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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 9: THE SERMON

Father Mapple begins the service as if giving orders to sailor's on a ship. "Starboard gangway, there!" he says. Solemnly, then joyfully, he reads a hymn dealing with the subject of his sermon, Jonah and the Whale. With resounding eloquence, Mapple tells the congregation that the lesson of Jonah has meaning for all of them, and particularly for himself. God ordered Jonah to journey to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness. But like all sinful men, Jonah found God's commands difficult to obey. He fled and boarded a ship for Tarshish. The Lord sent a fierce storm down on the ship, and Jonah was thrown into the ocean and swallowed by a great fish. He remained inside the fish for three days and three nights, until his prayers to a merciful Lord earned his release.

NOTE: THE STORY OF JONAH

With its lesson of obedience to God (and of course its seagoing setting), the story of Jonah is one of the most telling of the biblical stories Melville refers to in Moby-Dick. (Another is the story of Job.) Later on, you'll see the experiences of Ishmael, and his captain, Ahab, compared to Jonah's. But as often happens in Moby-Dick, the lesson can be read in more than one way. On the one hand you can take it at face value, as Ishmael seems to here: disobedience to God results in horror and death; obedience brings happiness and salvation. On the other hand, you can argue that, as Ishmael first suspected, Father Mapple is playing an actor's trick on his audience. You'll have to decide whether the lessons that sound so inspiring inside this false ship make sense aboard a real one. Father Mapple says that God is merciful, yet that He is chiefly known to man by His rod-by His punishments. Don't these punishments sometimes seem unjust? Isn't there something within most of us that makes us want to defy them?

CHAPTER 10: A BOSOM FRIEND
CHAPTER 11: NIGHTGOWN
CHAPTER 12: BIOGRAPHICAL

When Ishmael returns from the chapel, he finds Queequeg practicing his own form of worship, with the help of his wooden idol, a jackknife, and a book. Ishmael is puzzled, but not disturbed, for it's become clear to him that, despite his strange customs, Queequeg is at heart a noble man. Ishmael in fact now prefers this pagan friend to his Christian ones. Queequeg returns the friendship, sealing the bond between them by pressing his forehead against Ishmael's. They are "married" now, as Queequeg's people would say; Queequeg would die for Ishmael if necessary. (This promise foreshadows events at the end of the book.) Ishmael joins Queequeg in worship, knowing that he would want Queequeg to do the same for him.

NOTE: FRIENDSHIP

You'll remember that at the start of the book, Ishmael was alone, an outcast. Now he has found a friend. Throughout Moby-Dick Melville indicates that possibilities for friendship and brotherhood exist, if only occasionally. These possibilities provide an alternative to the extreme self-reliance practiced by many of the book's characters. Perhaps the kind of friendship Queequeg and Ishmael promise here is necessary to avoid the doomed, arrogant isolation of Ahab. (A few critics see a homosexual undertone in Ishmael's friendship with Queequeg.)

As the two friends smoke Queequeg's tomahawk pipe, the harpooner tells Ishmael his life story. He stems from an island, Kokovoko, and is of royal lineage. Like Ishmael, Queequeg had a strong desire to see the world, specifically to learn about Christianity. But he has found Christians more prone to evil than his own people, and he's afraid Christians have corrupted him.



NOTE: CHRISTIANITY

You'll notice throughout this section and elsewhere in the book that Melville is uneasy with traditional Christianity. Queequeg has made Christianity seem less honorable than pagan religion, and Ishmael, though a good Presbyterian, finds it easy to worship Yojo.

When Ishmael and Queequeg discover they both intend to go whaling, they decide to sail together. Ishmael has a practical reason for wanting Queequeg's company: it will be helpful to have someone more experienced sailing with him.

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