ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
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Chapter Twenty-Six: Knights and Squires is all about Starbuck, maker of expensive coffee and first mate aboard the Pequod.

Ishmael describes him as thin, but still healthy looking. Lean, perhaps, is the word he is looking for? The description provided makes me think of the kind of body types one finds in certain manga, and now the image of a bishi Starbuck will not get out of my head and I am envisioning an entire Moby Dick manga series and good God that would not end well.

Ishmael also takes great pains to describe Starbuck's superstitious nature, which, according to Ishmael, comes from intelligence, not ignorance. I find it interesting that the superstitions of Starbuck, a Christian, are held in higher regard than the superstitions of Queequeg, a non-Christian. Maybe not "interesting" so much as "disappointing."

Blah blah holding 19th-century fiction up to 21st-century standards blah.

In addition to this, Ishmael says that a man without valor is the most depressing thing one could ever see. Not sure if this will come up later or if it's just another one of Ishmael's weird tangents.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Knights and Squires has the exact same title as the chapter preceding it, which leaves me confused and afraid. But said title is finally explained: it is a metaphor! The knights are the mates aboard the Pequod, and their squires are the harpooneers.

The second mate is Stubb, a happy-go-lucky guy from Cape Cod* who likes to smoke even more than Queequeg.

pg. 123: You would almost as soon have expected him to turn out of his bunk without his nose as without a pipe. [...] For, when Stubb dressed, instead of first putting his legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his mouth.

Let us all take a brief moment to chuckle at the spelling of "trowsers," because Ws look silly.

Ishmael believes that Stubb's smoking habit is to blame for his near-constant good mood; he sees it as a filter against the trials and tribulations of being alive, much like a handkerchief is used as a breathing filter in times of cholera. (Did they know about germs yet? Or was this one of those things people knew worked without really knowing why?)

If smoking a pipe every minute of every day is what keeps Stubb so damn happy, I really don't think it's stuffed with tobacco.

Flask is the third mate, from Martha's Vineyard. His disposition seems similar to Stubb's, in that neither one of them views whales particularly highly. Stubb is said to consider a whale hunt like a dinner party, whereas Flask sees whales as overgrown mice fit only to be put down. This is all in contrast to Starbuck, who understands that going out to kill a wild animal about a hundred times your size in its natural habitat is a recipe for nearly-certain death, and acts courageously but with the appropriate cautions. This behavior is attributed to the fact that he's got a wife and kids back home, which is reasonable.

Anyway, Flask. Ishmael says he is "short, stout, and ruddy" (pg. 124), which leads me to believe my earlier assertion that he should be played by Mr. Gibbs is correct.

And now, the harpooneers!

Harpooning for Starbuck is Queequeg, who gets about a sentence of description, because Ishmael thinks we have heard enough about Queequeg. You are wrong, Ishmael. You are very, very wrong.

Stubb works with Tashtego, whom Ishmael describes as "an unmixed Indian from Gay Head." (pg. 125) Translated for a modern audience, this means Tashtego is probably a Wampanoag man from what is now known as Aquinnah. Wikipedia says that Aquinnah "is one of the earliest sites of whaling, done from shore by the Wampanoags, long before the 19th century industry of whaling became the major maritime industry of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and New Bedford, Massachusetts." I'm both surprised and not-surprised that Ishmael doesn't mention this in his praise of Tashtego's skill. Instead, Ishmael chooses to compare Tashtego to an animal, more specifically a snake. ("But in a good way!" one can almost hear the apologetic Ishmael try to explain.)

Speaking of comparing humans to animals, let's talk about Daggoo and feel really uncomfortable.

Daggoo is the harpooneer for Flask. Ishmael calls him, among other things, "an Ahasuerus to behold" (pg. 125), which I had hoped might give us an indication of Daggoo's point of origin, but turns out to be another way of saying Xerxes. So possibly Daggoo is Persian, but Ishmael later says he's from Africa, so I dunno. I wish he'd get more specific, since 1) Africa is a big place, offering about a billion potential birthplaces for Daggoo, any of which would tell us something different about him, and 2) Persia ≠ Africa.

Daggoo is 6'5", wears two gold hoop earrings, and has "retained all his barbaric virtues." (pg. 126) That's about all the detail we can wrangle out of Ishmael, apart from comparisons to a lion and a giraffe. Maybe that was original in Melville's time, but I doubt it.

Ishmael tells us that not even 50% of the people on American whaleboats are "native Americans" (pg. 126)**, and that the majority of this minority are officers. Ishmael believes this is because Americans supply the brains, while the rest of the nations are good for brawn. I believe that Ishmael is a nationalistic idiot.

He also notes that "Islanders seem to make the best whalemen" (pg. 126), though he knows not why. I've got a wacky notion that people who are surrounded by the ocean get used to doing ocean-related things, like, oh, sailing, fishing, etc., and maybe this is why? Whatever, I'm sure Ishmael knows best.

Ishmael ends the chapter with another one of his weird tangents foreshadowing that everyone aboard the Pequod is totally doomed.

pg. 127: Black Little Pip–he never did–oh, no! he went before. Poor Alabama boy! On the grim Pequod's forecastle, ye shall ere long see him, beating his tambourine; prelusive of the eternal time, when sent for, to the great quarter-deck on high, he was bid strike in with angels, and beat his tambourine in glory; called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

From the spoilery stuff I read, I believe Pip is the cabin boy? I'm sure we'll get a proper introduction later.

Next time, on Moby Dick, or the Rant, we read Chapter Twenty-Eight: Ahab, which I take to mean that we will finally see Gregory Peck Patrick Stewart the captain. Or perhaps it's another chapter of Ishmael wondering what the captain is like, who knows. Fingers crossed!

*I'm making note of all the place names given because a) Melville seems to think it's of interest, and b) they are the names of places I have been and that doesn't happen very often in fiction. In conclusion, I am incredibly self-indulgent in the details I choose to focus on, please bear with me.
**Note the lowercase n. Ishmael is talking about white people born on American soil, not the people who were actually here first. This is because he is from 1840.


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