Annotations and Commentary on Moby Dick

by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2018

Last Updated 24 Feb 2018

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CHAPTER 13: Wheelbarrow

"Next morning, Monday, after disposing of the embalmed head to a barber, for a block, ..." A barber's block is a wooden model of a head used for fitting wigs, so the head must be embalmed full-sized rather than a "shrunken head". (Readers unfamiliar with the term "barber's block" might parse this as Ishmael trading the head to a barber and getting a block in return.)

The punchbowl story reminds me of several similar stories--the person at a fancy dinner who when given a fingerbowl thinks it is a beverage, or the soup; the person who tears open the tea bag to make tea and, upon being admonished that that is wrong, then drop the unopened sugar packet directly into the cup; and so on. Melville's point, of course, is that culture and etiquette is arbitrary, and while he is not entirely subtle, the point is still valid.

"How I snuffed that Tartar air!" Is that the air of Tatary, or is it air that is like "a person of irritable or violent temper"?

"Lubber-like" means "like a clumsy seaman", a lubber being a clumsy seaman. This seems odd, since we think of "land-lubber" as deriving from "land-lover", but "lubber" does not mean "lover".

Queequeg, feeling himself slighted at one point, tosses a sailor in the air, and "then slightly tapping his stern in mid-somerset, the fellow landed with bursting lungs upon his feet." A "somerset" is a somersault.

CHAPTER 14: Nantucket

"Nantucket! ... how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse." The Eddystone lighthouse is on the Eddystone Rocks, nine miles off the coast of Cornwall. Nantucket is even more isolated, being about twenty miles off the coast of mainland Massachusetts and fifty miles from New Bedford, at the time the closest population center. On the other hand, Nantucket is large enough that it had a substantial population itself, rather than just a lighthouse keeper.

"What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That Himmalehan, salt-sea Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and malicious assaults!" A quohog is a thick-shelled American clam. The British editions call it the quahogs. Behring's Straits is obviously an old name for what we call the Bering Strait, and "Himmalehan" is Melville's spelling for Himalayan. Its use emphasizes the description of the whale in the preceding sentence as "most mountainous." At the time Melville was writing, the mastodon was (almost) the largest land animal known, hence the appropriateness of using that appellation for the whale, the largest sea animal. Dinosaur fossils were not identified as such until 1838, and it was not until the end of the 19th century that the larger species were found. However, mastodons were actually smaller than mammoths, so one might expect Melville to say "salt-sea Mammoth". The problem with that, however, is that the word "mammoth" has come to mean almost anything big and would not necessarily evoke the image of a specific large land animal the way "mastodon" does.

"And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's." The Nantucketers are compared to ants, symbols of industriousness and (along with bees) animal symbols of the "work ethic". The Alexander referred to here is Alexander the Great. The "three pirate powers" were Russia, Prussia, and Austria, who divided Poland up among themselves at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

America added Mexico to Texas as a result of the Mexican-American War (1844-1847). The references to Cuba and Canada are more speculative as to what America wanted to do. The United States had invaded Canada in the past, and during the first half of the 19th century, Cuba was one of Spain's most loyal colonies, mostly out of fear of the United States. "Piling Cuba upon Canada" is a modification of Virgil's phrase "to pile Pelion on Ossa" (from the Georgics). The reference there is to two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, who piled Mount Pelion on Mount Ossa in their attempt to storm Mount Olympus. The English had been "swarming over" India since the 18th century (note the repetition of ant imagery), and in Melville's time India was still run/ruled by the East India Company. It would not be until 1858 (after the 1857 Indian Mutiny) that the British government would take over the governance of India.

"This terraqueous globe" is Earth, a mixture of land and earth surfaces, and approximately two-thirds of the surface is indeed water. (A more accurate, but less poetic, fraction would be 70%.)

"[He] hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps." Chamois are "goat-antelopes" that live in the mountains of Europe (the Alps, the Carpathians, the Tatras, the Balkans, and the Caucauses).

"[The] Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales." Actually, this is not likely. Walruses live in shallow waters, and the furthest away from land they get would be on the continental shelves. While that is out of sight of land, it is less likely that herds of whales would be rushing there rather than in deeper water. Melville's implication is that the ship is over deep ocean, but that is not the walrus's home.

