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Chapter Twelve: Biographical, in which Melville gives us some background on Queequeg, and we really, really wish he hadn't.

According to Melville, Queequeg hails from the island of Kokovoko... at least on page 58. By page 62, it has been re-named Rokovoko, with no explanation given. I guess Melville doesn't think this matters too much.

pg. 58: It is not down in any map; true places never are.

This just in–Africa? A lie! Europe? A clever work of fiction! Asia? A farcical bedtime story! This island I made up off the top of my head and whose name I can't be bothered to remember? Totally true, you guys. The truest.

I think he's trying to make some sort of metaphorical statement, but I'm just not getting it.

Anyway, Queequeg is from Kokovoko (and/or Rokovoko), an island to the South and West. He's the son of the High Chief. His uncle is High Priest. And his female family members?

pg. 58: ...and on the maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of unconquerable warriors.


pg. 58: There was excellent blood in his veins–royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untamed youth.

ISHMAEL: Wow, Queequeg's almost as good as white person royalty! If only he'd been raised white, then I would be able to respect him as a noble human being!

Is it wrong to want to give the narrator a good backhand? Because, seriously, Ishmael. What the crap.

I understand that Ishmael's attitude mirrors the prevailing attitudes of the time he was written in. Heck, by some standards, he's progressive. But my God, is he annoying to read.

Back in the narrative, some white Christian sailors visit Kokovoko/Rokovoko, and Queequeg immediately feels a burning desire to join them. They refuse because they are huge jerks and don't deserve to have someone as awesome as Queequeg along for the ride. Queequeg does not take this refusal lying down. He takes his canoe out to a spot where he knows their ship will pass, jumps on the ship, capsizes the canoe, and dangles from a ring on the rigging, refusing to let go even when the captain threatens to chop his hands off.

Because he's a badass, that's why.

And so Queequeg travels the world, becomes a harpooneer, and tries to learn something he can apply as a leader back home. But it turns out the Christian world is full of hypocritical bastards (le gasp!), which leaves Queequeg at something of a loss. Unable to find much use in learning from Christian society, he feels tainted by it, and doesn't want to return home in his tainted state. Can't say I blame him.

Asked about his present plans, Queequeg tells Ishmael that he plans to go a-whaling. They resolve to get on the same ship because they are bros 4 lyfe.

The chapter concludes with the following.

pg. 60: His story being ended with his pipe's last dying puff, Queequeg embraced me, pressed his forehead against mine, and blowing out the light, we rolled over from each other, this way and that, and very soon were sleeping.

The only way this could be cuter is if there were a .gif of the peekaboo kitten embedded within the book itself.

In Chapter Thirteen: Wheelbarrow, Queequeg continues to be totally radcore.

Ishmael and Queequeg leave the Spouter-Inn and head towards the Moss, a schooner from New Bedford to Nantucket. The name of this chapter comes from the wheelbarrow they use to transport their luggage (which is like, 3 bags and a harpoon).*

Queequeg takes this opportunity to tell Ishmael about his previous wheelbarrow adventures. When Queequeg first encountered a wheelbarrow, he didn't know how to use it. So instead of wheeling it along, he hoisted the whole thing on his back and carried it.

Because he's got superstrength, that's why.

Ishmael's response to this story is predictably... Ishmael.

pg. 62: "Why," said I, "Queequeg, you might have known better than that, one would think. Didn't the people laugh?"

No, Ishmael, I don't think they did. Something tells me Queequeg carried his wheelbarrow with the same confidence that he has when spearing his breakfast with a harpoon. Furthermore, the dude is strong enough to carry a goddamn wheelbarrow on his back. Confidence + physical strength = laugh at your own peril.

Queequeg is far less judgmental than myself and answers Ishmael's question with another story. Once upon a time, a Christian captain was invited to attend Queequeg's sister's wedding. The High Priest blessed the juice before everyone drank it. The Captain, seeing the Priest dip his fingers in the bowl of juice, proceeded to wash his hands in it.

pg. 63: "Now," said Queequeg, "what you tink now?–Didn't our people laugh?"

Touché, Queequeg.

The story is unremarkable, save for one tiny detail. Queequeg's sister? The one who's getting married in the story?

She's ten.



Moving right along, Ishmael and Queequeg board the Moss. Ishmael prattles on about the ocean for a bit, then notices the other passengers can't keep their eyes off him and Queequeg.

pg. 63: So full of this reeling scene were we, as we stood by the plunging bowsprit, that for some time we did not notice the jeering glances of the passengers, a lubber-like assembly, who marvelled that two fellow beings should be so companionable...

Even background characters are impressed by Queequeg and Ishmael's ~true love~.

pg. 63: though a white man were anything more dignified than a whitewashed negro.

Why do you ruin everything, Ishmael.**

One the bumpkins starts imitating Queequeg behind his back. Queequeg catches him in the act, and then...

pg. 64: Dropping his harpoon, the brawny savage caught him in his arms, and by an almost miraculous dexterity and strength, sent him high up bodily into the air; then slightly tapping his stern in midsomerset, the fellow landed with bursting lungs upon his feet, while Queequeg, turning his back upon him, lighted his tomahawk pipe and passed it to me for a puff.

Like I said, Queequeg is a fantastic badass.

The passenger complains to the captain, who gives Queequeg a scolding. Queequeg is like "whatever" and the trip goes on until the boom on the ship comes loose and starts swinging around, knocking the bumpkin overboard and generally causing mayhem.

pg. 65: In the midst of this consternation, Queequeg dropped deftly to his knees, and crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a rope, secured one end to the bulwarks, and then flinging the other like a lasso, caught it round the boom as it swept over his head, and at the next jerk, the spar was that way trapped, and all was safe. The schooner was run into the wind, and while the hands were clearing away the stern boat, Queequeg, stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long living arc of a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming like a dog, throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns revealing his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam. I loked at the grand and glorious fellow, but saw no one to be saved. The greenhorn had gone down. Shooting himself perpendicularly from the water, Queequeg now took an instant's glance around him, and seeming to see just how matters were, dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more, and he rose again, one arm still striking out, and with the other dragging a lifeless form. The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin was restored.

In conclusion, Queequeg is the best ever.

*I wish all the other chapter titles were this self-explanatory. Remember chapter eleven? "Nightgown"? What the crap was that? I am pretty sure nobody was wearing a nightgown. Should have called it Chapter Eleven: Cuddles.
**I will grant you that, by the standards of its time, this was a progressive and even noble statement, but nowadays, it is just awk everywhere.


Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six (You Are Here)
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen
Part Nineteen
Part Twenty
Part Twenty-One
Part Twenty-Two


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

February 2012

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