Chapter 124: The Needle

The morning after a tumultuous thunder storm — the same storm in which Ahab grabs the lightning rods, and in which Starbuck deliberates over whether or not to kill Ahab in his sleep — the officers and crew awake to a majestic natural landscape of sky, sun, and ocean. They think they are heading east, but soon discover that they are actually heading west — the electrical storm of the previous night flipped the magnetic orientation of the compass needle. In an obvious metaphorical twist, Ahab discovers that rather than voyaging toward light and/or new beginnings, he sails toward darkness and/or the end.

Of course, Ahab being Ahab, this is not a problem. We see in “The Needle” another instance of what we see throughout Moby-Dick — Ahab believes himself as one who affects nature, rather than one who is affected by nature. At the outset of “The Needle,” Ahab fancies himself the god of sun, bringing light to “all ye nations before my prow.” Later in the chapter, Ahab works more like a magician, mystifying his use of scientific knowledge before his crew to inspire awe as he magnetizes a common sewing needle for the ship’s compass.

When Ishmael closes the chapter speaking of Ahab’s “fatal pride,” it is exactly this showmanship to which he refers. Like the central binnacle compass Ishmael discusses earlier in the chapter, which once turned is powerful enough to turn all other compasses in the ship, Ahab’s charisma is powerful enough to overpower the integrity of everyone on board the Pequod, save Starbuck, who goes out of his way to tell Ahab that though he’s heard of such phenomena, it has never before happened to him.

What an interesting question Starbuck poses us as a character. Has he maintained his integrity by not capitulating to Ahab’s mania, but still fulfilling his role as loyal and dutiful first mate? Or has Starbuck’s compass been turned like the rest of the crew? In such extreme circumstance, would true integrity cry mutiny, and sacrifice the social construct of rank for the moral construct of humanity?

Chapter 124: The Needle

You sent me head over heels,
Lost in the peals of my
Heart as it reels.

Sailed headlong into the storm —
Nothing could warn me off you.

Oh, lightning but only strikes once!
Oh, lightning but only strikes in paradise!

My compass pointed me East,
On to defeat your
Magnetic retreat.

Proud compass spun me anew,
Shocked into running from you.

Oh, lightning but only strikes once!
Oh, lightning but only strikes in paradise!

Natural deceit turned me far from thee,
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!
What a great relief, the sun, so indiscreet,
A fiery wrecking ball.

Now, with a sleight of the hand,
I turn where I stand
In magnetic demand.

Once more, faced into the wind,
Nothing could keep me from you.

Oh, lightning but only strikes once!
Oh, lightning but only strikes in paradise!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 29, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea October 9, 2010

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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