Moby Dick Chapter 12 Autobiographical (Queequeg)
Chapter Link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0012
Rokovoko is a fictional location, but the name is rather Polynesian, similar to places such as Rotuma, Raratonga (mentioned already in MD), and Kokomo, which is not off Key Largo but in Hawaii
. There is a touch of the fairy tale in the line 'true places never are', somewhat like Never Never Land from Peter Pan. It picks up the romanticism of the tropical paradise vision of the South Pacific. This is satirical mockery of the typical introduction of a children's story.
The suggestion here is that eating people is bad for the blood. This is a rather absurd idea, I fear, although Melville does well to present taboo in a fun and rollicking jolly Blytonism. A good summary on cannibalism in Polynesia is provided by Tim Flannery in his book The Future Eaters
, where he explains that when Maoris had eaten all the giant birds of New Zealand they had no adequate source of protein except long pig. The common assertion that Polynesians never practiced cannibalism is untrue.
A Sag Harbor ship visited his father's bay, and Queequeg sought a passage to Christian lands. But the ship, having her full complement of seamen, spurned his suit; and not all the King his father's influence could prevail. But Queequeg vowed a vow. Alone in his canoe, he paddled off to a distant strait, which he knew the ship must pass through when she quitted the island. On one side was a coral reef; on the other a low tongue of land, covered with mangrove thickets that grew out into the water. Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these thickets, with its prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in hand; and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains; and throwing himself at full length upon the deck, grappled a ring-bolt there, and swore not to let it go, though hacked in pieces.
Sag Harbor, I discover
is bang in the middle of Manhattan Island. More of this silly knight errant style 'Queequeg vowed a vow', a bit like Lancelot pledging in baby talk to find the holy grail. The derring do is very similar to action movies which have taken this sort of absurd jumping around completely over the top.
More stylistic absurdism aimed at creating the chivalrous atmosphere of the knights of king arthur. "Budged not" is a deliberate affectation, anachronistic even in Melville's day. I googled it and found in in the song Hit Me With Your Best Shot.
This comparison to the Russian Tsar creates a sort of messianic heroism, with Queequeg understanding that obtaining advanced information is the best way for his people to advance. It is rather like the Japanese copying of Europe since the Meiji Restoration. Unfortunately Polynesians have shown little desire to take up such information, beyond accepting Christianity and stopping eating each other.
More cultural relativism from Melville, rejecting the idea that Christians are superior to savages.
By hints, I asked him whether he did not propose going back, and having a coronation; since he might now consider his father dead and gone, he being very old and feeble at the last accounts. He answered no, not yet; and added that he was fearful Christianity, or rather Christians, had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings before him. But by and by, he said, he would return,—as soon as he felt himself baptized again. For the nonce, however, he proposed to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans. They had made a harpooneer of him, and that barbed iron was in lieu of a sceptre now.
This sense from Queequeg that his own cultural traditions are more pure than Christian civilization presents a critique of the corruption of the West, rather like the Chief Seattle style of quote “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
I assume the four oceans are the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Southern. Or maybe he separates the North and South Atlantic, and sees the Southern as just part of each of the others.
This idea of killing whales as a noble quest has some sort of bitter irony about it.
I asked him what might be his immediate purpose, touching his future movements. He answered, to go to sea again, in his old vocation. Upon this, I told him that whaling was my own design, and informed him of my intention to sail out of Nantucket, as being the most promising port for an adventurous whaleman to embark from. He at once resolved to accompany me to that island, ship aboard the same vessel, get into the same watch, the same boat, the same mess with me, in short to share my every hap; with both my hands in his, boldly dip into the Potluck of both worlds. To all this I joyously assented; for besides the affection I now felt for Queequeg, he was an experienced harpooneer, and as such, could not fail to be of great usefulness to one, who, like me, was wholly ignorant of the mysteries of whaling, though well acquainted with the sea, as known to merchant seamen.
The immediacy of the affection between Queequeg and Ishmael is rather hard to fathom, but no matter, it is an effective plot device.
Again the tomahawk peace pipe produces a magical conviviality and bond.