Sunday, December 13, 2015

Moby Dick Ch. 17: The Ramadan

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. 

After making arrangements with the captain of the Pequod, Ishmael returns to the Try Pots Inn to tell his companion about their new jobs as whalers.  Unfortunately, the door to their room is bolted shut, and Ishmael cannot enter.  When he left, Queequeg was performing a kind of religious ritual which Ishmael mistakenly called a “Ramadan.”

Ishmael knocks on the door and calls out, but there is no answer inside.  At this point, Ishmael gets worried that his friend has died, so he calls for the Inn-Keeper.  After a comical exchange, Ishmael ultimately breaks down the door to find Queequeg sitting quietly in the center of the room, still performing his religious ritual, oblivious to anything else.  He remains in this posture until the next morning.

When Queequeg finally completes his “Ramadan,” Ishmael immediately tries to dissuade his friend of his strange religious customs: “I told him…that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his.”  Queequeg listens politely: “He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.”

This chapter is about how each man, Ishmael the Christian and Queequeg the Pagan, both think that their religion is totally sensible and the others the height of ignorance.  This is probably how a lot of religious people view other religions—with almost total ignorance.  At one point, however, Ishmael has an insight that gets to the heart of the matter: “Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterian and pagan alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”


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