ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
[personal profile] ambrmerlinus
Chapter 93: The Castaway, in which Ishmael is racist in that upper-class liberal way where they think of non-whites as positive stereotypes rather than actual people. For example:

pg. 437: a tribe, which ever enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any other race. For blacks, the year's calendar should show naught but three hundred and sixty-five Fourth of Julys and New Year's days.

Yeah, I'm sure that whole slavery thing had African-Americans constantly dancing in the streets with joy.

Anyway, remember Pip?

His full name is Pippin*, and he showed up incredibly briefly in an earlier chapter, mostly so Ishmael could say "oh hey this guy is totally on board this ship and will probably become important later, woo, foreshadowing!"

He's a black boy, or perhaps a young black man, I'm not really sure. He's called a boy, but that might just be because all black men got called "boy" in Ishmael's time. I sincerely doubt that anyone under the age of 15 would be employed as a sailor on a whaling ship, and Pip is a sailor, not just a cabin boy.

More specifically, Pip is a ship-keeper, which means he is one of the sailors who stays on the ship while everyone else goes into the whaleboats to kill some leviathans. Not the most exciting position, but a necessary one.

Before we go any further, I would like to call attention to the following complete non-sequitor.

pg. 437: So, though in the clear air of day, suspended against a blue-veined neck, the pure-watered diamond drop will healthful glow; yet, when the cunning jeweller would show you the diamond in its most impressive lustre, he lays it against a gloomy ground, and then lights it up, not by the sun, but by some unnatural gases. Then come out those fiery effulgences, infernally superb; then the evil-blazing diamond, once the divinest symbol of the crystal skies, looks like some crown-jewel stolen from the King of Hell.

You know, just in case you needed any further proof that Ishmael was a card-carrying Hot Topic kid. But back to the plot.

In the last chapter, one of Stubb's oarmen sprained his hand, so Pip gets called in as a replacement. The first time Pip goes out, they don't get anywhere near a whale, so everything goes smoothly. The second time...

pg. 438: Now upon the second lowering, the boat paddled upon the whale; and as the fish received the darted iron, it gave its customary rap, which happened, in this instance, to be right under poor Pip's seat. The involuntary consternation of the moment caused him to leap, paddle in hand, out of the boat; and in such a way, that part of the slack whale line coming against his chest, he breasted it overboard with him, so as to become entangled in it, when at last plumping into the water. That instant the stricken whale started on a fierce run, the line swiftly straightened; and presto! poor Pip came all foaming up to the chocks of the boat, remorselessly dragged there by the line, which had taken several turns around his chest and neck.

Well, fuck. If only Queequeg were here for a timely rescue, but alas! It's Stubb's boat and not Starbuck's.

pg. 438: Tashtego stood in the bows. He was full of the fire of the hunt. He hated Pip for a poltroon. Snatching the boatknife from its sheath, he suspended its sharp edge over the line, and turning towards Stubb, exclaimed interrogatively, "Cut?" Meanwhile Pip's blue, choked face plainly looked, Do, for God's sake! All this passed in a flash. In less than half a minute, this entire thing happened.

How is this even a question? I mean, yes, whales are valuable and losing one could mean the difference between going home with a living wage and going home in debt to your employers, but I'm pretty sure sacrificing a person for a whale would count as manslaughter, at least. (Then again, given the state of race relations at the time, I'm not entirely sure a court of law would count Pip as a person. In related news, the past kind of sucked. A lot.)

pg. 438: "Damn him, cut!" roared Stubb; and so the whale was lost and Pip was saved.


Immediately post-rescue, everyone in the boat cusses Pip out for getting tangled in the line and leading to the loss of the whale. This anger is understandable, as I mentioned previously. But Stubb takes it to a whole other level.

pg. 439: We can't afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama.

So, yeah. That happened.

