With “Stowing Down and Clearing Up,” Ishmael brings to a close the sequence of chapters devoted to descriptions of the practices required to kill, butcher, and commodify a whale. After the hellish imagery of “The Try-Works” and the Orientalism of “The Lamp,” we get a return to domesticity, with a little bit of philosophical reflection serving as an epilogue. Ishmael compares the whale oil to “hot punch,” which is put into barrels and then stored below. The storage of the oil will provide a narrative crux later in the voyage, when Starbuck notices that some of the barrels have been leaking.
Ishmael describes the remarkable transformation of the Pequod that takes immediately afterward, as the ship is returned to a pristine condition that belies its recent activities of slaughter and butchery. Among its properties, Ishmael tells us, “sperm oil possesses a singularly cleansing virtue” so that the decks of a whaler”never look so white as just after what they call an affair of oil.” The crew likewise cleans itself up, performing ablutions so that the sailors look “fresh and all aglow, as bridegrooms new-leaped from out the daintiest Holland.”
Ishmael thus creates certain continuities with the thematic and symbolic patterns laid down in