In this playlike scene, Ahab approaches the carpenter to be fitted for his new leg. He abuses the carpenter and discourses on hell and the feeling of a ghost leg. When Ahab leaves, the carpenter muses on the captain’s queerness.
Sailors discover that the oil casks in the hold are leaking. Starbuck informs Ahab and suggests that they stop to fix them, but Ahab refuses to stop, saying that he doesn’t care about the owners or profit. Starbuck objects, and Ahab points a musket at him. Says Starbuck, “I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.” After Starbuck departs, Ahab abruptly gives in and orders the casks repaired. Ishmael speculates that Ahab’s decision was a “prudential policy” to avoid angering the crew.
While the repairs are being made to the casks, Queequeg falls ill. Thinking he is going to die, he orders a coffin made and fills it with his harpoon, his idol, and various other important possessions. He lies in it and closes the cover, and Pip dances around the coffin. Pip asks Queequeg to look for the former’s old, sane self in paradise after he dies. Queequeg soon feels well again and emerges from his coffin. Ishmael attributes this recovery to Queequeg’s “savage” nature—Queequeg claims that he has willed himself back to health. Queequeg uses the coffin as a chest for his belongings and sets about copying the tattoos on his body onto the lid of the coffin. The tattoos were done by a prophet among his people and are supposed to depict “a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth.”
Ishmael ponders the meditative, serene Pacific Ocean. The sea promotes dreaminess and seems like heaven to him. Ishmael considers Ahab, noting that no such calming thoughts stir the captain’s brain.
Ishmael then describes the Pequod’s blacksmith, whose life on land disintegrated after he turned to drink. Echoing his own initial reasons for shipping aboard the Pequod, Ishmael explains that the sea beckons to brokenhearted men who long for death but cannot commit suicide.
Ahab asks the blacksmith to make a special harpoon with which to kill the White Whale. He gives the blacksmith the stubs of the nails of racehorse shoes, the toughest steel known, with which to make the weapon. Although Ahab gives the blacksmith directions, he soon takes over the crafting of the harpoon himself, hammering the steel on the anvil and tempering it with the blood of the three harpooners instead of water. The scene ends with Pip’s laughter ringing through the ship.