After that, the boats go out a third time, and Pip jumps again. Thankfully he does not get tangled in the line, but the boat doesn't stop for him either. They're in the middle of a whale chase, after all. So Pip gets left behind in the open ocean.

pg. 439-440: But had Stubb really abandoned the poor little negro to his fate? No; he did not mean to, at least. Because there were two boats in his wake, and he supposed, no doubt, that they could of course come up to Pip very quickly, and pick him up; [...] But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and gave chase; and Stubb's boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip's ringed horizon began to expand around him miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was.

tl;dr - Stubb abandoned Pip at sea for God knows how long, and by the time they picked Pip up again he'd suffered some kind of loneliness- (and probably panic-) induced psychotic break.

On the one hand, yeah, Pip's boat-jumping was endangering the crew's ability to do their jobs. But if that's the case, why not leave him on the ship? Surely there was at least one other ship-keeper who could have gone down in the boats instead of Pip.

So why did they insist on taking him out on the whaleboat again and again after he'd proved a danger to himself and others? Were they trying to toughen him up? Did he insist on being given a second chance? Throw me a fucking bone, Ishmael, you have not told us the whole story here.

pg. 440: For the rest, blame not Stubb too hardly. The thing is common in that fishery; and in the sequel of the narrative, it will then be seen what like abandonment befell myself.

I know it's irrational to blame Stubb. Whale goes one way, crewman goes another, you assume someone else will pick up the crewman, and you go after the whale. That's how it goes.

And if he hadn't compared Pip to a potential whale catch in terms of dollar value, I might be wiling to leave it at that.

I realize this book was written in the mid-19th century, and I should expect a little bit of Values Dissonance** to creep in, but it's almost two hundred years later and the same casual racism that Ishmael is letting fall out of his mouth continues to exist today. (To say nothing of the direct and obvious racism exhibited by Stubb, who, save for this unsightly quality in his personality, would probably be one of my favorites.)

I could cite things my relatives have said, things my employers have said, things my coworkers and professors and friends have said, and all we would end up with is a list of seemingly innocuous phrases that bear a striking resemblance to the words of an accidental racist living in the 1840s.

So really, it's a lot quicker to link you to Microaggressions and say this shit isn't nearly as over as you might think it is and if it could stop sometime soon I would really appreciate it.

In conclusion, I kind of hated this chapter, but not for the usual reasons. Let's move on.

*Begin your Lord of the Rings references at your leisure.

**Possibly more closely related to the situation at hand: Fair For Its Day and Innocent Bigot, though Values Dissonance was the first one to come to mind.


For more adventures in Moby-Dick, check out the Moby-Dick, or The Rant tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.

Date: 2011-09-21 03:54 pm (UTC)
fadeaccompli: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fadeaccompli
I once got dinged on a literary essay for being "too judgmental" after going off on a rant about the ableism and sex issues in Lady Chatterly's Lover. I honestly kind of wish this stuff would get talked about more often; "Well, it was a different time back then" doesn't change the fact that what we're reading now gets interpreted by current understanding.

Date: 2011-09-24 01:22 am (UTC)
fadeaccompli: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fadeaccompli
It wasn't too much of a ding; it was my favorite professor, and he sounded more amused than anything else. A good learning experience about knowing what sort of essays are expected at an undergrad level...

I think that it's sort of...both ways. On the one hand, it is necessary to acknowledge and understand context when analyzing a work on anything beyond a "This is how it reads to me in isolation" manner. (Which I still think is an interesting form of analysis, but it's generally not very...literary, I guess?) But on the other hand, it's way too easy for people to go "CONTEXT" to ignore all discussions of problematic aspects of a work, and that's way too reductionary too. Especially since that shout usually goes up based not on actual context, but on a vague sense that "Back in historical times it was acceptable to be sexist and racist and all the other -ists, dammit!" when it was usually a hell of a lot more complex than that.

Anyway. I ramble.

Date: 2011-09-26 02:39 am (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
Yanno, if you weren't noting and objecting to this kind of thing as you went, I wouldn't be able to enjoy your Moby Dick posts. Context-heavy crit has as much value as context-free crit, and "context" can include acknowledging the social continuity between then and now, instead of insisting on a total separation of the two. For some readers, the one will have far, far more value than the other.

Or put otherwise: some things are worth being disturbed over, and I see no earthly reason to view dispassion about such things as a virtue.


ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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