Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moby-Dick Big Read Project, Chapters 16-19

Illustration for Chapter 16 by London artist Alison Turnbull
Chapter 16 (The Ship) and Chapter 18 (The Mark) introduce two memorable characters: Captains Peleg and Bilbad.  These two elderly Quaker gentlemen are in charge of the Pequod while she is in port being readied for the upcoming three-year whale hunt which Ishmael and Queequeg hope to join.  Even though they share the same religion, and responsibility for preparing the whaler for the voyage, the two men are very different in temperament.  One is rather pious - and stingy.  The other often offends his old friend with colorful language and outrageous behavior but is more generous in allotting profit-shares to the crew.

In Chapter 18, Ishmael brings Queequeg back to the ship, as he promised the captains he would, so that Queequeg can be added to the ship's roster.  The old men have immediate misgivings about adding a heathen like Queequeg to the crew, but eagerly sign him up after quick display of the islander's harpooning skills.

Chapter 16 reader, Chad Harbach
Chad Harbach, Chapter sixteen's reader, made a big splash last year with his debut novel The Art of Fielding, a novel about college life and relationships as seen through the eyes of several members of the school's baseball team - an excellent novel.  His delivery of this long chapter is delivered in a rather deadpan, but easily followed, tone.

George Cotkin, in Dive Deeper, notes that Melville named his whaling ship after the Pequot Indians, the first American Indian tribe to be targeted for extermination by settlers of the New World.  Is Melville telling his readers that the Pequod is as doomed as its namesake tribe?  It will not be the last such hint from Melville before the ship finally leaves port to meet its destiny.

Chapter 17 (The Ramadan) offers another glimpse of Queequeg's religious beliefs - beliefs Ishmael claims to respect, in one breath, and make light of in the next.  Try as he might to be openminded about such an alien culture, Ishmael struggles mightily to achieve his goal.  Ismael, however, displays his true feelings about his new friend when he frets that Queequeg cannot possibly survive the rigid, stationary posture he assumes for an entire day of Ramadan fasting.

Chief Ko-Towatowa
Chapter 19 (The Prophet) offers the next hint of a bad ending for the Pequod, and all associated with her, when an old sailor confronts Ismael and Queequeg as they leave the boat - and again the next morning when they return to board the vessel.  Ishmael, already filled with doubts about the mysterious Captain Ahab he still has not seen, does not want to hear it.  But his efforts to run off the old man are in vain, and he cannot help hearing things that make him even more uneasy about the captain than he already was.  Ominously, this mysterious prophet (as pointed out in Dive Deeper) shares a name with the biblical prophet Elijah, giving added weight to what he has to say.

The drawing of New Zealand Chief Ko-Towatowa, on the right, is thought by some to be an inspiration for Melville's Queequeg.  It was used to illustrate an 1845 book pertaining to a "voyage of exploration" conducted by an American ship a few years earlier.

(You will notice that I do not make reference to readers of Chapters 17-19: Warren Cole, David Coslett, and Mark Sealey, respectively.  Even though these names do not seem to be particularly common, I have been unable to determine which person by those names are working on this project.)


  1. Sam, I am just about to embark on a reading of Moby Dick!
    It's a book I have wanted to read for ages.
    And now, I'm doing it.

  2. Cool, Cip...are you going to use the Moby-Dick Big Read project to make your way through the book? The readers, for the most part, are so good that they are making it really "sink in" for me this time.

  3. Hey, I will definitely check it out periodically on your blog. I'm really enjoying the book -- not too much in yet, but it's grand!

  4. Cip, the biggest surprise so far is how damned funny this book least at the beginning before all hell breaks loose.