Monday, September 2, 2019

Moby Dick Ch. 20-22: Aboard at Last!

Ch. 20: All Astir

= Aunt Charity, Bildad's sister, is the very opposite of her beloved brother. She is the embodiment of pure Christianity! - attended to all crews' needs with loving care. You gotta love her!

= I have just realised on this chapter, why Captain Bildad's name was quite familiar. Why, it's one of Job's friends from the Bible (Book of Job)! Bildad is the one who accuses Job of having done something bad to deserve God's wrath. An appropriate name for Bildad the Captain, whose main job description seems to be christening the savages, or his own crews.

Ch. 21: Going Aboard

= The mysterious Elijah: prophetic or lunatic?

= What was it that he'd wanted to warn Ishmael & Queequeg? Captain Ahab, or the dangerous voyage ahead?

= Were the shadows of some sailors, which Ishmael saw but not Queequeg, real or hallucinatory?

= Elijah, as is the Bible's Prophet Elijah, prophesied doom. Is his function in the story merely to portray the dangerous voyage of whaling (in the 19th century's superstitious style), or something else?

= Colonial mentality. I might have gone too far here, from the book's theme, but the comical scene where Queequeg innocently sat on a sleeping sailor on board Pequod has nevertheless prompted me to think about inferior mentality caused by colonialism. [From Wikipedia] "A colonial mentality is the internalized attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people as a result of colonization, i.e. them being colonized by another group. It corresponds with the belief that the cultural values of the colonizer are inherently superior to one's own." Remember how Queequeg told Ishmael that "in his land, owing to the absence of settees and sofas of all sorts, the king, chiefs, and great people generally, were in custom of fattening some of the lower orders for ottomans." They'd buy "eight or ten lazy fellows" for that purpose. How, do you think, can these lower orders give themselves to be degraded like this? I think it's because they believe they were inferior to their kings or chiefs. Yes, it's not colonialism in this case, but the idea popped up in my head, because Indonesia have inherited the same mentality from our centuries of colonialism, and it affects us, sadly, even today.

= Another train of thoughts of mine on this subject: Queequeg, whose mind is noble in almost every other subjects, felt nothing is wrong with the degraded practice of his natives. It proves that one cannot fairly judge other's behavior as ethically or morally right or wrong, without first perceiving his or her background. In John Grisham's The Chamber, for example, the main character is a prominent KKK member who bombed a building and killed some innocent Jewish kids. He insisted he was not guilty at first, because it was what his family always taught him from childhood. Later on, after contemplating his action while in jail, he realized that what he's done was wrong. I won't open argument of whether it's possible or not here; my point is that, quoting the valuable advice of Nick Carraway's father (The Great Gatsby): "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." In that light, Queequeg’s queer humor is quite acceptable.

Ch. 22: Merry Christmas

We were introduced to Pequod's chief mate, one of my favorite characters: Starbuck. You know, it never struck me, on my first reading, that his name was similar to that of the worldwide coffee chain: Starbucks! Later on I searched its history, and found that it's actually half-named after Starbuck the chief mate. Pequod has also been suggested, but they finally picked Starbuck, but ending it with an 's'. Interesting, right? The more you dig, the more Moby-Dickish bits you'd find!

I will end this weekend's update with another interesting finding: a superb 34 minutes video of whaling around the world:

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World by New Bedford Whaling Museum

It also mentions the one whaling voyage which a decade later has inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. In 1820, a whaling boat from Nantucket called Essex was rammed by a huge whale, and sank in Pacific oceans. From 20 crews, 8 survived, after resorted to cannibalism. The story was later told, in 1821, by its first mate, Owen Chases.

I have wanted to write three more chapters for this post, but I have wasted the last valuable 34 minutes I could spare yesterday by watching above video... so... it's all I could squeeze at the moment. Next weekend I'll be travelling, so no update is possible till the week after. See ye again, shipmates!


  1. Another fascinating and informative post Fanda. I'm loving all the different things we're picking up as we go along. Your rereading adds an extra element as you see things differently or pick things up you missed first time around.

    Your comments about Indonesia were interesting and I think that's what makes this book a classic of the first order - the themes are universal and can be applied to all of us, everywhere in the world - we can all find sections that tell us something about our lives now.

    For me, when I read that story told by Queequeg, I automatically doubted the veracity of his story. I've never heard of that custom before and wondered if Queequeg (like Melville) was capable of exaggeration and embellishment to tell a good story?

    I will come back when I have half an hour to watch this video - it sounds intriguing. I'd love to go to the whaling museum in New Bedford one day.

    1. PS I hope you had an enjoyable weekend away :-)


What do you think?