Approaching the end of the year, Moby Dick would probably be the last book I’ll read for my WEM Project. This is a very interesting book, and I’m intending to chew it very slowly. As usual, I’ll begin with chapter posts—there are 135 chapters, by the way! I’ll post randomly every now and then, hopefully it will entertain you a bit before I get to my review… :)
Ishmael, the narrator
“Call me Ishmael” is probably one of the most memorable opening lines in literature. He is a sailor, used to work in merchant ships. He always loves the sea, and now is inspired to go for a whaling voyage. As Nantucket is the best and most famous place to go whaling (Nantucketers are the Kings of Sea!), there goes Ishmael. However, he must stay a night in New Bedford first, where he finds an old inn. The inn is fully occupied, but wait a second! If he just need a lodge for a night, would he share a bed with a harpooner staying there?, suggested the landlord. The harpooner turns out to be a cannibal, and this quite worries Ishmael, but he shares the bed nonetheless.
Meet Queequeg, the cannibal harpooner
After spending the night Ishmael finds with a surprise that, as a cannibal, Queequeg is very civilized, affectionate and polite. Walking around the town—and New Bedford is indeed a fine whaling town—Ishmael stops by a chapel. He is fascinated by the ‘ship-like’ of the pulpit’s construction which represents the relationship between the world and the Heaven. Now he realizes how whaling can be a mortal activity! And lo, how the chaplain—an ex-sailor—preaches on Jonah and his repentance so emotionally.
Now Ishmael, seeing how Queequeg, being a cannibal, could have such a kind heart, Ishmael finally binds a very intimate friendship with him. He can even tolerate Queequeg’s pagan worshiping and smoking-in-bed habit quite easily. Queequeg then tells a bit of his history; how he used to be a pagan Prince in his homeland, but dreamed to journey to Christendom. However here, he found disappointedly how wicked Christian people could be. Nonetheless, he takes Ishmael as an intimate friend now, and agrees to accompany him to Nantucket for whaling.
On board the schooner to Nantucket, Queequeg was humiliated by other passengers. But when the schooner is in danger, it is Queequeg nonetheless who becomes the brave hero and saves others. He gets respect, but keeps humble, as for him, helping others is a principle of being human.
On board the Pequod
Finally Ishmael closes the deal to sail with the Pequod, owned by Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad, and led by a mysterious Captain Ahab. Meanwhile Ishmael is fascinated—and a bit impatient—by Queequeg’s fanaticism in practicing his Ramadan fasting. The next day Ishmael and Queequeg register themselves as crew and harpooner in the Pequod. Queequeg is accepted finally despite of his being cannibal, but not before the owner’s efforts to Christianize him. Right after that a beggar-like sailor named Elijah warns them something more mysterious about Captain Ahab, that Ishmael begins to feel disturbed by every cloud surrounds their captain-to-be.
The Pequod is now equipped and prepared for the long journey, but….the enigmatic Captain Ahab has not yet appeared on board, and this grows Ishmael’s suspicion. Elijah wants to warn them further about Ahab, but declines for no reason. And so, the Pequod finally lifts its anchor and begins to sail, with only Captain Peleg and Bildad supervising. After certain point both captain are no longer needed on board, so they are dropped onto a sail boat, and off the Pequod starts its voyage across the Atlantic.
My random thoughts
The chaplain’s preach of Jonah’s repentance is probably the most interesting non-sailing aspect of these first chapters, especially this:
“All the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do, and hence, He oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.” –our and God’s will are always on the opposite sides, and only with humility one can truly repent.
“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.” –which means, I guess, how the world praises money and status much more than morality. As long as you have money, everything is possible, whereas morality won’t earn you anything.
Queequeg is a clear example for it. He is ignored by the world; a pagan among Christians, yet he is much more ‘Christian’ in doings than most of those (who claim to be) civilized Christians. When Queequeg went for registration, Captain Bildad hesitated to accept him at first just because he was not Christian; it’s only one example of people prejudices.
Talking about bravery, not only in Queequeg’s heroic act on the schooner we can see it; I think Ishmael deserves a thumb at least for being brave to share a bed, and even a blanket, with a cannibal! If I was in his situation, I’d probably choose to sleep on the chair! LOL…