"We cannibals must help these Christians." Queequeg neatly reverses the standard Christian explanation for why Christians send missionaries out to the "heathen".

CHAPTER 15: Chowder

"Hosea Hussey of the Try Pots" has a Biblical name--no surprise there, as almost everyone (well, all the Christians) in the novel has a Biblical name. Hosea was a prophet of doom and restoration, which might have some meaning, but then again, he is not exactly a major character. "Try pots" are the large kettles used to render down the whale oil on the ship. It seems odd to name a hotel after them, though I suppose the hotel may be best known for its restaurant.

"Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by asses' ears, swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in front of an old doorway." I assume "asses' ears" are some sort of hanging device, but I cannot find any references to them.

"Are these last [two large black pots] throwing out oblique hints touching Tophet?" This probably refers to the sacrifices to Moloch at the ancient Tophet rather than Hell, although those sacrifices were by burning directly, not throwing into large bubbling pots.

Mrs. Hussey "turned round to us and said--'Clam or Cod?'" I cannot help but think of New Mexico's Official State Question: "Red or green?" (referring to chili).

"It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt." And thus Melville becomes part of the great tradition of novels with recipes in them. No, it is not a detailed recipe, but it is the way recipes were given in Melville's time. No one measured anything (measuring utensils are a 20th century invention), and it was assumed you could figure out how hot and how long to cook something. Hazel nuts are also called filberts; ship biscuit is just another name for hardtack.

The term "chowder head" comes from "cholter head", which comes from "jolter head", which means heavy and dull. This is an example of a word mutating into a more familiar word that sounds like it, but has no etymological connection.

Stiggs "was gone four years and a half, with only three barrels of ile ..." Ile sounds French, but since "three islands" makes no sense, I think it is just a strange pronunciation of "oil".

CHAPTER 16: The Ship

"Queequeg now gave me to understand, that he had been diligently consulting Yojo--the name of his black little god ..." This is the first time we find out the god's name. "Yojo" seems to mean something like "healthy maintenance" in Japanese, or the name of an area where yoga is practiced, but I suspect Melville just made it up as a short name that sounded like something from the South Seas.

"I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo's judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god, who perhaps meant well enough upon the whole, but in all cases did not succeed in his benevolent designs." Contrast this view of Yojo as benevolent but not omnipotent with the traditional view of the Christian God as both benevolent and omnipotent. The latter sounds better, but the fact is that often the omnipotence seems to be far more evident than the benevolence, for example, in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 or the story of Job. Melville might be suggesting that a less powerful but more benevolent god is preferable. The end of the novel does not entirely support that view, but throughout one sees many examples of the apparent absence of benevolence, so it is not to be totally discounted.

"Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our little bedroom--for it seemed that it was some sort of Lent or Ramadan, or day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer with Queequeg and Yojo that day; how it was I never could find out, for, though I applied myself to it several times, I never could master his liturgies and XXXIX Articles--leaving Queequeg, then, fasting on his tomahawk pipe ..." During the forty days of Lent, Roman Catholics "fast", which apparently meant abstaining from meat and eating only one full meal a day (though small amounts of food at other times were permitted). (I use the past tense, because the current rules are not as strict.) I presume the Protestant churches have variations on this. Greek Orthodox fasting during Lent is much more complicated with meat, fish, dairy products, oils, and alcoholic beverages are prohibited most days, with some easing up on special days within Lent. Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, which means no food or beverages (including water) between sunrise and sunset for the entire month. (In Judaism, fast days mean no food or water for slightly more than twenty-four hours.)

When Ishmael says "how it was I never could find out," he may be thinking of the fact that all of the fast days he mentioned (and others he did not) drift around on the common calendar. Lent remains in the February-April timeframe (though the exact dates vary from year to year and the Eastern Orthodox dates are different from the Western Christian ones). Ramadan drifts even more, since the Islamic calendarr is a lunar calendar not adjusted to stay in sync with the solar one, so Ramadan cycles through the entire year, coming a little bit earlier each solar year.

The XXXIX Articles are the doctrinal statements that defined the Church of England during the English Reformation. By extension, Ishmael uses the term to mean the doctrinal statements that define "Yojoism", or at least explain the fast days.

However, Queequeg breaks with all tradition by "fasting on his tomahawk pipe ..." since Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all seem to agree that one must also abstain from smoking during fasting.

