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Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan 
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Post Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan
Chapter Link http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0017

I'm watching a TV program on God in America, on the 1960s- Martin Luther King, banning of school prayer, JFK as a Catholic President, featuring Stephen Prothero, Billy Graham, etc.

Melville makes a rather Jeffersonian skeptic dispeptic statement on religion in this chapter. Here are some highlights:

Herman Melville wrote:
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 ... 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 ... let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike ... I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In one word, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.

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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan
I loved this chapter. The bit where the landlady says - 'Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with - 'no suicides permitted here, and no no smoking in the parlour....'
I have more to say but later.


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Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:16 pm
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan
I was puzzled at Melville’s use of the word ‘Ramadan’ for his fasting. This is usually reserved for the Islamic ritual. Queequeg is certainly not Muslim, yet Melville states that ‘his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don’t believe it’s very punctual then’. – and indeed – the Islamic Ramadan does come 11 days earlier every year. Is Ismael mistaking a pagan rite for an Islamic one?
I like Melville’s coupling of ants worshipping a toadstool, and people bowing down ‘before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name’. I assume he means landed gentry and the monarchy.
Melville states that ‘when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him . . . . then I think it high time to argue the point with him’. (In spite of his earlier resolution that people should be left alone to practice their religion)
Ismael argues that ‘hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans’
Queequeg takes no notice, and indeed has suffered no ill effects from his trance like state, and probably feels spiritually refreshed.
I also wonder whether Queequeg was teasing Ismael about his cannibalism, knowing full well the tall tales that sailors often return home with from strange lands.


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Sat Mar 31, 2012 3:02 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan
From Ishmael's point of view, all non-Christian religions probably blurred into an indistinct mass of heathenism. This was still in the days of the only alternatives being seen as Christendom and barbarism, or perhaps savagery. So Queequeg's Polynesian faith merges into Hindu meditation and Islamic fasting, with Christians unable to make any distinction.

Ramadan is based on the moon calendar of 29.5 days, with each Ramadan after twelve moons or 354 days.

Ishmael's name, and for that matter the name of the Pequod, contain an irony in this regard. By convention, Ishmael was the son of Abraham who gave rise to the Arab race, as part of traditional racist opinion. So by calling his character Ishmael, Melville is presenting whaling as an outsider occupation, rather like saying 'call me Arab'.

The name of Pequod is similar, named after the tribe who fought one of the first main Indian Wars of New England. For Ahab to name his ship after an enemy of the Puritans is strange, and illustrates an ongoing sense of illegitimacy about whaling. Fair enough too, it is a gruesome business that should be banned.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sat Mar 31, 2012 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Mar 31, 2012 4:40 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 17 The Ramadan
Ishmael is of course a character of Melville's, and to me Ishmael's view of Queequeg's rites as ridiculous is characterization and not necessarily Melville's view. I haven't read the book, but in Typee, Melville reportedly mounts a pretty clear defense of Polynesian culture and strongly condemns missionary efforts to convert the natives. I also wonder whether Ishmael might change his attitude in the course of the book, as he comes to respect his friend even more.

Critics have complained of Melville's tendency to propagandize. We can see this already in his defensiveness about the whaling industry. I agree that propaganda detracts from a work's value as fiction. An author can indicate a moral preference in more subtle ways than becoming a pamphleteer.



Sat Mar 31, 2012 8:48 am
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