Moby Dick

By Herman Melville

Chapter 79: The Prairie

Ishmael is describing the whale using physiognomy (a technique where you examine facial features to determine the character). He notes that the whale does not have a nose, "the nose is the most central and conspicuous of the features... it would seem that its entire absence... must very largely affect the countenance of the whale"(Melville). He later decides that a nose would be irrelevant for a whale. He goes on to talk about how the only distinct feature of the whale is the forehead. Because the whale has a large forehead, he must have a large brain. Lastly Ishmael explain that the whale can not be a genius, but the "pyramidical silence" is its genius.


The perspective is a little unclear. Ishmael analyzes the whale's facial features but the decides that he can not analyze it correctly. He challenges the audience to try to read the whale.

Ishamel takes may different sides on what he thinks about the facial features of the whale. In the end he says that the whale is impossible to read. "Physiognomy, like every other human science, is but a passing fable. If then sir William Jones, who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of the sperm whale's brow? I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can"(Melville). Ishmael never really has a clear opinion on how the features show the whale's character.


In this chapter Ishmale specifically says, "In some particulars, perhaps the most imposing physiognomical view to be had of the Sperm Whale, is that of the full front of his head. This aspect is sublime" (Melville).

Chapter 102: Bower in the Arsacides

In this chapter Ishmael is explaining to the reader how he knows so much about the skeleton of a Sperm Whale. Ishmael's friend Tranquo, the king of a Melanesian Island found a beached whale on a local beach. The natives decorated the skeleton with trophies and carvings, and put a sacred flame in the skull. Ishmael measured and examined the whale's skeleton, even though the natives object because the skeleton is their God. He gets the dimensions of the whale tattooed onto his arm.


In this chapter, Ishmael is acting a little selfish. He wants to learn about the whale through measurements and does not examine the bones in any other way. He does not think about the anatomy of the whale based on the bones, he simply measures the whale.

Chapter 103:

Ishmael develops his own idea and perspective of the magnitude of Sperm Whales, basing it partly on the estimates of Captain Scoresby. From his "careful calculation[s]" (Melville Ch. 103) Ishmael finds that the average Sperm Whale "would considerably outweigh the combined population of a whole village of one thousand one hundred inhabitants"
(Melville Ch. 103) and would be "between eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and something less than forty feet in its fullest circumference" (Melville Ch. 103). He then continues to describe the skeleton of the Sperm Whale, focusing strongly on the ribs that occupy the Whales body. Ishmael notices that the ribs and the skeleton of a whale can not fully portray the whale and he thinks " How vain and foolish... for timid untravelled m[e]n to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely poring over his dead attenuated skeleton" (Melville Ch. 103). Ishmael then goes on to continue in detail the remains of a Sperm Whale skeleton and mentions that the dead carcass of the animal can not fully portray the character of the living animal.

In this chapter Ishmael depicts the body of Sperm Whales and describes the whale in perfect complete detail. He also contradicts himself saying that the body of bones, the skeleton, can not fully show the reader or any other the magnitude of such a creature, which provides you with the unknown perspective.

Chapter 104:

In chapter 104, Ishmael continues to examine the body of Sperm Whales and decides to look at fossils. He begins writing his discoveries and gets encouraged to continue his writing and Ishmael "Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, now remains to magnify him in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view" (Melville Ch. 104). In his writing, Ishmael describes that writing about the Sperm Whale is such a hard task because the whale itself is so grand. "No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it" (Melville Ch. 104). Once again just like in chapter 103, Ishmael mentions that the body of the whale can not still fully portray the magnitude of the great Sperm Whale.

Following the insightful details of chapter 103, in chapter 104 Ishmael continues to analyze Sperm Whales through the lenses of archaeology and others. He again tries to provide the reader with a perfectly complete look on the Sperm Whale, trying hard not to leave out any important details of this great animal. After completing his analysis and findings, again Ishmael agrees that the Sperm Whale can not fully be captured in words, for the animal is far to great.