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ambrmerlinus ([personal profile] ambrmerlinus) wrote2011-10-09 08:17 am

Moby-Dick, or The Rant: chapters 110-115

The goal here is to finish this book by the end of October.
Chapter 110: Queequeg in His Coffin

I'll let that title sink in for a bit.

What happens is this: the oil leak discussed in the last chapter is in at least one of the barrels in the hold. To figure out where it is, they empty the hold of everything but the oil casks, pump the hold full of water, and check if there's oil in the runoff. Just trust me, it works.

The job in the hold is mostly the harpooneers' duty. (As Ishmael points out, until you reach the rank of Captain on a whaling ship, each promotion results in more work.)

pg. 504: Now, at this time it was that my poor pagan companion, and fast bosom-friend, Queequeg, was seized with a fever, which brought him night to his endless end.


pg. 504-505: for all the heat of his sweatings, he caught a terrible chill which lapsed into a fever; and at last, after some days' suffering, laid him in his hammock, close to the very sill of the door of death. How he wasted and wasted away in those few longlingering days, till there seemed but little left of him but his frame and tattooing. But as all else in him thinned, and his cheekbones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him which could not die, or be weakened. And like circles on the water, which, as they grow fainter, expand; so his eyes seemed rounding and rounding, like the rings of Eternity. An awe that cannot be named would steal over you as you sat by the side of this waning savage, and saw as strange things in his face, as any beheld who were bystanders when Zoroaster died. For whatever is truly wondrous and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books. And the drawing near of Death, which alike levels all, alike impresses all with a last revelation, which only an author from the dead could adequately tell. SO that–let us say it again–no dying Chaldee or Greek had higher and holier thoughts than those, whose mysterious shades you say creeping over the face of poor Queequeg, as he quietly lay in his swaying hammock, and the rolling sea seemed gently rocking him to his final rest, and the ocean's invisible floodtide lifted him higher and higher towards his destined heaven.

Even while dying, Queequeg is better than everyone else.

The entire crew seems to have given up hope for Queequeg's survival, including Queequeg himself, who asks to have a coffin made instead of being buried at sea in a sheet, because the coffins he's seen on Nantucket remind him of the canoes his people are laid to rest in.

The text says that he calls "one" to him to make this request, and I assumed it was just some random crew member who was wandering by, but the internet seems to think that was probably Ishmael.* Not sure what their evidence is, but I like the idea of Ishmael staying by Queequeg's side as he lies dying, so let's go with that.

pg. 506: the carpenter was at once commanded to do Queequeg's bidding, whatever it might include.

Is it wrong that I find this incredibly heartwarming?

The carpenter gets Queequeg's measurements and the coffin is made.

pg. 506: Overhearing the indignant but half-humorous cries with which the people on deck began to drive the coffin away, Queequeg, to every one's consternation, commanded that the thing should be instantly brought to him, nor was there any denying him; seeing that, of all mortals, some dying men are the most tyrannical; and certainly, since they will shortly trouble us so little for evermore, the poor fellows ought to be indulged.

This just makes me giggle and I don't know why.

Anyway, Queequeg tries out the coffin, crossed arms and all, and finds that it's a good fit.

Just before they put Queequeg back in his hammock, Pip reappears with his tambourine and prophetic ramblings. Pip speaks of himself as though he, too, is dead, and asks dying Queequeg to look for Pip in the afterlife. Because this chapter wasn't already sad enough.**

And then, suddenly, without warning–

pg. 508: But now that he had apparently made every preparation for death; now that his coffin was proved a good fit, Queequeg suddenly rallied; soon there seemed no need of the carpenter's box: and thereupon, when some expressed their delighted surprise, he, in substance, said, that the cause of his sudden convalescence was this;–at a critical moment, he had just recaled a little duty ashore, which he was leaving undone; and therefore had changed his mind about dying: he could not die yet, he averred. They asked him, then, whether to live or die was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. He answered, certainly.

tl;dr - Queequeg gets well again because he feels like it. I repeat: HE WILLS HIMSELF BACK FROM THE COLD AND ALMOST CERTAIN EMBRACE OF DEATH, because he has better things to do.***

Badass motherfucker, etc.

pg. 508: In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort.

Get the fuck out, foreshadowing. Nobody likes you.

But what's to be done with Queequeg's coffin, now that he's essentially proved himself immortal?

pg. 509: With a wild whimsiness, he now used his coffin for a sea-chest; and emptying into it his canvas bag of clothes, set them in order there. Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but hose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.