Looking for a ship, Ishmael says, "I learnt that there were three ships up for three-years' voyages--The Devil-dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. Devil-Dam, I do not know the origin of; Tit-Bit is obvious; Pequod, you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians; now extinct as the ancient Medes." The Devil-Dam would be the Devil's Wife, the Tit-Bit a small pleasing morsel. The Pequod was named after what we call the Pequot tribe. The Medes did not so much become extinct as become assimilated into the peoples around them. The Medes themselves left no written records.

Ishmael talks about "square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box galliots, and what not ..." A lugger is "a small sailing ship with two or three masts and a lugsail on each." A lugsail is "an asymmetrical four-sided sail that is hoisted on a steeply inclined yard." A junk is not Japanese, but is rather "a flat-bottomed sailing vessel typical in China and the East Indies, with a prominent stem, a high stern, and lugsails." A galliot is "a single-masted Dutch cargo boat," and "butter-box" is a derogatory name that the British gave the Dutch during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century (sort of like "frogs" for the French).

The Pequod "was a ship of the old school, ..., with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her." This refers to an older style of furniture in which the base of the legs looked like an animal's claw.

"[The Pequod's] old hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia." This refers to Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt in 1798-1801 and Russia in 1812. Strictly speaking, the French never got as far as Siberia.

"[The Pequod's] masts stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne." Medieval legend identifies the Three Kings of Cologne as the Three Magi. Presumably there is a statue somewhere of them, though the primary object associated with them is a reliquary containing their bones.

"Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled." Thomas Becket was a friend of Henry II of England. Henry made him Archbishop of Canterbury, assuming he could control Becket. When he discovered that was not the case, and that Becket was resisting all attempts by Henry to exercise control over the Church in England, he had Becket assassinated. (Some say he did not actually intend his question, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" to be taken as a command to kill him.) Becket was stabbed in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and when he was declared a martyr and a saint it became a major pilgrimage destination, and was the destination of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales two hundred years later. (By the way, the British editions have "Beckett", which makes no sense--wouldn't they know how to spell Becket's name?)

Old Captain Peleg is one the two main owners of the Pequod, Captain Bildad is the other, and Captain Ahab is the actual captain. Peleg was Shem's great-great-grandson (or Noah's great-great-great-grandson). [Genesis 10:22-25] The name "Peleg" means "division", and one assumption was that he lived around the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Earth was divided into many languages. (But that would imply he was born shortly after the division--if he were born before, how would they know to name him Peleg?)

Bildad the Shuhite was one of Job's "friends" in Job, though instead of comforting Job, he spends his time telling Job he must have done something wrong to earn all his difficulties.

Ahab was a king of Israel in the 9th century B.C.E. whose reign is described in I Kings 16:29-20:40. He married Jezebel, worshipped Baal, and in short, "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him." [I Kings 16:33] Not surprisingly, Captain Ahab is going to go down the same path, rejecting God and engaging in heathen ceremonies and worship. P>

"[The Pequod's] unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. ... [There was] a strange sort of tent, or rather wigwam, pitched a little behind the main-mast. ... It was of a conical shape, some ten feet high; consisting of the long, huge slabs of limber black bone taken from the middle and highest part of the jaws of the right-whale." Everything on the Pequod that can be made of materials from the whale is made of materials from the whale. First, it is practical: the ship is at sea for months if not years on end, and if something needs repair, there is not a supply of lumber from which to repair it. Second, it is a religious statement: just like all of Nature, whales were put on earth to serve man. And third, it turns the ship into a sea-going trophy room. You cannot mount heads the way you do for land animals, but just as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast sings, "I use antlers in all of my decorating," the crew or the Pequod uses whale parts.

"... like the top-knot on some old Pottowottamie Sachem's head." The British edition spells it "Potowotamie"; other spellings can also be found. The Pottowottamie were a tribe in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois). The actual term for the Pottowottamie sachem is "Ogema".

"There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the appearance of the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most old seamen, and heavily rolled up in blue pilot-cloth, cut in the Quaker style ..." The Quakers believed in plain clothing, so presumably one would not find shiny buttons or elaborate decoration on his clothing.

