Chapter 61: Stubb kills a Whale

. . . Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.

Stubb doesn’t do a whole lot of thinking in Chapter 61. The bulk of “Stubb kills a Whale,” consists of a tense, slow-motion chase to the death, much like what one might watch between a fox and a rabbit on the Discovery channel. As animals ourselves, we human observers of such chases often find ourselves caught between excited interest in the predator, and crushing sympathy for the prey.

“Stubb kills a Whale” certainly does not glorify Stubb and his crew, who come off as heartless, bloodthirsty savages. Ishmael reinforces this intentional portrait with literal war-whoops from Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg; as well as with an image of the redness of whale blood reflecting onto each man’s face after the kill. Ishmael here clearly paints all men as savages in the hunt.

Ishmael also clearly does what he can to peak our sympathy for the pursued whale. Ishmael shows us that beyond merely wanting to survive, the whale is afraid, and panicked, and later “tormented.” We see as readers what the hunters cannot see in the thick of the chase — the whale is in pain.

Some might argue that the emotions which Ishmael conjures in his readers throughout “Stubb kills a Whale” constitute a criticism of the hunt, but I think such ideas are anachronistic, and furthermore miss a more important point. Animals have been killing animals since the beginning of time, in an unfortunate (perhaps) but necessary life process. What we need to remember — what we hope Stubb remembers as he stands thoughtfully over his dead whale — is a respect for the humanity of animals, and a recognition of the animalism of human beings.

Chapter 61: Stubb kills a Whale

La, la, la.
La, la, la.

Seen a squid ’bout a million times,
The spermaceti ain’t far behind.

Drift along in a placid sea,
Slumbering in fraternity.

Lounging up to the surface, tan,
Calm, in sync with the hearts of man,

But how quickly those hearts can change
With a dollar in killing range.

Everybody could feel it —
Hushed encounters, anon.
Everybody could feel it.

Nonchalantly, we glide in chase,
Holding back to his languorous pace.
Anybody could see us, now,
Coming closer.

Suddenly, with a casual surge,
The flukes went high and the whale submerged.

Stubb replied with a pensive smoke,
A plain disguise for the lust awoke.

Everybody could feel it —
Hushed encounters, anon.
Everybody could feel it.

With a cry from the savage race,
Oars in furious, pounding chase.
Blood reflected on each man, now,
Coming closer.

Now a flurry, a punctured heart,
A calm again from the killer’s dart.

There he scatters the ashes thin,
Where the wonders of life had been.

La, la, la.
La, la, la.

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 12, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea November 13, 2010

Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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