Sunday, May 31, 2015

Moby-Dick Ch. 7: The Chapel

The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.  This will (hopefully) culminate in a large book report on the whole book.  I will also include illustrations I find on the internet or in books.

While Ishmael is out on his morning stroll in New Bedford, it begins to rain, and he takes refuge inside a Whaleman’s Chapel, where people sit silently looking at marble inscriptions memorializing sailors who died at sea.  It is a silent, somber scene: “Each silent worshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were insular and incommunicable.”  Ishmael supposes that these mourners are relatives of the dead, and he reflects upon the morbidity of faith.  “Faith, like a jackal,” he muses, “feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.”

Ishmael cannot participate in this somber spirituality.  His sense of the transcendent is tied to life: “Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.”  He does not fear death, but rather is excited to begin his own thrilling sea-voyage.  Ironically, Ishmael sees the “heathen” Queequeg in the chapel, which breaks yet another stereotype he has of this strange tattooed man—his new friend.  Queequeg isn’t mourning either, because he can’t read.  This little scene emphasizes the idea that the main characters who go to sea are somehow set apart from society at large, and are not bound by its values, fears, and superstitions.  

Marble inscription memorializing a whale man who died at sea.

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