Peleg asks Ishmael, "Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!" This is yet another reminder of Jonah, but it makes me wonder whether Peleg has any notion of how whale digestion works. Ishmael may be a little clearer on it, since he replies, "I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact." In other words, sure, if I have to, but I cannot imagine any situation in which it would be.

Note also that Peleg uses the Quaker style of speech, with actual second-person pronouns (thee, thou, ye, etc.).

Ishmael told Peleg that he had been four years in the merchant service (which Peleg is very dismissive of), and when asked why he wants to go whaling, that he wants to see the world. So Peleg tells him, "... step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there." So Ishmael looks out over open ocean and thinks, "The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see. So he reports to Peleg, "Not much, nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think." And Peleg tells him, "Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where you stand?"

In other words, all Ishmael is going to see is open ocean, and that looks the same everywhere. It is no wonder that Peleg pooh-poohs the merchant service--in the merchant service you are on a ship that goes from port to port, and while you spend a lot of time on open ocean, you also spend a lot of time in various ports while cargo is delivered and taken on. In the merchant service, you see a lot of different places; on a whaler you see a lot of what is effectively the same place.

The weather bow is the side of the bow towards the wind.

The flood-tide is the incoming tide.

Captain Peleg "had built upon [the Pequod's] original grotesqueness, and inlaid it, all over, with a quaintness both of material and device, unmatched by anything except it be Thorkill-Hake's carved buckler or bedstead." So far as I can tell, Thorkill-Hake is a fictional Norwegian warrior of the Viking era. <

By the 19th century, sailors knew how to use the currents as well as the winds, so the longest time between ports was probably only a couple of months, and that only in crossing the oceans. Once in (say) the South Pacific, one would visit ports with a much higher frequency.

One peculiarity with all three captains is that they are known only by their given names. (One has to assume that these Biblical names are their given names, rather than family names, since that is what one sees in late 18th and early 19th century names. Indeed, Ishmael later says, "So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture names--a singularly common fashion on the island ...") This is not standard usage on ships, so Melville must have some reason for it. A couple of ideas come to mind. One is that whaling by its nature separates men from their families, and so in some sense they are not deserving of family names. Another is that whaling is a return to the primitive (or at least the 19th century view of the primitive) particularly given the non-European members of the crew. And family names are a sign of European civilization--none of the non-white crew have family names. Indeed, many Europeans had no family names until the 20th century, and even today Icelanders use patronymics rather than family names. On a whaling ship, family names are superfluous. What is important is the individual (the given name) and his hierarchical rank (Captain, First Mate, etc.).

(Note that Ishmael has no family name--but then, "Ishmael" is a pseudonym. Queequeg has no family name either. But the people of New Bedford and Nantucket--Peter Coffin, for example--have both given and family names.)

"Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure the peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance." Of course, the Quakers' traditional pacifism is directed at other human beings--there is, for example, no history of vegetarianism among them. Their presence in Nantucket dates back to the early 18th century, and they were the first church to organize there. One of the organizers was named Mary [Coffin] Starbuck, so Melville's choice of the names "Coffin" and "Starbuck" has a historical basis, though the teetotaling aspect of the Quakers makes Peter Coffin's ownership of a bar a bit problematic.

"And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north ..." The belief in Melville's time was that a larger brain meant a greater intelligence. And of course voyagers were familiar with the fact that the Southern hemisphere had entirely different constellations than the Northern. (In a related piece of astronomy, it is known that ancient Greek sailors circumnavigated Africa in 600 B.C.E., because they reported the sun being to the north of them. [Herodotus, Histories 4.42] They had no understanding of the astronomy that would cause this phenomenon, and so would not have made it up.)

Bildad is another "fighting Quaker": "Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore." Here Melville makes the distinction between humans and whales. He also makes a pun: a "tun" is a cask or barrel, but one can easily read this as "tons upon tons". For that matter, a "tun" is also an old English measure of volume, about 954 liters, which conveniently works out to be about a ton in weight if it is water.

A "Categut whaleman" is a whaler of some sort, but I cannot find an explanation of "Categut" anywhere.

"Ship's articles" are basically the contract that seamen sign when they join a ship's crew.

Ishmael decides, "I made no doubt that from all I had heard I should be offered at least the 275th lay--that is, the 275th part of the clear net proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to. ... Upon the whole, I thought that the 275th lay would be about the fair thing, but would not have been surprised had I been offered the 200th, considering I was of a broad-shouldered make." In this, he seems to be just like all too many young people today, because he ends up with the 300th lay, or about 8% less than the 275th lay, or 33% less than the 200th lay.

