Chapter 52, “The Albatross”
Around the Cape, the Pequod passes another Nantucket whaler, the Albatross, and when they come abreast, Ahab calls out, “Have ye seen the White Whale?” The captain of the Albatross lifts his speaking horn to reply, but it drops in the ocean, and the two vessels pass without communicating because of rough waters. The fish that had been following the Pequod suddenly desert it as though it is an unlucky ship, and Ahab notes the omen.
Chapter 53, “The Gam”
It is tradition for one whaler meeting another to have a “gam” or social call, the captains exchanging information. Ahab avoids these unless he can get news of Moby Dick.
Chapter 54, “The Town-Ho’s Story”
Shortly after the Albatross, they meet the Town-Ho and Ahab allows a short gam, but he never hears the Town-Ho’s story that circulates among the men about their meeting with Moby-Dick. The Town-Ho sprung a leak at sea and because of the forced labor at the pumps, the men were touchy. Radney, the mate, and Steelkilt, a sailor, got into a feud that almost became a mutiny. Because it was unfairly provoked by Radney, it seemed divine justice that Moby Dick showed up and devoured Radney during the chase, and that Steelkilt got away. The rest of the crew deserted, and the captain had to use Polynesians to finish his journey.
Analysis Chapters 52, 53, and 54
The name of the Albatross reminds us of the fated ship in Coleridge’s poem, “The Ancient Mariner,” and the constant evil omens around the Pequod—the fish, the ravens—reinforce the parallels.
The Pequod has nine gams in its voyage, and each advances our knowledge of Ahab and especially, Moby Dick, whom he hunts. Ahab only socializes to get information, but ironically, he does not hear the Town-Ho’s story which sheds light on Ahab’s quest. Radney, like Ahab, is somewhat mad and vengeful in his unjust pursuit of Steelkilt, and like Ahab, is the victim of Moby Dick. In this case, Moby Dick seems the symbol of divine justice rather than of evil, as Ahab thinks. The second point is that the crew of the Town-Ho is so terrified of Moby Dick they desert the ship, and another crew has to be found.