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Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane 
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Post Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Chapter Link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0004

The homo-erotic intimations of Chapter 3 continue, with Ishmael waking in the commodious bed to find the savage pagan tattooed arm draped lovingly over his shoulder. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles, and Queequeg's arm looked like a strip of quilt. What is happening here is that the continuity between the modern and primitive is emerging as a key theme of the novel.

My favourite line, mocking the adventure boys-own style is: "there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage's side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk!"

Rather like Christ calling Lazarus from the grave, Ishmael calls out "Queequeg, wake!" "At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff"

Ishmael tells us of Queequeg's " innate sense of delicacy, ... essentially polite ... civility and consideration". By comparison to savages, civilized Christians are rude and crude. And yet, how strange that Queequeg puts his boots on before his trousers.

I wonder how readers of Melville's day would have reacted to the outrageous implications, whether racial or sexual, and which they would have seen as worse?

And why would anyone make a tomahawk into a pipe, since the hollow handle would make the axe too weak?

Picture below is from http://ambrmerlinus.livejournal.com/267945.html which has some lurid Moby Dick pictures. It comments "Don't get me started on the artist's choice of hashmarks as stand-ins for intricate tattoos."
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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:29 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:25 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
I'm sure every author in those days had to reckon with Victorian sensibilities when it came to the subjects of sex, religion, and race. That Melville stretched the boundaries is probably a factor in the poor reception that his greatest book received. That response sent him into the arms of poetry, for which he lacked a commensurate talent. I can imagine readers of the day being almost shocked by this chapter. Melville partook of the spirit of the New England Renaissance, which considerably loosened the hold of Victorian morality on a rather elite group of writers, other artists, and social reformers. Few of this group achieved fame and fortune in their lifetimes. Emerson eventually did, but some say that he did so by philosophizing the expansion of American commerce and territory.

Ismael is an interesting tool for Melville. Ishmael himself is on the margin of conventionality, having a completely unorthodox lifestyle. He therefore ventures even further into realms unknown to his countrymen. Yet he still is a white, middle-class American with some typical attitudes and assumptions. These chapters record his reactions to the steady stream of confrontations with the bizarre and untamed, in a distinctly entertaining way.

On the tomahawk question, I picture a narrow bore in the handle, which would make pulling on the pipe more effective and not weaken the handle much.



Last edited by DWill on Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:19 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:13 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Simple soul, me. I just assumed they called a pipe a tomahawk.


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Isn't Melville having some fun with the idea of the Noble Savage here? In a way, he takes it seriously, since Queequeg is a good guy, but he's also playing with it, with the comedy of the boots and Q's status half-way between civilised and savage.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
I wonder if the connotation of 'savage' might have changed between Melville's time and ours. Today, of course, it's a slur against intelligence and morality. It seems that it would at least been meant to convey the superiority of the civilized white race. I recall Jefferson's use of the word in the Declaration: "the merciless Indian savages." Ishmael's use of the word indicates that he accepts some of the thinking that divided Queequeg from the rest of the human race. It was entirely a natural response on his part. Queequeg is, after all, exotic and rather frightening on first encounter.

You're correct about the comedy, though. This is a quality that I somehow missed when I first read this book decades ago.



Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:54 am
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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Robert Tulip wrote:
And why would anyone make a tomahawk into a pipe, since the hollow handle would make the axe too weak?


Jeez I missed that. What I was trying to visualize was shaving with a harpoon.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
I don't think people were as preoccupied with homosexuality in 1851. They weren't even as pre-occupied with it in 1961. Have you ever seen 'The Morecambe and Wise Show'? These were a great comedy duo, who always appeared in bed together, having great comic before-going-to-sleep, musings. There absolutely was no homo-sexuality implied. It wouldn't be allowed nowadays though.
My mother-in-law was born in 1906 and when she was in her 40's, my husband-to-be and I mentioned gay men in conversation with her and she told us to stop being silly, she hadn't even heard of the situation.