At first Bildad offers him the 777th lay. Some Christians believe that, just as 666 is the Number of the Beast, 777 is the number of perfection. And "though from the magnitude of the figure it might at first deceive a landsman, yet the slightest consideration will show that though seven hundred and seventy-seven is a pretty large number, yet, when you come to make a TEENTH of it, you will then see, I say, that the seven hundred and seventy-seventh part of a farthing is a good deal less than seven hundred and seventy-seven gold doubloons; and so I thought at the time." The mathematics of this is something I fear today's students might have problems with; is anyone learning reciprocals these days?

A stiver is a small Dutch coin. It still exists (or did until the implementation of the Euro) as one-twentieth of a florin or gulden.

Peleg talls Ishmael that Ahab was "a crowned king" and Ishmael responds, "And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?" But Bildad admonishes him, "Captain Ahab did not name himself. 'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old squaw Tistig, at Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove prophetic. And, perhaps, other fools like her may tell thee the same." That raises the question of whether the names or prophetic, or causal. Is it that Tistig can foretell the future, or is it that Tistig knows that people's names affect their personalities?

Apparently Ishmael has given that pseudonym to Peleg and Bildad when he signs on, because otherwise Peleg's statement about people telling Ishmael that his name may be prophetic makes no sense.

Gay Head was a town at the Gay Head cliffs of clay on Martha's Vineyard. In 1998 the residents voted 79 to 76 to officially rename it Aquinnah, a Wampanoag word meaning "land under the hill." The claim was that they wanted to reflect the Wampanoag heritage (and the population is over a third Native American), but one suspects that the changing meaning of the old name may have had something to do with it as well.

Of Ahab, Peleg says, "Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals ... I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody--desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. ... Besides, my boy, he has a wife--not three voyages wedded--a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!" This tells us things about Ahab that humanize him, but then vanish from the tale. He does speak like an educated man, rather than a common sailor, but of his personality we see only the moody and savage--it never "passes off." And though he has a family, he seems to have abandoned his family with his family name. We also learn that Ahab was the best harpoonist out of Nantucket. (It is not clear exactly how good that is, since none of the three harpoonists on the Pequod are from Nantucket, or even from the United States.)

CHAPTER 17: The Ramadan

"I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name." The ants and the toad-stool do not seem to be specific to any particular story, but I cannot help but feel that the reference to the "deceased landed proprietor" is supposed to have a specific referent.

"I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;--but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all--Presbyterians and Pagans alike--for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." Ishmael begins by talking about how absurd Queequeg's religion is, and just when he has gotten the reader to agree with him, he throws out the zinger: that Presbyterians are just as "dreadfully cracked about the head" in regards to religion as the Pagans they denigrate are.

Ishmael becomes convinced that Queequeg is in trouble in his locked room, and thinks, "Apoplexy!" Then he meets the chamber-maid and "quickly [states his] suspicions to her," and she cries out, "Mistress! murder! Mrs. Hussey! apoplexy!" Apparently "apoplexy" was not a mere passing thought, but Ishmael must genuinely have thought that Queequeg had suddenly lost consciousness (the historical meaning of apoplexy). Where the chambermaid got "Murder!" is not clear, but probably from her own over-active imagination.

"Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one hand and a vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the occupation of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black boy meantime. ... I was unmethodically rushing up stairs again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the mustard-pot and vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance." "Castor" is apparently an alternate spelling for "caster", a small bottle, pot, or shaker for holding a condiment. "The entire castor of her countenance" is a play on words of the previous "castor" and the phrase "cast of countenance" (meaning form, appearance, or character).

The "little black boy" is a presumably a servant, since slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1781. He is a parallel on land to Pip on the sea.

"It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again there goes another counterpane--God pity his poor mother!--it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?--there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with--"no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;"--might as well kill both birds at once." Stiggs's suicide was mentioned earlier. While Mrs. Hussey tries to seem concerned, her practicality wins out in trying to pay for only one sign even though the two admonitions are so disparate.

Queequeg is "squatting on his hams ..." A ham is a cut of meat from the hind thigh of an animal, so Queequeg is squatting on his legs. This sounds a bit redundant--how else could he squat?

