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In Chapter Fourteen: Nantucket, Ishmael gets real romantic in telling us all about a tiny island.

pg. 66: There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snowshoes' that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles.

You get the idea. He goes on to make racist assumptions about Native Americans and assert that Nantucketeers own the entire ocean. This takes three pages.

In Chapter Fifteen: Chowder, Ishmael herps a derp.

Upon arriving in Nantucket, Ishmael and Queequeg head to Try Pots, an inn recommended to them by the landlord of the Spouter-Inn, Mr. Coffin. He also recommends the chowder served there. Our two heroes get a wee bit lost on the way over but get there eventually. When they do, they see a sign. Or should I say, a Sign.

pg. 69: Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by asses' ears, swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in front of an old doorway. The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on the other side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a gallows. Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at teh time, but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving. A sort of crick was in my neck as I gazed up to the two remaining horns; yes, two of them, one for Queequeg and one for me. It's ominous, think I. A Coffin my Innkeeper upon landing in my first whaling port; tombstones staring at me in the whalemen's chapel; and here a gallows! and a pair of prodigious black pots too! Are these last throwing out oblique hints touching Tophet?

Oh, look, foreshadowing! Did you see it? Huh? Did you? Let me point it out at great length, just in case you missed it, because hot damn, that sure does look like some foreshadowing!

Incidentally, I'm assuming the "asses' ears" the pots are hanging from are not literal asses' ears but some kind of fancifully-named sailor knot. Attempts to confirm it via Google have proven inconclusive. Apparently I am the first person to question the use of animal ears to hold things up.

Ishmael is interrupted from his meta-commentary by Mrs. Hussey, the landlady of Try Pots.

pg. 69: ...Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said–"Clam or Cod?"

"What's that about Cods, ma'am?" said I, with much politeness.

"Clam or Cod?" she repeated.

"A clam for supper? a cold clam; is
that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?" says I; "but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?"


pg. 70: "Queequeg," said I, "do you think we can make out a supper for both of us on one clam?"

Okay, Ishmael, let's review the facts. Mr. Coffin recommended that you try the chowder. Mrs. Hussey is asking if you want clam or cod. Would it be too much of a stretch to assume that she is asking what flavor of chowder you want?

Maybe it's a New England thing, I dunno. But I don't even eat the stuff and I can tell you that clam chowder exists.

In conclusion, Ishmael is a huge noob, which is somewhat surprising since he claims to have been a sailor several times before.

Anyway, Mrs. Hussey gets fed up and serves them clam chowder. Ishmael and Queequeg find it delicious. The chapter mercifully concludes.

The plot looks like it might possibly consider starting to begin in Chapter Sixteen: The Ship.

Queequeg consults with his god Yojo and decides that Ishmael has to pick out their ship alone. He waits and fasts in their room at the inn while Ishmael goes out.

There are three ships for Ishmael to choose from: the Devil-Dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. He picks the Pequod, I assume because it has the least silly-sounding name, and goes aboard to sign up. The Pequod sports whale-tooth pins and a tiller made from a whale's jaw, making it almost badass enough to be worthy of Queequeg.

Aboard the Pequod is Captain Peleg, a part owner of the ship, who subjects Ishmael to a pre-interview interview.

PELEG: What do you want.
ISHMAEL: To sail on your ship?
PELEG: Seriously? Do you know anything about whaling? Like, at all?
ISHMAEL: No, but I've been on a whole bunch of merchant voyages...
PELEG: Fuck merchant voyages! Talk about merchant voyages and I'll cut your leg off. You think you're real smart, don'tcha? Are you a pirate?
ISHMAEL: Uh... no?
PELEG: Why do you want to go whaling?
ISHMAEL: To see what it is?
PELEG: I'll tell you what whaling is. Whaling is getting your leg chewed off by a monstrous leviathan and dragging the bleeding stump home to your wife!
PELEG: You want to see the world?
PELEG: Go to the front of the boat and look.
ISHMAEL: ...'kay.
PELEG: What do you see?
ISHMAEL: Whole lotta nuthin'.
PELEG: The rest of the world is basically that. Still wanna go?
PELEG: Whatever, man.*

Peleg takes Ishmael to meet Captain Bildad, the other part-owner, who gets three pages devoted to his description, the most notable part of which is this:

pg. 80: When Bildad was a chief-mate, to have his drab-colored eye intently looking at you, made you feel completely nervous, till you could clutch something–a hammer or a marling-spike, and go to work like mad, at something or other, never mind what. Indolence and idleness perished from before him. His own person was the exact embodiment of his utilitarian character. On his long, gaunt body, he carried no spare flesh, no superfluous beard, his chin having a soft, economical nap to it, like the worn nap of his broad-brimmed hat.

Bildad's portion of the interview looks like it will be short**, but then they start discussing how much Ishmael will get paid. According to Ishmael, sailors are paid in percentages of a ship's profit, called lays. Ishmael thinks he should get 1/275 of the net profit, aka the 275th lay. But he never gets to voice this, as Bildad decides he should get the 777th lay***. Peleg disagrees.

pg. 83: "Thou Bildad!" roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the cabin. "Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn."

"Captain Peleg," said Bildad steadily, "thy conscience may be drawing ten inches of water, or ten fathoms, I can't tell; but as thou art still an impenitent man, Captain Peleg, I greatly fear lest thy conscience be but a leaky one; and will in the end sink thee foundering down to the fiery pit, Captain Peleg."

"Fiery pit! fiery pit! ye insult me, man; past all natural bearing, ye insult me. It's an all-fired outrage to tell any human creature that he's bound to hell. Flukes and flames! Bildad, say that again to me, and start my soul-bolts, but I'll–I'll–yes, I'll swallow a live goat with all his hair and horns on. Out of the cabin, ye canting, drab-colored son of a wooden gun–a straight wake with ye!"

If the rest of this book is nothing but Ishmael and Queequeg cuddles and old seadogs fighting, I will be a satisfied reader.

Peleg and Bildad's argument concludes with them agreeing to a compromise: Ishmael gets the 300th lay. Ishmael asks if he can bring his "friend" along to sign up tomorrow, and the captains agree. He then inquires as to the sailing captain of the vessel, Captain Ahab. Peleg provides this description:

pg. 85: Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance! aye, the keenest and surest that out of all our isle! Oh! he ain't Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!

I have two incredibly immature things to say about this passage. One, the phrase "Ahab's been in college" gets a certain Rocky Horror Picture Show callback stuck in my head. Two, notice how no one can shut up about Ahab's mighty "lance."

...Okay I'm done.

Ishmael points out that the Biblical Ahab was evil, and Peleg's like, "Yeahhhh, don't mention that to his face. Or at all."

With that, Ishmael departs the Pequod, leaving the reader with one of his characteristic nuggets of wisdom:

pg. 86: As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. [...] And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was.

Translation: I have no idea what I was feeling, but boy, was I ever feeling it!

*I am paraphrasing a lot, but basically, Captain Peleg takes Ishmael to task and it is the most satisfying thing in this book, second only to the homoeroticism.

**BILDAD: You wanna sail?
BILDAD: You're hired!

***Go on, get the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac references out of your system. I'll wait.


Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven (You Are Here)
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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