Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head — Contrasted View

“The Right Whale’s Head — Contrasted View” touches on ideas of nature and materialism. In the chapter, Ishmael establishes the Right Whale as nature itself — a humbly crowned king of the ocean or a solid and aged oak tree — in both senses a living being and a sustaining planet for other forms of life.

Ishmael also describes the Right Whale as a collection of material goods. Without the slightest tinge of compassion or remorse, Ishmael translates the whale’s pouty lip into 500 barrels of oil, and the bones of the whale’s mouth into a collection of corsets and umbrellas. Ishmael even phrases his summary comparison between the Sperm Whales and the Right Whale as a list of commodities — sperm, ivory teeth, and jaw versus baleen, lip, and tongue. In doing so, Ishmael reduces the value of a life to the value of the material interests connected to that life.

All the above starts to come together around the chapter’s Native American references. We definitely can see subtle references in the chapter, such as Ishmael’s story that attributes a gap in the whale’s lip to an ancient earthquake, which conjures a natural world strongly reminiscent of early religious mythology. However, Ishmael most explicitly refers to Native Americans in his comparison of the whale’s mouth to a wigwam. He reacts with terror to the thought of entering such a mouth, as if such an entrance were a descent into savagery. Such a conception of “going savage” is nothing new, but in this case, Ishmael uses it to an interesting effect. One page later, Ishmael tells us we’re all in the whale’s mouth already, enveloped in corsets and sheltered beneath umbrellas, and we can start to see a savagery in our consumerism.

Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head — Contrasted View

We’re all in the whale’s mouth,
Swallowed whole by a sullen pout —
The king of the ocean,
With Stoic emotion.

Hey! Look at all the oil we got!
Hey, hey , hey! The tongue and lip and blanket’s off!
And ladies, hey ladies!, here’s a little savagery for you —
Not a little savagery.

Step in this mouth;
It’s twelve feet tall. (Oh, no, no, twelve feet tall!)
Pipe organ bones,
So worshipful. (Oh, oh, oh worshipful.)
It’s the tepee of an Indian;
I swear I’ll never sin again!

Hey! Look at all the oil we got!
Hey, hey , hey! Order in the sea’s chaos!
And ladies, hey ladies!, here’s a little savagery for you —
Oppressive little savagery!
And ladies, hey ladies!, here’s a little savagery for you —
Not a little savagery.

[instrumental]

It’s the tepee of an Indian;
I swear I’ll never sin again!

Hey! Look at all the oil we got!
Hey, hey , hey! Order in the sea’s chaos!
And ladies, hey ladies!, here’s a little savagery for you —
Oppressive little savagery!
And ladies, hey ladies!, here’s a little savagery for you —
Not a little savagery.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 22, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 3, 2009
Trumpet written and performed by John Bryant

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Started listening after the Times article. The trumpet is a great addition to the song. I hope you will continue to add more layers to the compositions.


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