[His] Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very punctual then." Another reference that seems to refer to the Muslim Ramadan cycling through the year.

"schooner ... brig" A schooner has fore and aft sails with the forward mast no taller than the rear masts. A brig has two square-rigged masts.

Queequeg has missed breakfast and lunch, and Ishmael admonishes him, "For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." Between this and the "apoplexy" concerns, Ishmael seems rather excitable; surely no one would think that not eating for a single day will starve an otherwise healthy person. (See my comments earlier on Jewish and Muslim fasting.)

"But as soon as the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got ... and said his Ramadan was over." Apparently Queequeg's religious days run from sunrise to sunrise (rather than the sunset to sunset of Jewish days, or the sunrise to sunset of Muslim fasting). This is re-inforced by the earlier statement, "Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our little bedroom ..."

"I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him." Then Ishmael tries to convince Queequeg that all this fasting and mortification of the flesh is contrary to reason and causes "dyspepsia": "hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans. I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great feast given by his father the king, on the gaining of a great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening."

"Dyspepsia" is simply indigestion. Queequeg clearly refutes Ishmael's contention that abstinence causes dyspepsia; rather, it is caused (at least in his case) by over-indulgence, and one could certainly argue that it is unlikely that fasting would cause indigestion at all. Also, Ishmael is having a bit of fun with us, setting so precise a time as "two o'clock in the afternoon" in a culture without timekeeping devices other than the sun, the moon, and the stars.

A pilau is a dish of rice flavored with spices and cooked in stock, to which meat or fish may be added.

It is unlikely that parsley was placed in the mouths, though, as parsley is a Mediterranean herb, and while one finds it throughout the lands settled by Mediterraneans, I do not think it would be found on Rokovoko.

At first when Peleg says "he let no cannibals on board that craft, unless they previously produced their papers," one might think he meant some sort of sailor's papers, and it sounds almost like Ishmael's comments about not sleeping two in a bed, but then applying all sorts of easy qualifiers on it. But no, Peleg wants baptism papers, presumably to re-assure himself that the cannibal has abandoned his cannibal ways.

CHAPTER 18: His Mark

In response to a question about Queequeg's religion, Ishmael says, "Why, ... he's a member of the first Congregational Church. ... Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is. I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands." This is more than a way to placate Peleg and Bildad about hiring Queequeg; it is a statement of Ishmael's religious beliefs. All his other statements and attitudes support this and provide a contrast to the religious beliefs common in New England at that time.

It is true that earlier he said, "I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church." [See Chapter 10.] But now he says, "[Queequeg] no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did." One could, I suppose, argue that he is sincere in his first statement and sarcastic in his second, but I do not think so. Unless he is some sort of henotheist, he is being sarcastic both times, and believes neither church "true" or "infallible," although both claim it.

"Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman" has another one of those Biblical names, this one even more bizarre than most. "Deuteronomy" comes from the Greek words for "second" and "law" and refers to the second giving of the law. It hardly seems like a reasonable first name. But this was a generation in which there was a general named States Rights Gist, and in our time we have gone through a phase of names such as America, Sunshine, and Freedom.

The Philistines were ancient enemies of Israel, but the term has also come to mean someone generally uncultured, a barbarian.

Melville must have liked the word "skylarking". First he uses it to refer to Peter Coffin's misleading of Ishmael regarding Queequeg. Then Bildad uses it regarding Queequeg's membership in the First Congregational Church, and later Stubb is accused of skylarking.

The Hittites to which Bildad refers are the Biblical Hittites, who were a tribe (or perhaps different tribes at different times) which may not be the same as the tribe known archaeologically as the Hittites. Then are often allies of the Hebrews rather than enemies, so while Bildad sees Queequeg as a Philistine--an enemy--Ishmael is a Hittite, or an ally.

Peleg calling Queequeg "Quohog" is an example of how little importance he attaches to him as an individual. Certainly "Quohog" is an obvious misnomer, being (as earlier noted) a type of clam. Later he calls him "Hedgehog" as well.

Queequeg gets the 90th lay, while Ishmael got the 300th lay. That means that Queequeg would get more than three times as much as Ishmael. This reflects both the high value of a good harpooner and the low value of an inexperienced whaler such as Ishmael.

