Again I lag, no steady chapter-a-day, alas. But herewith, a long chapter: The Ship.
Chapter XVI: The Ship
Queequeg, for unexplained reasons, wants Ishmael to pick a ship for the both of them. Ishmael settles on the Pequod. This is one of those rare long chapters. Here we are introduced to the two ship owners, Peleg and Bildad, good cop and bad cop, who offer a very low portion of the proceeds of the trip as payment or a ridiculous tiny portion of the proceeds of the trip as payment. Ishmael asks after the ship’s captain, Ahab, and learns that he is sick, or rather, not sick, but disturbed of mind, closeted away from the world, agitated…and that he has lost a leg. “Young man, come nearer to me: it was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat!” There’s talk of how Ahab is named for a Biblical king, and a nasty one at that. A native woman has said that his name is prophetic. Peleg calls him “a good man—not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man,” only he’s been moody since he lost his leg.
Chapter XV: Chowder
Ishmael sees portents of doom en route to the inn in Nantucket where he and Queequeg will stay. There they are served excellent chowder, cod or clam, night and day.
Chapter XIV: Nantucket
“Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it.” It’s a sliver of a sand in the middle of the sea. It is all about the sea. All people who have ever lived in Nantucket are bound up in the sea.
Chapter XIII: The Wheelbarrow
Ishmael and Queequeg wheel their gear down to the boat that’ll take them to Nantucket in a wheelbarrow. Queequeg tells a story about how the first time he saw a wheelbarrow, he strapped it to his chest and carried both wheelbarrow and trunk. Then he tells a story about a white naval captain barging into a wedding feast in Queequeg’s village and using the central, honoured drinking bowl as a finger bowl.
On board the ship, “bumpkins” stare and make comments about Ishmael and Queequeg being so companionable. One of them imitates Queequeg behind his back, so Queequeg grabs him, throws him up in the air so as to perform a complete somersault. The man is affronted and complains to the captain. The captain threatens Queequeg. The sails go crazy. The boom crashes back and forth across the deck and knocks the somersaulted bumpkin overboard. Queequeg lassos and secures the boom, dives overboard (it’s cold, December) and rescues the bumpkin, treating it all as if it were no big deal. Ishmael is happy to have such a man as his friend and companion. “From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yeah, till poor Queequeg took his last long dive.”
Chapter XII: Biographical
Here is how this chapter starts: “Queequeg was a native of Kokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.” This sounds like a line from a children’s fantasy, and Queequeg is as constructed a “savage” as ever there were. Melville claims for him royal ancestry. He is a Prince, a prince who longed to know more of the not the world, but of “Christendom,” who boarded by skill an American sailing ship that had declined to take him on as a crew member and by force of will stayed and moved from the ruling class to the working class. But Melville’s construction of Queequeg is a little complicated. Though Queequeg “was actuated by a profound desire to learn among the Christians, the arts whereby to make his people still happier than they were; and more than that, still better than they were. But, alas! the practices of whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked; infinitely more so than all his father’s heathens.” Queequeg’s impressions of “Christendom” are not improved with acquaintance of shore life, either. So Melville uses Queequeg to set up the expectation that Christianity is the true religion and the right way (why would Queequeg think that, Melville?) and then to become almost the true Christian himself in seeing how the purported Christians are not.
Anyway, Ishmael says he’s going to Nantucket to find a ship to sail on. Queequeg says he’ll go with him.