As to Queequeg being referred to as a savage, although compared favourably against Christians in one instance, I think it is cleverly handled in that Ishmael is terrified of his appearance at first. Not really terrified at finding himself in an embrace though, by morning.
So it demonstrates our fear of the unknown. Once Queequeg became a 'personality' to Ishmael, he was just Queequeg. Not a savage, not fearsome. Brilliant, I think, how Melville describes Queequeg's idiosincratic behaviour, but there is no insulting stereotyping. It isn't patronising at all, is it?


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
The term savage, like barbarian, is applied by a civilized empire to so-called primitive tribes who lack writing and high culture. It is entirely racist because it ignores the cultural depth of foreign people and assumes superiority in order to justify conquest and economic domination. Calling someone a savage implies they are an irrational and brutal animal, lacking the refined values of higher civilization.

Rousseau introduced the concept of the noble savage, generally seen as a contradiction, in order to argue that in fact primitive culture was often more ethical than modern culture.

Noble is another of those complex words, originating in the class conflict between the nobility and the commoners, but often used to describe an innate dignity. The contrast between noble and common illustrates that common is another of those terms that has shifted in meaning, with the genteel putdown of days gone by involved in calling something common now often seen to mock the putdowner.

Melville uses Queequeg's tattoos as another of those baffling symbols of cultural disorientation. In the west, and Japan, body art symbolised rough culture, traditionally viewed as common and even criminal, whereas in the Pacific Islands the art of tattoo was noble.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
I can see that the tattoos and behaviour were somewhat unorthodox, and that Queequeg would be unilikely ever to be archbishop, even nowadays. However he was selling shrunken heads and I expect he was using his appearance to raise interest in his wares.

He was using the perception of himself as a savage to make money. He is actually portrayed as a gentle sort. I'm not interested in peoples' sexual orientation and I wonder if it seems comic to us now, because of the way it is presented in this book. I note that DWill says he didn't notice the humour when he first read it. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be funny. Am I being naive?


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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Penelope wrote:
I can see that the tattoos and behaviour were somewhat unorthodox, and that Queequeg would be unilikely ever to be archbishop, even nowadays. However he was selling shrunken heads and I expect he was using his appearance to raise interest in his wares.

He was using the perception of himself as a savage to make money. He is actually portrayed as a gentle sort. I'm not interested in peoples' sexual orientation and I wonder if it seems comic to us now, because of the way it is presented in this book. I note that DWill says he didn't notice the humour when he first read it. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be funny. Am I being naive?


I'm not sure that Q was conniving enough to use his appearance for material gain. He seems to have merely discovered that people will buy his unique wares.
As for the humor I think that Melville definitely has his tongue in his cheek quite a bit and I also missed it the first time reading the novel.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Well, I dunno' ... would you buy a shrunken head? Especially if you knew for a fact that it was real? I doubt I would, unless it was for a specific reason - like doing some kind of 'show and tell' for a school course or presentation.

Come to think of it, I don't think I'd accept one if it was given free of charge.



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Post Re: Moby Dick Chapter 4 The Counterpane
Quote:
WWW wrote:

Well, I dunno' ... would you buy a shrunken head? Especially if you knew for a fact that it was real? I doubt I would, unless it was for a specific reason - like doing some kind of 'show and tell' for a school course or presentation.

Come to think of it, I don't think I'd accept one if it was given free of charge.


No, I don't think for one minute that I would accept a shrunken head, even of Hitler, or the Moors Murderers.

However, I did, until recently, have a Vicorian stuffed Kingfisher, under a glass dome....on my sideboard. At first, I thought, well, it died a long time ago.....it looks in keeping with the rest of the Victorian house.....but eventually, I gave it to my boss at work to sell in his antiques outlet......'cos it just wasn't right. This also happened with with some ivory carvings....I was just seduced by their beauty when they were offered to me for sale....then I couldn't believe I did that. I meant to sell them and pass on the profit to the RSPCA, or donkey sanctuary or something....but eventually, I gave them away...free gratis and for nothing.

It was very, very good for my Karma. :D


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