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.
Ishmael and Queequeg arrive on the strange island of Nantucket, off the coast of New England. It’s described as a sandy, rather barren island where “one blade of grass makes an oasis,” and the inhabitants wear “quicksand shoes” so as not to sink into the sand. Melville tells the legend of how the island was first settled by Native Americans. Long ago, an eagle swooped down along the New England coast (before it was called New England), snatched up an Indian baby, and carried it off over the sea. The natives looked on in horror, and then set off in their canoes, chasing the bird of prey. Finally, they landed on the island of Nantucket, where they found the baby’s skeleton.
After settling the island, the natives eventually became masters of the sea, conquering it “like so many Alexanders.” The natives of Nantucket are said to possess all the oceans of the world, making them stronger than any European colonial power, including Britain, Spain, and Portugal. Unfortunately, by the time of Moby Dick, the natives of Nantucket had been largely replaced by the American whaling industry. Melville ends the chapter with a poetic description of a mariner from Nantucket at sea: “the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.”