Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand dropping his light low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation, with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks, while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.
“Fellow-critters: I’se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin’ ob de lips! Massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!”
Shipkeeper. The cook aboard the Pequod shuffles around the deck, ever fulfilling the requests of his superiors, no matter how outlandish. Chapter 64: Stubb’s Supper is the stage upon which old Fleece as they call him delivers one of the best speeches of the whole work, his sermon to the sharks. Stubb requests a steak made from the most tender part of his freshly-killed whale, near the base of the tail. Odd enough in itself, although whale meat was certainly eaten by many a whaler, and often enjoyed, this command is followed up with another, stranger request. Stubb commands, for a lark, that the cook kindly go and tell the sharks to be quiet (a whale having just been killed and brought alongside, the sharks are eating their fill of the carcass, and indeed doing so in a frenzy). The old Cook grumblingly does so, and when the sharks do not respond (obviously), Stubb remonstrates that the cook sermonize them into taking the right course of action, which would be to stop all that damn racket so Stubb can enjoy his steak.
Fleece’s sermon to the sharks has been the topic of much academic writing, and this lowly sub sub must defer to other, stronger voices on the subject. Suffice it to say that the offer of redemption given to the sharks from this unlikely voice is truly radical for its time—the clear message being that all men, all creatures, all different natures, are angels, and we angels merely wear the clothing of a shark, or the clothing of a man. And it is a radically personal choice as to whether one accepts one’s angelic nature or continues to feast as a shark, or kill as a man.
Fleece’s whale steak, though repugnant to some, will certainly draw some sailor who can’t resist its pull into your crew, whenever any player takes a whale.
Original Image Courtesy of The New Bedford Whaling Museum.