Chapter 32, “Cetology”
Cetology, the science of whales, is introduced. Ishmael groups the kinds of whales; for instance, the large whales: sperm, right, fin-back, hump-backed, razor back, and sulphur-bottom. The largest is the sperm who alone renders spermaceti oil. Of the mid-size group—the black fish, narwhale, thrasher and killer, only the grumpus yields oil. The smaller group includes the porpoises.
Chapter 33, “The Specksynder”
The south whaling voyage below the equator is the most adventuresome. There is a hierarchy of whaling men. In the old days, the specksynder or chief harpooner was the ship’s boss, but today it is the captain.
Chapter 34, “The Cabin Table”
The captain, mates, and harpooners live rear or aft, while the sailors live forward. The ship’s cabin is the private territory of the captain where the mates eat with him. Ahab’s table is very tense because of the silence and formality. There is no companionship. After they finish, the more friendly harpooners enter and eat alone there.
Chapter 35, “The Mast Head”
The mast head has a perch high above the ship’s sail and is manned day and night. When a whale is spotted, the watch sings out.
Analysis Chapters 32, 33, 34, and 35
The realistic facts of whale lore (cetology) and whaling are begun in earnest, as the context of the adventure story. Ishmael admits the knowledge of whales is incomplete, and the categories are not fixed. He himself feels the whale is a fish, for instance. The more detail he piles up, the more mystery is found, and Ishmael says his system must remain unfinished: “God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught” (32. 142). The knowledge of life will always be incomplete.
Ahab exacts instant obedience and is painted as a dictator, “a mute, maned sea lion” (34. 146). The stiffness between the officers is contrasted to the democracy and easiness among the harpooners.
Ishmael mentions that the masthead is delightful to the dreamy meditative man, for he is “lost in the infinite series of the sea” (35. 152). He warns the mystic pantheist on watch to beware of his union with the infinite source at his feet, for move an inch on the masthead, and he will come rushing back to his own small identity with a vengeance!