Monday, August 17, 2015

Moby Dick Ch. 13: Wheelbarrow

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. 

The next morning, Ishmael and Queequeg pack up their stuff and head together to find passage from New Bedford to the island of Nantucket.  They share a wheelbarrow to lug their gear.  Walking together down the streets of the town, they receive many disapproving stares: “people stared; not at Queequeg so much—for they were used to seeing cannibals like him in their streets—but at seeing him and me (Ishmael) upon such confidential terms.”  At this time, in American society, it was seen as weird for people of different cultures to be friends, apparently.  This chapter is full of ironies which criticize the racism of American society.

While aboard a small schooner to Nantucket, the two friends continue to receive disapproving stares.  One guy is so bold as to mockingly mimic Queequeg, who is not one to take any such shit.  He grabs the guy and flings him in the air so he does a flip and lands back on his feet.  The astonished mariner complains to the captain, saying, “Capting, capting, here’s the devil.”  The captain neglects steering the boat to scold Queequeg without bothering to get the full story.  Meanwhile, because of the captain’s negligence, a sail comes loose and actually knocks the guy overboard.

While the captain and sailors look on helplessly, Queequeg immediately, heroically, springs into action.  Without a word, he rights the sail, then dives into the ocean and saves the very man who had mocked him.  It’s an almost Christ-like action, for which Queequeg requires no recognition.  He quietly dries himself off and commences smoking his pipe.  No big deal.  An amazed Ishmael imagines Queequeg thinking, “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.  We cannibals must help these Christians.”  Through such ironies, Melville subtly subverts the arrogant/racist attitudes of his day.

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