When Queequeg signs his contract, he uses his sign rather than a signature, and his sign is the symbol for infinity (the lemniscate), invented by John Wallace in 1655. Is Queequeg a connection to the infinite, in the spiritual sense?

"[Bildad] took out a bundle of tracts, and selecting one entitled "The Latter Day Coming; or No Time to Lose," placed it in Queequeg's hands ..." There may well have been such a tract, but so far as I can tell, Melville made up the title. Note that the "Latter Day" referred to here is clearly Judgment Day, while the "Latter Day" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" means merely the modern day (modern times).

Bildad exhorts Queequeg, "I beseech thee, remain not for aye a Belial bondsman. Spurn the idol Bell, and the hideous dragon ..." "Bell" is the idol Bel from the Apocryphal book "Bel and the Dragon". It also appeared as Chapter 14 of the Book of Daniel in the original King James Version, but was later dropped from the Protestant Bible. [See note for Chapter 3.] It is mentioned in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles. [See note for Chapter 16.]

You might think that "Belial bondsman" also refers to Bel (and I suspect that Melville intends us to believe that Bildad thinks so), but in fact Belial is one of the four Crown Princes of Hell and is mentioned in II Corinthians 6:15.

Peleg says, "Pious harpooneers never make good voyagers--it takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooneer is worth a straw who aint pretty sharkish. There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his plaguy soul, that he shrinked and sheered away from whales, for fear of after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones." This is presumably the same Nathan Swain who killed fifteen whales in a single day with a single harpoon. [See note for Chapter 3.] However, a boat-header is the one in charge of the whaleboat, who usually stands in the stern and kills the harpooned whale with a lance. It would seem unusual for one to be both a harpooner and a boat-header.

To "join the meeting" is the Quaker equivalent of joining a church. The origin of the name "Davy Jones" is unclear, but "Davy Jones' Locker" is the sea floor, the final resting place of drowned sailors. A jury-mast is a temporary mast erected to replace one that has been broken or lost. (Its rigging is also temporary, hence our term "jury-rigged".)

When Bildad suggests that Peleg was pious during a terrible storm--at least in the sense of thinking of "Death and the Judgment", Peleg replies, "When every moment we thought the ship would sink! Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands--how to rig jury-masts--how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of." This reminds one of the claim that there are no atheists in foxholes. Bildad puts forth what is basically that premise, while Peleg denies it, in some sense claiming that in the heat of battle (or other crisis), religion is the last thing on people's minds. (Then again, there is, I suppose, a difference between being in a foxhole waiting for a battle, and in the battle itself.)

CHAPTER 19: The Prophet

"He was but shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like the complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have been dried up." The word "trowsers" is an alternate spelling of "trousers"; apparently spelling was somewhat less strict in the 19th century and variants of words were common. Confluent small-pox is a severe form in which the lesions are not distinct but form large patches of disease.

"[Nothing] about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in Santa?-- heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver calabash he spat into?" A calabash is a bottle gourd. In this case, it seems to be a spittoon, possibly in the shape of a bottle gourd. (One professor seems to believe this sentence indicates that Ahab spat into the holy water because it follows some comment about a skrimmage in a church, but "calabash" is just too specific a word for a receptacle for holy water, which is usually called a font.)

"[If] you are only trying to bamboozle us, you are mistaken in your game." "Bamboozle" sounds like too new a word for Melville, but it actually dates to around 1700.

The stranger they meet is named Elijah. Elijah was a prophet during the reign of King Ahab, and indeed Ahab's major opponent, so the stranger is not just any prophet but the namesake of the original Ahab's nemesis.

Queequeg and Ishmael agree "that he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear." A bugbear is a type of hobgoblin, while a humbug is merely a deceiver.

However, there is still an element of doubt in Ishmael's mind as to whether Elijah was following them, or it was his imagination.

CHAPTER 20: All Astir

Peleg stays on board, while Bildad does the provisioning. Is this because Peleg is too easy-going, and as the more serious of the two, Bildad feels that he should do the negotiating? (Remember that Peleg offered a much bigger share to Ishmael than Bildad. [See note for Chapter 16.]

