In a version of the pattern that follows “The Quarter-Deck,” Ishmael focuses our attention on Ahab and Starbuck in the previous chapter and shifts here to Stubb and Flask. Mostly Stubb, though, as it turns out.
The two of them seem to have been discussing Ahab’s refusal to lower the lightning rod. Flask seems to have thought that Ahab was taking a massive risk, standing by the mast without the safety of the rods being lowered. But Stubb points out that “not one ship in a hundred carries rods,” so Ahab was no less safe than the crews of all those other ships.”
It’s a bit of comic relief that reiterates Stubb’s jolly fatalism. In fact, it turns out to be the last bit of comic relief in the novel. The end is nigh.
“Midnight.—The Forecastle Bulwarks” is read by artist Robert Fearns, who teaches at Bath Spa University. The accompanying image, The Brick Agrochola circellaris (Hufnagel, 1766) (2010; Silver Gelatin Print; 31 x 25 cm) is by Marcus Coates and is used courtesy of the artist and Workplace Gallery, UK.
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[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman's History of New York]