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‘Kicked by a Great Man’
Under a Troubled Master-Eye #5: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter 31
© 2019 James LaFond
AUG/18/19
“Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man’s ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my right leg off!”
On Stubb, rants about his dream to his junior among the ship Pequod’s three mates, finishing with, “What a phiz!” referencing the science of physiognomy, indicating that the merman in the dream had a frightening face.
Flask, the least of his three-man caste in this rocking kingdom of the sea, advises Stubb, well, being long practiced in forging his identity positively around the negative anvil of industry:
“He used his ivory leg, didn’t he? Yes, he did,” says I. “Well, then, “wise Stubb, what have you to complain of? …It wasn’t a common pitch-pine leg…you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg…In old England the greatest lords think it a great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made a garter-knight of; but be your boast, Stubb that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of.”
Stressing wisdom gained through bad times and bad signs, Flask makes the case for sanity among the cogs of the heartless machine of HOLY ECONOMY worshipped by their masters like the one true God, marking the whaling captain, like any captain of industry, as like a king under heaven, his nation being the theocracy of gain. Finally Flask accounts dishonor at the cruel feet of a soulless system to be an honour, that a man remained human enough to be chastised by the morally dispossessed and done the signal compliment of having risen, as a living being, to the status of a momentary inconvenience for the undead process of civilization.
Finally, Flask mentions the white whale with which their master is obsessed and advises Stubb to be agreeable in its hunting.
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