Regarding this provisioning, Ishmael says that "whaling ... necessitates a three-years' housekeeping upon the wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers. And though this also holds true of merchant vessels, yet not by any means to the same extent as with whalemen. For besides the great length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss of the very things upon which the success of the voyage most depends." We now understand why Peleg was so dismissive of the merchant service that Ishmael had seen, and apparently Ishmael has come to agree with him even before the voyage starts.

Aunt Charity is Captain Bildad's sister. Later we find out that Stubb is her brother-in-law. [See note for Chapter 21.] That means that:

CHAPTER 21: Going Aboard

When Queequeg uses a sleeping sailor as a sofa, Ishmael cries out, "[But] how hard he breathes, he's heaving himself; get off, Queequeg, you are heavy, it's grinding the face of the poor. Get off, Queequeg! Look, he'll twitch you off soon. I wonder he don't wake." This is an allusion to Isaiah 3:15: "What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts."

CHAPTER 22: Merry Christmas

"And, as for Captain Ahab, no sign of him was yet to be seen; only, they said he was in the cabin. But then, the idea was, that his presence was by no means necessary in getting the ship under weigh, and steering her well out to sea. Indeed, as that was not at all his proper business, but the pilot's ..." For most harbors, a specially licensed pilot is required to take the ships in and out. While captains are considered fine navigators on the open ocean, within the confines of a harbor, with other traffic, and shallower spots, a pilot specifically trained for that harbor is usually required by law.

Peleg says, "Well, call all hands, then. Muster 'em aft here--blast 'em!" and Bildad responds, "No need of profane words, however great the hurry, Peleg ..." But then later he cries out, "Aft here, ye sons of bachelors ..." so Bildad clearly has a very refined definition of what constitutes profanity. While we apply it to all sorts of "improper" language, in Melville's time, it appears to apply specifically to religious-based terminology, and "blast" was a synonym for "damn".

A capstan is "a mechanism for raising or lowering heavy weights [in this case the anchor] by winding cable around a vertically mounted spindle drum." A handspike is a bar used as a lever.

"And here Bildad, who, with Peleg, was one of the licensed pilots of the port--he being suspected to have got himself made a pilot in order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the ships he was concerned in, for he never piloted any other craft ..." Here's another example of the penny-pinching that seems to have gone on.

The whalers "roared forth some sort of a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley." Booble Alley was also mentioned in Melville's Redburn. It was a street in Liverpool's red-light district.

"Charity, his sister, had placed a small choice copy of Watts in each seaman's berth." Isaac Watts was an English hymn writer from the early 18th century. It is not clear what particular work Charity placed there. Possibly it was Improvement of the Mind, which went through many editions in the early 19th century, though it could have been a collection of hymns.

When Peleg cries out, "Spring, ... Quohog! spring, thou chap with the red whiskers; spring there, Scotch-cap; spring, thou green pants," it seems clear that as mangled as he gets Queequeg's name, at least he has some notion that Queequeg has a name, and what it sounds like. Everyone else is identified by whatever distinguishing visuals exist at the time, and "Scotch-cap" and "green pants" will almost definitely be unrecognizable to him after a change of clothes.

A windlass is similar to a capstan (see above), but is a horizontally mounted barrel rather than a vertical one.

The Pequod sails on Christmas Day. To some extent this indicates how disconnected it is from any considerations other than whaling--they do not delay even a day in order to celebrate Christmas. Many will also say this is merely the first of many indications that the Pequod will be abandoning "the Christian life" from a pagan existence. But it is also true that Christmas did not have the overwhelming significance in the early 19th century that it does now, and it was only with the rise of the social upheavals brought about by industrialization, transportation, and the Civil War that people started feeling the need for a major family holiday, and focused on Christmas. So at the time of the Pequod, it was becoming more popular, but was not yet the "stop-everything" holiday it has become.

Bildad sings, "Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, Stand dressed in living green. So to the Jews old Canaan stood, While Jordan rolled between." This is one of Watts's hymns.

When Ishmael thinks of "meads and glades so eternally vernal" he is thinking of meadows and glades, not honey wine.

Bildad's advice is a mixture of thrift and religion: "Don't stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent. within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind that cooper don't waste the spare staves. ... Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts." The last is a particularly fine touch, finding a rationale for breaking the prohibition against working on the Sabbath.

CHAPTER 23: The Lee Shore

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Evelyn C. Leeper