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Moby Dick Chapter 16 The Ship 
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Post Moby Dick Chapter 16 The Ship
Chapter Link ... m#2HCH0016

A long chapter. Queequeg's magical fetish Yojo determines that Ishmael will choose their ship, as an intimation of fate that the rendezvous with Moby Dick is their mutual destiny. Leaving Q to his strange amalgam of the Westminster Confession, The Haj and voodoo, Ishmael seeks their fated craft.

Here we encounter the aforementioned gross error, confusing Massachussets and Connecticut as the abode of the extinct Pequod Indians who gave their name to Captain Ahab's whaler. As every school boy knows, these states have been different places from time immemorial, including when the Pequod Indians lived there before they met the same fate as the great whales at the violent hands of the red faced savages ancestrally from the UK.

Ishmael says the Pequods of Massachussets are "now extinct as the ancient Medes". Little does he know they are as much part of the marrow of Connecticut as Mystic Seaport! This is all mildly reminiscent of the Aborigines of Tasmania, long celebrated as the only successful genocide, until the living aborigines of Tasmania complained of the exaggeration. I have heard the Medes are the Kurds, a nationless people whom some empires might like to see extinct, but the identity of the Medes is a complex point. Shades of Fenimore.

The description of the Pequod is rather poetic: "a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the typhoons and calms of all four oceans, her old hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia. Her venerable bows looked bearded. Her masts—cut somewhere on the coast of Japan, where her original ones were lost overboard in a gale—her masts stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne. Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled. But to all these her old antiquities, were added new and marvellous features, pertaining to the wild business that for more than half a century she had followed. Old Captain Peleg, many years her chief-mate, before he commanded another vessel of his own, and now a retired seaman, and one of the principal owners of the Pequod,—this old Peleg, during the term of his chief-mateship, had built upon her 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. She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her 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. The helmsman who steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that."

Nobility is touched with melancholy, as both are two sides of the encounter with truth. Moby Dick explains at some length how the heroic escapades of the whalers are tinged with grief.


Ishmael meets an old Quaker on the deck, who proceeds to alarm him by explaining that Captain Ahab's leg "was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat!—ah, ah!"

Ishmael agrees he would happily jump down a whale's throat after a harpoon (if it were needed to do so). I confess this is an escapade that would prompt me to think twice before fearing to tread down the Jonah path.

Peleg, this co-owner, is "a fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance." This is a rather paradoxical turn of phrase given the peace loving nature of Quakers (such as Richard Nixon?).

Next we meet the co-owner Bildad, another of these paradoxical Quakers, perhaps given to a diet of orphan tears. "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." Conscientious objection does not extend to the animal kingdom it seems. "For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was certainly rather hard-hearted, to say the least. He never used to swear, though, at his men, they said; but somehow he got an inordinate quantity of cruel, unmitigated hard work out of them."

Bildad manages to look up from his Bible long enough to quote a verse "lay up not treasures on earth", and offer an exceedingly meagre ripoff to Ishmael as a share of the voyage profit should he ship, taking care to note that more money to Ishmael is less to widows and orphans.

The resulting conversation between Bildad and Peleg is well worth the price of admission alone.

We then hear something of Captain Ahab. Melville is a master of suspenseful preparation, anticipating the entry of characters by building them up in our imagination. So, we find that Ahab is "used to deeper wonders than the waves", and "desperate moody, and savage". Like all Quakers (except Nixon), Ahab is named from the Old Testament. "Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king! And a very vile one."


Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:29 am, edited 2 times in total.

Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:12 am
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