Chapter 13. Sailing and Whaling

Flogging at sea

The absolute authority of sea captains meant that serving on a ship was a form of slavery. Flogging as a means of disciplining a sailor was outlawed in 1850, eighteen years before slavery Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.


Thanks to Melville, we see why Ahab destroys himself, and how a personal obsession can take over a system designed for other uses. Melville put a whale on the spine of the book, realizing that the book was an ocean.


The danger of the enterprise is merely an incentive. Random survival can be taken as proof that the risk-taker has mastered his fate.

Raw material

The whaling industry declined with the growth of the petroleum industry and the use of vegetable oils. At the time, whales were not considered mammals with thoughts and feelings; they were a natural resource, a kind of fish that yields spermaceti and oil.

Scooners from Monhegan Island

The scooners of the mackerel fleet look like yachts but are not built for pleasure, unless it’s the pleasure of pursing up a net and dipping out great scoops of fish into a dory.