Anne Fleming

Moby-Dick, Day 14

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.


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