ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
[personal profile] ambrmerlinus
In Chapter Seventeen: Ramadan...

This chapter.

This... this chapter, you guys.

I can't even.

It begins with the following:

pg. 86-87: As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool...*

Point out everything wrong with the bolded portion, win a prize!

The chapter continues, and–

pg. 87: I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects.

Oh my God, Ishmael, shut up.

Anyway, Ishmael returns to the inn after signing up to sail on the Pequod. When he tries to get into his room, he finds that it is locked. Peering through the keyhole, he sees that the door is also barricaded shut with Queequeg's harpoon. He bangs on the door and gets no answer. Assuming Queequeg has had a stroke and/or apoplectic fit and is now dead or dying, Ishmael flips out. He asks the landlady for an axe to break down the door. Her response is... interesting.

pg. 89: "He's killed himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again–there goes another counterpane–God pity his poor mother!–it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?–there, Betty, go to Snarls the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with–'no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;'–might as well kill both birds at once. Kill? The Lord be merciful to his ghost!"*

Not gonna lie, I kind of want to hang a copy of that sign in my living room.

Ishmael breaks down the door, and they all find Queequeg safe and sound. He's observing what Ishmael calls "his Ramadan," which entails sitting very still on the floor with his idol balanced on his head and not moving or responding to any stimuli. Ishmael, describing himself as a man who respects other cultures and is very nice and considerate and pious and whatnot, leaves Queequeg alone.


Haha, just kidding, this happens:

pg. 89: I almost felt like pushing him over, so as to change his position, for it was almost intolerable, it seemed so painfully and unnaturally constrained;

Ishmael goes on and on about how much Queequeg's "Ramadan" bothers him, all the while reminding the reader that Ishmael himself is super tolerate of other religions. Queequeg keeps on sittin', well on into the night, and Ishmael finds it impossible to sleep because he can't keep his goddamn nose out of other people's business. Admittedly, part of it is motivated by concern for Queequeg's well-being, as our favorite harpooneer has not eaten all day, but really, it takes a whole month for a person to starve to death. I think Queequeg will be just fine if you leave him alone, Ishmael.

The next morning, Queequeg gets up from the floor and starts acting like his friendly, tolerant self again. Ishmael responds...

pg. 91: Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any persons religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also.*

Remember that bit, it's going to be important.

pg. 91: But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable in to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.

And just so now I did with Queequeg.


pg. 91: "Queequeg," said I, "get into bed now, and lie and listen to me."

I do like how it is apparently impossible for Ishmael to discuss sensitive topics without being in bed with Queequeg.

pg. 91: I then went on, beginning with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various religions of the present time, during which time I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his.*

Oh no you didn't.

Ishmael continues in this vein for some time, and Queequeg patiently waits for him to finish.

ISHMAEL: Now that I've condescendingly explained world religions to you and told you that your personal beliefs are stupid and wrong, do you understand why I am totally always right?
QUEEQUEG: Whatever.

I get the impression that Queequeg tolerates Ishmael because he's cute, and just ignores all the sounds that come out of his face-hole.

I know it's unfair for me to criticize the actions of a fictional character from a bygone era, particularly if I'm judging him by the standards of my society and not his, but DEAR GOD, ISHMAEL, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING.

Was I naïve to think that Moby Dick would be less racist/bigoted than The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Or was I just plain stupid?

There is no way Melville wrote this character accidentally. He had to know. He must have, for whatever reason, wanted to create an unreliable narrator whose ignorance and hypocrisy would make the reader facepalm with the turn of every page.

Because God knows that's what he ended up with.

In conclusion, this is Ishmael.

*Emphasis mine.


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