During the “gams” between two ships in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick, the communication- or lack thereof- between the ships often serves as foreshadowing of the Pequod’s ultimate demise.
The gams, meant to be seen as a social gathering between the two ships to exchange mail and news, occur during Moby-Dick nine times. Each of the gams sheds some light on the quest for the great whale, but ultimately it is the communication that occurs between the Pequod and the other ships, particularly the Albatross, the Jeroboam, and the Samuel Enderby, that dictates the kind of information that will be gathered during the gam.
The gam between the Pequod and the Albatross is the first gam in Moby-Dick. Although the gam with the Albatross is not particularly successful, the lack of communication between the Pequod and the Albatross during the gam has much significance. When the Pequod and the Albatross first meet, Ahab’s first question to the captain of the ship is “Have you seen the White Whale?” This same question is asked of the other eight ships that the Pequod encounters, and when Ahab doesn’t get a good answer to this question, he refuses to participate in the gam. Because Ahab is so focused on whether the captain of the ship has seen the white whale, he is unwilling to participate in gams unless he can use them to gain information relevant to his quest.
Ahab waits anxiously for the captain of the Albatross, to answer his question. But the captain’s speaking trumpet falls into the sea, and his unamplified voice doesn’t carry in the wind. To the Pequod’s sailors, the accident is a symbol of Moby-Dick’s evil power. It is also Melville’s way of saying that there are mysteries that can’t be communicated to others, and that the future is unknowable. Melville gives another clue to Ahab’s personality when he describes the captain’s reaction as the wakes of the two ships intermingle and schools of fish that had been swimming alongside the Pequod go over to the Albatross. Such movements by fish are common at sea, but Ahab reacts with shock. Ahab reacts in this way because he realizes that his quest for Moby-Dick is unreasonable, even abhorrent, a judgment confirmed by the departure of the fish. He also wants help-spiritual or physical-in his quest, and is saddened when the fish won’t accompany him. Seeing an albatross at sea is usually a good omen. However, because of the little communication between the Pequod and the Albatross, as well as the schools of fish going to the Albatross, the gam is seen as a bad omen. If communication between the two ships has been better, we may have found out more about the White Whale and Ahab’s quest. But, since communication wasn’t possible between the Pequod and the Albatross, the mysteries of the Albatross will never be communicated to the Pequod.
In the rest of the gams in Moby-Dick, communication plays a big part in foreshadowing for the Pequod. In the gam with the Jeroboam, for example, the sailors from the Pequod can’t step aboard the Jeroboam because of an epidemic that has broken out on the Jeroboam.
Thus, communication is limited between the two ships, foreshadowing bad news for the Pequod. Indeed, in every way the Jeroboam is a warning to Ahab. Gabriel is one of a series of prophets able to speak a mad truth about the dangers of Ahab’s quest. To Gabriel, as to Ahab, the whale is a symbol of God’s wrath. But where Gabriel madly flees the whale, Ahab pursues it. By contrast, the gams where communication is better between the two ships often bring better news. During the gam with the Samuel Enderby, Ahab finally finds a ship that has seen the white whale, after dealing with inexperienced ships that had never even heard of Moby-Dick before. Even during the Samuel Enderby gam, communication is limited because Ahab can’t set foot on the ship because of his leg. The captain of the Samuel Enderby, Boomer, is in a similar position, as he lost his arm to the white whale. Boomer tells Ahab that he glimpsed Moby-Dick twice more, but didn’t chase him. Losing one arm is enough. But what Boomer thinks is best left alone is the very thing that most draws Ahab. When Bunger jokingly checks Ahab to see if he’s feverish, Ahab roars into a rage so great Boomer asks if he’s crazy. But the man Boomer asks is Fedallah, fully a part of the mad quest. Ahab and Fedallah leave the Samuel Enderby, ignoring Boomer’s shouts. Boomer and Bunger are representatives of a common-sense attitude toward the dangers of the world-if something has injured you once, it should be avoided in the future. And Bunger, in his dry, witty way, gives the common sense view that the whale is not evil, merely clumsy. But Ahab is incapable of such sense about the creature that maimed him. The gams highlight Ahab’s obsession with Moby-Dick by introducing characters like Boomer, who have seen the white whale but did not react as strongly as Ahab.
The communication between the Pequod and the other ships during the gams in Moby-Dick serves as foreshadowing for what happens to the Pequod at the end of the novel. A lack of communication between the two ships, as seen in the Albatross gam, shows a lack of understanding. Limited communication, or none, foreshadows negatively for the Pequod. Ahab also limits the communication during the gams, because his obsession with the white whale prevents communication. The communication during the presentation of the gams during Moby-Dick is an indicator of what information will be gathered during the gam.