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Apple Pie

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  • Alanna Salussolia

Why don’t you snap your oars, you rascals?

An abridged audiobook was my gateway into this voyage. I am now more than halfway through the unabridged audiobook and 40 pages into the actual text itself. Forget Ishmael, the White Whale and Captain Ahab. The real stars are Queequeg and Stubb. Their appearance and peculiar actions will capture your attention. Prepare to be engrossed.

Ye Ragamuffin Rapscalians

"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones,” drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom still showed signs of uneasiness. [...]Three cheers, men- all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don’t be in a hurry- don’t be in a hurry. Why don’t you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then:- softly, softly!

That’s it- that’s it! long and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull, can’t ye? pull, won’t ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes don’t ye pull?- pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out! Here,” whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; “every mother’s son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That’s it- that’s it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her- start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!”

Why Row?

Let's talk about Stubb. He is a wild sailor who is the leader of the oarsman on the small boats made for chasing, then harpooning whales. The above passage had me laughing, ruminating, and gaping at this snapshot of a man. Melville deftly shows how leadership can be complicated.

When Stubb rouses his crew to row, he appeals to them with the strangest combination of exortations. He directs them to hold their knives in their mouths and bite down on them. He begs and pleads them to row. He insults them, yet uses terms of endearment to draw them in. Right after Stubb's tirade, Melville follows with an expository passage He descibes how the crew responds. Stubb engenders fear and humor and primarily the intensity of the hunt. It's a technique that uses polarity to infuse the followers with adrenaline. It's wonderful. Here is Melville's translation of Stubb's bifurcated communication.

The Mere Joke of the Thing

Stubb’s exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun most terri and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsmen could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped- open-mouthed at times- that the mere sight of such a yawning commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew. Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them."

Melville's Roving Vernacular

I have recently become enamoured with Moby Dick. Having never cracked the book open before this, I have taken a deep dive into Herman Melville's roving vernacular. He describes these sailor caricatures with humor, detail, imagination, and a million allusions to history, geography, and other literature. It's pure genius.


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