Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

This midnight-spout had almost grown a forgotten thing, when, some days after, lo! at the same silent hour, it was again announced: again it was descried by all; but upon making sail to overtake it, once more it disappeared as if it had never been. And so it served us night after night, till no one heeded it but to wonder at it. Mysteriously jetted into the clear moonlight, or starlight, as the case might be; disappearing again for one whole day, or two days, or three; and somehow seeming at every distinct repetition to be advancing still further and further in our van, this solitary jet seemed for ever alluring us on.

Nor with the immemorial superstition of their race, and in accordance with the preternaturalness, as it seemed, which in many things invested the Pequod, were there wanting some of the seamen who swore that whenever and wherever descried; at however remote times, or in however far apart latitudes and longitudes, that unnearable spout was cast by one self-same whale; and that whale, Moby Dick. For a time, there reigned, too, a sense of peculiar dread at this flitting apparition, as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on, in order that the monster might turn round upon us, and rend us at last in the remotest and most savage seas.

—The Spirit-Spout

Whales are not hunted at night. The prudence of not lowering for whales in the darkness however, does not keep Fedallah from standing watch at the mast-head at odd hours. His surprising appearance, his queer behavior, his otherness, his connection with finding the White Whale, all lead Fedallah’s shipmates to talk much of the devil, and of evil omens. When he descries a silvery jet of steam, a massive whale-spout, the middle of one night, the crew is moved to awe and vague terror. The spout visits the Pequod ubiquitously at night throughout the rest of the voyage. It’s appearance is the crew’s first experience of Moby Dick’s supposed god-like nature, and Fedallah’s eerie cry convinces the sailors further of the demonic nature of the Parsee, whom Ahab has seemingly brought along to conjure the White Whale, through some hidden Faustian bargain. The spout goads Ahab on, and though a whale is rarely seen the morning next, it is always assumed to be the magic whale himself, leading the Pequod further into his waters, before exacting his final destructive influence.

Taking a conceptual leap from a whale’s jetted spout to ubiquitous fog at sea (reminiscent of Chapter 48: The First Lowering) may prove difficult for some, but the inclusion of lasting weather effects was an absolutely necessary part of the game, since weather effects on hunt conditions create a more dynamic range of hunting experiences. The Spirit-Spout is seen in the middle of the night, perhaps the fog could be interpreted as a state in which the visible world is obscured, and the hunter loses his most valuable asset, not his equipment or even his courage, but his knowledge of the environment that surrounds and ultimately threatens him.