restlessly heads for the sea and arrives in New Bedford. At the Spouter Inn run by Peter Coffin, he takes a room after agreeing to share a bed with a harpooner. Coffin informs Ishmael that he needs "permission" to go whaling and, Stubb, another sailor, explains that the sea belongs to the men of New Bedford. When asked if he disputes this claim, Ishmael answers no and so is accepted by the other sailors. Through the window, Ishmael sees a lone man with a peg leg and is told that the man is Capt. Ahab. Later, after Ishmael is in bed, a man carrying a harpoon enters, sets down a human head, and takes off his hat and clothes, revealing a bald head and elaborate body tattoos. When the man, Queequeg, realizes the bed is not empty, he threatens to kill Ishmael. Responding to Ishmael's frantic call for help, Coffin comes in and calms them. Although Ishmael now realizes that his bedmate is a cannibal, he decides, "better a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian" and settles in for the night. The next day, Ishmael attends service at the "whalemen's chapel," where the walls are lined with tombstones of local men lost at sea. The reverend, Father Mapple, climbs a rope ladder to a pulpit built like the bow of a ship and preaches a stirring sermon to the sailors and their families about Jonah and the whale. Afterward, Ishmael finds Queequeg in their room, fascinated by the many pages of his books. The exotic man, whose father was an island king, tells Ishmael how he stowed away on a passing ship many years ago and vows to be Ishmael's lifelong friend. The next day, they choose to sail together on the Pequod , the ship captained by Ahab. Quakers Peleg and Bildad, who represent the ship owners, hire Ishmael, but are at first reluctant to sign on the heathen. Queequeg demonstrates his prowess with the harpoon by shooting a keg, thus proving his usefulness, as an expert harpooner is vital to the success of catching whales. Later, at the harbor, Ishmael and Queequeg encounter Elijah, a raggedy man who tries to warn them about the danger of sailing with Ahab. When the sailors take no heed of him, Elijah foretells that, on the day their shipmates smell land where there is none, Ahab will go to his grave, then "rise within the hour" and beckon, after which "all, save one, will follow." Leaving their women behind, the Pequod departs on a three-year voyage with a crew from all over the world. Starbuck, the first mate, is reliable, courageous and wise. The jolly Stubb is the second mate. For many days, Ahab remains in seclusion, coming out only at night to walk the deck. Then, one day, he emerges, nails a Spanish doubloon to the mast and explains that the first crewman to spot a certain white whale, called Moby Dick, will be rewarded with it. When Starbuck asks if Moby Dick was the whale that took his leg, Ahab says, "It tore my soul and body until they bled into each other." Following an old sailors' custom, Ahab rouses the crew to vow to chase the whale across the world until they kill it. When a whale is spotted, the shipmates ride out in longboats to harpoon the first capture of the voyage. They boil its blubber to oil, which will later be sold for profit. Ahab shows Starbuck a logbook containing the knowledge of many old whalers, which notes times and places various types of whales were sighted. Although Starbuck realizes the logbook can be used to track down whales "in record time," thus increasing the ship's profits, Ahab explains that their "bigger business," that of killing Moby Dick must be their priority. Reckoning by the logbook, Ahab expects that the whale will be in the area of Bikini Island in April and plans to meet him there. Knowing that the men stand behind Ahab, Starbuck makes no plans to oppose him, but believes that killing an animal in vengeance is blasphemous. Ahab orders the ship south, where the crewmen soon encounter a school of whales. The men are busy capturing one, when a ship approaches, its captain having recently lost a hand to Moby Dick. Confirming through the captain that his nemesis is heading toward Bikini, Ahab orders his men to cut loose their prey, so that they lose no time in pursuing Moby Dick. Forced to sacrifice the potential profit from the school of whales and fearing God's wrath, Starbuck suggests to Stubb and the other mates that they mutiny, but gives up when the men remain loyal to Ahab. At Bikini, eager to be the first to spot the whale, a lookout falls into the sea and his body is lost. The death seems like a bad omen for the men, who wait many days for the whale in hot sun and windless sea. While divining with bones, Queequeg foretells his own death and instructs the ship's carpenter to build a waterproof coffin. He then takes up a trance-like position and waits to die. Although Ishmael tries to convince him to eat, Queequeg remains still, prompting Ishmael to remind him of his oath of lasting friendship. When, in mischief, a sailor cuts patterns on Queequeg's chest with a knife, Queequeg makes no move, but Ishmael fights to stop the man. Seeing his friend in danger, Queequeg comes to Ishmael's aid, just as Moby Dick is spotted in the distance. As there is no wind, Ahab orders that longboats tow the ship toward the whale. When the whale outpaces them, Ahab announces that he will give the crew his ten percent profit in the voyage when Moby Dick is dead. The ship Rachel , which lost a longboat full of sailors in a bout with the whale, sails nearby. Capt. Gardiner, whose twelve-year-old son is on the missing longboat, asks for the Pequod 's help in finding the men, but Ahab refuses, unwilling to deter from his quest. The sailors of both ships are shocked by this breach of mariner etiquette, but Ahab entrances his men with a speech that revives the Pequod crew's fervor to catch the whale. Later, the crew risks their lives fighting a typhoon, but Ahab considers its wind "heaven-sent" and orders the men not to drop the sails. In fear of capsizing, Starbuck prepares to chop the sails' ropes, prompting Ahab to threaten to kill him. The spear Ahab holds glows green from St. Elmo's fire and the crew watches in awe. Soon the typhoon dissipates and the crewmen, except for Starbuck, marvel that Ahab "called the typhoon's bluff" and "grabbed St. Elmo's fire by the tail." As the day turns sunny and mild, Starbuck struggles with his conscience whether to shoot Ahab with a pistol, but when he finds he is unable to pull the trigger, Ahab explains that they are "tied together," their mission "immutably decreed." The sailors then smell land, reminding Ishmael of Elijah's prophecy. Seeing Moby Dick in the distance, Ahab and the crew row out to meet him. The sailors harpoon the whale, which pitches, causing the boats to overturn. Grabbing the harpoon ropes, Ahab climbs onto the whale's back and, with his spear, jabs at the whale. In retaliation, Moby Dick dives underwater and remains there. When the animal emerges, the drowned Ahab, entangled in the ropes, seems to beckon to the sailors as his arm flails in the sea. Stubb and the other sailors admit defeat, but Starbuck now feels compelled to kill the whale and orders them forward. Moby Dick, however, overturns the longboats and jumps over them, crushing the men with his tail. He then swims to the ship, crashing into it, beating it until it sinks. The airtight coffin of Queequeg emerges from the bits of the ship and Ishmael, the only survivor, takes refuge on it. There he lies until the Rachel , still in search of its longboat, rescues him.