I should probably be drawing Queequeg's tattoos way more complex.

pg. 509: And this thought it must have been which suggested to Ahab that wild exclamation of his, when one morning turning away from surveying poor Queequeg–"Oh, devilish tantalization of the gods!"

Devilish tantalization you would well know, Ishmael.

In Chapter 111: The Pacific, we learn that the Pacific Ocean exists and is peaceful. The only person aboard the Pequod to not appreciate this fact is Ahab.

pg. 510: His firm lips met like the lips of a vice; the delta of his forehead's veins swelled like over-laden brooks; in his very sleep, his ringing cry ran through the vaulted hull, "Stern all! the White Whale spouts thick blood!"

Chapter 112: The Blacksmith is incomprehensible.

The most I can glean from it without resorting to outside help is:

- The blacksmith used to be successful on land.
- Until he wasn't.
- This was SO SHAMEFUL that he went to sea.

I am confuse. To Google!

Okay, back from Google, seems like the blacksmith was an alcoholic? Boy it would have been helpful if they actually said that in the narrative.

(I've told you all before about the time I was reading The Great Gatsby in high school and Gatsby's death scene was so thickly written that no one in my class could tell he was dead, yeah? This chapter suffers from a similar problem.)****

But whatever, I've never written a classic novel beloved by millions, what the hell would I know?

The blacksmith's name is Perth, by the way. The carpenter doesn't get a name. How come the blacksmith gets a name, but not the carpenter? So unfair.

In Chapter 113: The Forge, Ahab and the blacksmith have a chat.

AHAB: How come you never get burned?
BLACKSMITH: I'm pretty much made of burn scars in the first place.
AHAB: Sweet. Hey if you hammered on my forehead for a bit do you think you could smooth out the wrinkles?
BLACKSMITH: Probably not.
AHAB: Damn.

Ahab then produces a bunch of nail stubs from the shoes of racing horses that he wants melted down into a new harpoon head.

pg. 515: these stubbs will weld together like glue from the melted bones of murderers

...all right, then.

Once the harpoon is forged, Ahab demands that it be tempered not with water, but with blood from the Pequod's three harpooneers. This sounds like an absolutely terrible idea to me, but I'm not a scientist and I'm not 100% sure how human blood interacts with white-hot metal, so for now we'll pretend that Ahab knows what he's doing.

pg. 517: "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly devoured the baptismal blood.

Or, in English, "I do not baptize thee in the name of the Father, but in the name of the devil."

Yeah. I'm sure this voyage is going to end well.

Chapter 114: The Gilder: see Chapter 111.

Chapter 115: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor shows all of the fun that Ahab's crew is missing.

The Bachelor is on its way home from the most successful whaling voyage in the history of boats. They have caught so many whales that they gave away barrels of food to make room for more oil. They have destroyed their furniture to turn it into barrels to store their oil. They are the oiliest, happiest ship in all the ocean.

The captain of the Bachelor invites Ahab to party, but Ahab is having none of it.

pg. 522: "Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?"
"Not enough to speak of–two islanders, that's all;


The Bachelor finally goes on their way, and Ahab grimaces out to sea.

*As also postulated in The salt-sea mastodon: a reading of Moby-Dick by Robert Zoellener

pg. 223: The unidentified "one" of this passage, whom Queequeg asks to bring him Yojo, is most certainly the same unidentified "one" whom Queequeg calls "in the grey morning watch" to request that a Nantucket coffin be built–and both are certainly Ishmael, forced through his love for the savage to engage in the things of death and the ministrations of dying

I might have to buy this book.

**I think I figured out why my abridged-for-kids edition of Moby-Dick cut out Pip entirely. His story arc is a terrifying sea of racism and mental illness. All I want is to make things better for Pip. Give him a trauma blanket, at least.

***It probably goes without saying that, in my headcanon, his pressing onshore business is going on a picnic with Ishmael. In reality, it's probably closer to "go back to Rokovoko/Kokovoko and be king," but shh let me dream.

****Also btw spoilers for The Great Gatsby lol



[Image description: MOAR WHALES. Yes, whales plural, as there appears to be a second, darker whale in the background of this painting, along with the traditional white whale in the foreground. Still too cute. Must investigate further. All painted on pages ripped out of a cheap used copy of Moby-Dick.]

So I've got low funds, no space, and three of these whale paintings floating around my dorm room. I don't suppose anybody would be interested in giving them a home? (Like, maybe $20 each plus shipping?) Or should I take these to eBay?


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