Monday, August 17, 2015

Moby Dick Ch. 12: Biographical

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. 

At some point in the middle of the night, both Ishmael and Queequeg wake up.  It is cold and uncomfortable, and they can’t get warm and comfortable.  So they sit up and share a smoke, and Queequeg tells his story, which is (briefly) as follows:

He is a native of the (fictional) island of Kokovoko, and the son of the chief (or king) of that distant land.  Thus, Queequeg is a prince.  One day, a whaling ship arrives and Queequeg (much like Ishmael) is compelled to go to sea and check out the wider world.  He is particularly interested in “Christian civilization”.

At first, the captain of the ship refuses him passage, but the young Queequeg paddles out in his canoe, meets the ship, and climbs the anchor-chain aboard.  The captain, at first, threatens to throw him overboard, but “Queequeg was the son of a king, and Queequeg budged not.”  Eventually, the king allows him to stay, and thus begins his career as a harpooner.

At first, Queequeg is determined to learn from the Christians how to improve himself and his people.  “But, alas! the practices of whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked; infinitely more so, than all his father’s heathens.”  So Queequeg retains his native beliefs.

Ironically, Queequeg feels that living among Christians has “unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan kings before him.”  In short, Queequeg  feels he’s been corrupted by Christian civilization, and thus is set on wandering the world until he reaches some kind of redemption.  As it turns out, Queequeg and Ishmael have similar spiritual impulses and longings.

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