Chapter 38: Dusk

“Dusk” is the third of five chapters written somewhat as a play. The first of this sequence of chapters dramatizes Ahab convincing his crew to chase the white whale. The four subsequent chapters follow the thoughts of four entities on the ship — Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, and the crew. Each character stands at a different station, progressing from stern to bow. Starbuck stands by the mainmast at the center of the boat, and serves in his thoughts as the center of reason on the Pequod. In one way, I think writing the chapters as plays emphasizes the dramatics of Ahab’s persuasion — five chapters, five Shakespearean acts. More importantly, though, I think Melville used the play format to pull Ishmael out of the modernist narrator’s seat, so the reader can see perspectives on Ahab’s quest that are unfiltered and unprocessed by Ishmael.

“Dusk” takes us into Starbuck’s mind, revealing a man utterly bound to a world view of rank and class. Starbuck sees Ahab’s challenging God as mutiny, and half-curses himself for being unable to disobey a disobeying Ahab. I find Starbuck’s unwavering loyalty annoying at times, but it ultimately leads to an interesting complexity of character. Starbuck is bound to righteousness, and his concept of righteousness rests on a base of duty to rank. Such a character might come off as flat in many situations, but with Ahab for his superior, the trait makes Starbuck compelling, especially in the final buildup of the chase. Poor Starbuck! You’re too good for the rest of us!

Chapter 38: Dusk

Starbuck:
He’s a democrat to all above,
Taking power for everyone,
But in the end he’s a tyrant to his brothers,
Hand in hand.

He hypnotized my reasoning,
Stripped me as a human being,
As if I was taken by a demon,
Faltering.

Chorus:
We are the crew of Captain Ahab!
We’re going to rule the sea!
We are the crew of Captain Ahab,
We are free!

Starbuck:
We’re going to
Hell! See the revelry!
Hell! Dragging us to sea!
Hell! And the darkness left of life.

His torment strangely did compel
An oath be taken to rebel.
Throw off your chains for yet another
Kind of yoke!

Chorus:
We are the crew of Captain Ahab!
Nursed among the sharks!
We are the crew of Captain Ahab,
Men apart!

Starbuck and [Chorus]:
We’re going to
Hell! [We are the crew! We are the crew!]
Hell! [We are the crew! We are the crew!]
Hell! [We are the crew! We are the crew!]
[We are free!]

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 12, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 21, 2009

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