Chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel

“The Pequod meets the Rachel,” always sends me in search of greater significance at the expense of the obvious. Chasing storytelling choices so deliberate that they must be important, I think myself in circles around the simplicity of the story itself. For example, Ishmael repeatedly refers to the Rachel’s captain as “the stranger,” despite noting that he and Ahab have long been acquainted as captains of Nantucket. However, after Ahab refuses the captain’s request of help, Ishmael starts to call the captain by his last name, Gardiner. And then there’s the titular Biblical reference,  suggestive of greater mythic significance.

Despite these inclusions and others, the heart of Ishmael’s story is quite simple: Captain Gardiner, of the Rachel, begs Ahab to help search for Gardiner’s twelve-year-old son, whose whale boat disappeared after being dragged off the night previous by Moby Dick himself. Ahab froths at Gardiner’s mention of Moby Dick, and then refuses to join in the search, telling Gardiner that “even now I lose time” in the hunt. The grief-stricken Captain Gardiner stumbles off the Pequod and continues his wandering search for his missing son.

In discussing my thoughts about the chapter with my wife, she told me that I could always talk about the obvious message of the chapter — that Ahab is a jerk. It’s a funny comment, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that’s really the big message here — Ahab is a jerk. A friend begs Ahab to help him find his missing twelve-year-old son, and Ahab goes to hunt a whale instead. Maybe the book should be called Ahab-Dick.

Alas, despite my searching, all my efforts to find deeper meaning in this chapter have led to dead ends. Still, like captain Gardiner, I can be “seen to yaw hither and thither at every dark spot, however small, on the sea,” searching for answers in a vast, answer-less expanse.

Chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel

They died last night, they died last night
Certainly.
They died last night, they died last night
Certainly.

A pale unceasing cannonball
Struck from sheltered lee.
Carried by the cannonball;
Buried in the sea.

They died last night, they died last night
Certainly.
They died last night, they died last night
Certainly.

Listen as their spirits scream;
We heard them all last night.
Ghost ship sails for ghost beliefs,
Sweeping tack for any sight.

They died last night, they died last night,
Certainly.
They died last night, they died last night,
Certainly.

Abraham is unmoved,
Stable in the old roots,
Fathering a nation of
Hollow belief, and resolve.

Any circle broken
Makes the center shift and
Every spoke in kind will
Follow its lead, finding home.

Pack our Rachel up again,
Send her on her way.
An arrow loosed, we’ve joined the work
Three weeks from today!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 21, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 15, 2009

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m right around this chapter on my close re-read and here’s what there is to say about that:
    This is the moment where Ahab finally damns himself. He knows he’s crossed the line. He can’t look Gardiner in the eye.
    Previously, his obsession hampered commercial pursuits – now it contends against virtue.

  2. That’s an interesting thought, to be sure. I might see Ahab’s awareness of his crossing some line into madness or away from virtue (or whatever else) as happening much earlier, before we as readers even meet him. His actions with respect to his crew have contended against virtue from the start; the crew is essentially lost at sea from the moment they depart. I agree, that this seems like a significant moment of acceleration for Ahab, though. He really peels away the last bit of facade here; definitely for others, and maybe for himself as well.


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