Saturday, October 06, 2012

Moby-Dick Big Read, Chapters 13-15

Chapter 13 art by New York artist Alexis Rockman

"We cannibals must help these Christians." - Queequeg, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 (The Wheelbarrow) is one in which Melville uses humor to make a point about cultural differences and how anyone can be confused by those differences.

Mama Tokus
Ismael and Queequeg are making their way to Nantucket in search of a whaling ship whose crew they can join together.  Soon after they board the packet schooner that will carry them there, an unfortunate fellow makes the mistake of ridiculing Queequeg's appearance within range of the cannibal's hearing.  Queequeg, justifiably offended by the man's rudeness, proceeds to teach him a lesson he will never forget - and then wins his eternal gratefulness.

Melville has Queequeg tell Ishmael two stories that vividly illustrate the kind of foolishness that can happen to a person immersed in a culture not his own.  The first recounts Queequeg's reaction to the first wheelbarrow he ever set eyes on; the second is about a white man attending a wedding on Queequeg's island.  Our cannibal, it seems, is a very wise man.

This chapter is wonderfully read by Mama Tokus, a British singer/poet who breathes real life into Melville's words.  She does so well with the reading, in fact, that I plan to learn more about her soon.

Nathanial Philbrick
Chapter 14 (Nantucket) sees our newly minted friends arrive in Nantucket, a city which in Ishmael's mind is still the most important whaling city in the world.  Ishmael is still impressed with this "ant-hill in the sea," but as George Cotkin points out in  Diving Deeper, Nantucket is already past its prime and will never again be what it was.

This short, two-page chapter is read by Nathanial Philbrick, the American author who won the National Book Award in 2000 for In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.

Chapter 15 (Chowder) describes the Nantucket lodging that Queequeg and Ishmael snare for themselves - an inn that serves a quality and quantity of clam and cod chowder that a hungry man should not be reading about.  The innkeeper's wife is in charge of The Try Pot inn upon their arrival, but she is more than a match for Queequeg, insisting that he leave his harpoon downstairs as she allows no weapons in the sleeping quarters.  Before retiring for the night, in anticipation of finding themselves a whaling ship in the morning, the pair order bowls of both chowders for their breakfasts.

Sadly, I cannot determine which Peter Burgess reads this chapter, too many legitimate possibilities, but he does not sound British.

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