Friday, December 25, 2015

Moby Dick Ch. 26: Knights and Squires

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 is the first in a series of chapters in which the author describes the qualities and character of the chief members of the Pequod’s crew.  It’s called “Knights and Squires” because Melville sees great valor and dignity in ordinary men.  In a very American, Walt Whitman-esque way, he holds a democratic view of dignity:

“If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman’s arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!”

The first mate of the ship is a tall and slender but hardy Quaker named Starbuck.  He is a tough man of action who has a fair estimation of the dangers of whaling.  “I will not have a man in my boat,” says Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.”  A practical man, Starbuck believes that fear, like courage is “not a mere sentiment, but a thing simply useful.”  My favorite description of Starbuck is as follows:

“Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there the yet lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he had calmly confronted through life.  A staid, steadfast man whose life for the most part was a telling pantomime of action, and not a tame chapter of words.”

Starbuck is the first mate of the Pequod.

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