"The drama's done," says our narrator, called Ishmael, the sole survivor of this fictitional sinking of a whaleship by a Sperm Whale. One true and documented case, known to Melville, was the sinking of the Whaleship Essex of Nantucket, Captain George Pollard, Jr., by a Sperm Whale in the Pacific in 1820.
Ishmael, whose identity has been subordinated for many chapters, now must explain to his listeners how it was that he survived. It seems that he was assigned to Ahab's boat after Fedallah was lost. He was dumped out of the boat on the third day, but did not climb back in -- so he watched the sinking of the Pequod from a safe distance. He was able to describe how the very last sight of her was of Tashtego still nailing a red flag, together with the wing of an unlucky sea hawk, to the top of her mast as he and the ship sank beneath the water. This, of course, is a hard-to-swallow but symbolic statement of the Satanic nature of Ahab's voyage of revenge. But in the end it was Moby Dick, the archetype that inhabits the collective unconscious symbolized by the sea, who tasted revenge.
Parenthetically, It is remarkable that Melville would have Tashtego, the American Indian, be the human agent to drag the free-flying bird of prey down with the ship named for an American Indian tribe.
Although on the edge of the vortex caused by the sinking ship, nevertheless Ishmael found himself drawn in, spinning round and round: "Like another Ixion did I revolve." (Melville here shares his knowledge of obscure myth: Ixion was condemned by Zeus to ride an eternally revolving wheel in Hell). And what was Ishmael's life-preserver? Why Queequeg's coffin life-buoy, of course!
"And now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and,
owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin
life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by
my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and
night, I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming
sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the
savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day,
a sail drew nearer, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the
devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her
missing children, only found another orphan."
And so, Ishmael lived to tell the tale. Indeed, in Chapter 54 (The Town-Ho's Story) he tells us he had spun a yarn about Moby Dick while lounging around the piazza of the Golden Inn of Lima, Peru, with some Spanish dandies. Like his creator, Herman Melville, Ishmael made a name for himself out of a single voyage in a Nantucket whaleship.