These chapters return to the topic of male bonding and homoeroticism explored in the early stages of the relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael. The monkey rope—“an elongated Siamese ligature”—connects the two men as if they were twins. They are joined in a “wedding” once again and, “should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honor demand . . . that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag [Ishmael] down in his wake.” This new bond makes the “till death do us part” clause of the Christian marriage ceremony literal: only death can sever the tie that binds Ishmael to Queequeg at this moment. As they depend on one another for their very lives, the bonds between the two are stronger than the relationship they had back on land. These men know they can trust one another because that trust is tested on a daily basis. This all-male world is more egalitarian, more open, and even more loving than the heterosexual world back home. By using the vocabulary of love and marriage—the primary relationships in our society—to describe the bonds between these men, Melville suggests that these shipboard pairings are models of ideal partnership.
The encounter with the Jeroboam is one of the most important of the series of visits that the Pequod entertains from other ships. The introduction of a group of outsiders provides perspective on the actions of Ahab and his crew. The appearance of the crazed prophet Gabriel invites the reader to compare Gabriel’s mental state to that of Ahab and Fedallah: each of these characters claims to possess prophetic or occult knowledge, but each of them may be crazy.