Chapter 67, “Cutting In”
Ishmael tells us the process of cutting away the layer of blubber from the whale carcass.
Chapter 68, “The Blanket”
The skin is like beef and can be fifteen inches thick. It is cut in strips, taken below, cooked until the oil is rendered. Up to ten barrels can come from a ton of flesh.
Chapter 69, “The Funeral”
Once the blubber is off, the whale carcass is set afloat for the sharks and carrion birds. It is like a white ghost upon the sea, frightening sailors.
Chapter 70, “The Sphynx”
The head of the whale is cut off and kept close to the ship, for it will be used. While the crew is below eating, Ahab comes on deck and speaks a soliloquy to the whale head, reflecting on what the whale has seen in the deep, and yet it remains dumb, and will not tell its secrets, like a sphynx.
Analysis Chapters 67, 68, 69, 70
Even with the details of its dismemberment and anatomy, the whale’s mystery is preserved and its secrets kept. The lines on its skins are like “hieroglyphics,” implying an indecipherable story. Its thick blubber, allowing the whale to live in comfort anywhere, is its cushion against fate, and Ishmael preaches to us to emulate it: “do thou live in this world without being of it” (68. 305).
Ahab’s soliloquy, questioning the sphynx head of the whale, is similar to Hamlet’s speech questioning the skull of Yorick, unearthed in the grave. The sphynx was a fabulous monster with head of a woman and body of a lion, who killed anyone unable to answer her riddles. Oedipus answered and escaped. Ahab, however, will be unable to pass such a test, yet it shows something about his character that he is willing to risk everything to learn the secret of the universe.
Though no secrets can be rendered directly from the whale, Ishmael is constantly teasing out the hints of life from it. This is because, he says, the soul of nature and man are connected by “linked analogies” (70. 309). The correspondence of the natural world and human world was a common idea to nineteenth century writers, and it meant nature was a mirror of the human soul, not something completely estranged. Though the whalemen are treating the whale as an enemy or prey, the “linked analogies” point out the kinship of man and whale. Ahab seems nobler than his men because he treats the whale, even if an enemy, as an equal.