Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.
Contemplating Queequeg’s serene comportment, Ishmael develops a great respect for his new friend, noting that “[y]ou cannot hide the soul” under tattoos and appearances. Although Ishmael still thinks of Queequeg as a savage, the latter becomes, in Ishmael’s mind, “George Washington cannibalistically developed.” Ishmael makes some small gestures of friendship toward Queequeg, and the two become friendly. He admires Queequeg’s sincerity and lack of Christian “hollow courtesies.” According to the customs of Queequeg’s home, he and Queequeg are “married” after a social smoke out of the tomahawk pipe. Queequeg gives Ishmael half his belongings, and the two continue to share a bed, having many long chats. Ishmael even consents to join in Queequeg’s idol worship, explaining to his Christian readers that he is only obeying the Golden Rule, as he would hope the “savage” to join in Christian worship with him.
Queequeg and Ishmael awaken in the middle of the night. It is cold and the warmth of the bed and of their companionship is pleasant. They share a smoke, and Queequeg begins to recount his life story.
Queequeg is a native of a South Pacific island called Kokovoko, which is “not down on any map; true places never are.” The king’s son, he desired to leave the island to see the world and, he claims, to learn about Christianity. When a whaling ship stopped at Kokovoko, he sought passage but was denied a job. He stowed away on the departing ship and, through sheer persistence, was finally taken on as a whaler. He has since become a skilled harpooner. Although his father is probably dead by now, meaning that Queequeg would be king, he can never go back, because his interaction with Christianity has made him unfit to ascend his homeland’s “pure and undefiled throne.” For Queequeg, Ishmael notes, “that barbed iron [Queequeg’s harpoon] was in lieu of a scepter now.” The two plan to go to Nantucket to find a berth aboard a whaler.
Together, Ishmael and Queequeg set off for Nantucket with a wheelbarrow full of their things. The people of New Bedford stare at this white man and “savage” behaving so friendly with each other. Queequeg tells Ishmael stories about the first time that he used a wheelbarrow (he picked it up instead of wheeling it) and about a white captain who attended a wedding feast on Kokovoko and made a fool of himself. On the ferry to Nantucket, a bumpkin mimics Queequeg. Queequeg flips the man around in the air to rebuke him and is subsequently scolded by the captain. A moment later, a rope in the ferry’s rigging breaks, and the bumpkin is swept overboard as the ferry goes out of control. Queequeg takes charge of the ropes to secure the ferry and then dives into the water to save the man who has gone overboard, which wins everyone’s respect.
Ishmael digresses from the story to discuss the island of Nantucket. He details some of the legends about its founding and some of the tall tales that are told about life on the island. He notes that a Nantucketer “owns” the seas and that this “empire,” covering two-thirds of the globe, is larger than that of any country.
Ishmael and Queequeg settle at the Try-Pots for the night, an inn owned by the cousin of the Spouter-Inn’s owner. Ishmael is disturbed by an old topmast above the inn that looks ominously like a gallows. Everything on Nantucket is touched by the sea: the milk tastes of fish, and the innkeeper’s wife wears a necklace of fish vertebrae. The two friends have a supper of hearty chowder.
Probably the best book ever written.Profound psychological insights into human behaviour .
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Frankly, I find Moby Dick to be a very enigmatic story, but it was required reading for my college degree and I am still trying to understand the importance of this novel.
A man obsessed with a white whale must be a metaphor for man's quest, but it is still puzzling to me.
I am hoping to Spark Notes can consolidate and distill the message, but life always has more pressing matters for me to attend to than deciphering old texts.
Can anyone tell me why this enduring novel is important - in 25 words or less?