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CHAPTER 20: ALL ASTIR
Queequeg and Ishmael watch as the Pequod is readied for a three-year voyage. Whalers must carry more items than merchant ships, for accidents are more frequent, and duplicate boats, lines, and harpoons must be stored. Overseeing the preparations is Bildad's sister, Charity. Strangely, Captain Ahab is still nowhere in sight.
Word is sent out that the ship is ready to sail, and at six on Christmas morning Ishmael and Queequeg make their way to the docks.
Here is more Christian symbolism. Christmas is the day Christ was born, and the beginning of the Christian liturgical year leading to the redemption of Easter, when Christ rises from the dead. Some critics have seen the book as the story of Ishmael's voyage of salvation, ending when he rises from the Pequod's watery grave.
Ishmael sees sailors running ahead, but before he can determine who they are Elijah calls to him. "Did ye see anything looking like men going towards the ship awhile ago?" Elijah asks. "See if you can find 'em now, will ye?" When Ishmael searches the boat, he can't find a trace of the shadowy men-but you'll see them reappear many chapters from now.
In the meantime, Queequeg has made himself comfortable sitting on a sleeping rigger's rear end-a common custom on his island, he says, where peasants are fatted up to be used as sofas. Queequeg's pipe wakes the rigger, who announces the ship will sail today. Ahab remains secluded in his cabin.
CHAPTER 22: MERRY CHRISTMAS
By noon the chief mate and other men are gathering aboard ship. The Pequod then sails out of Nantucket harbor, piloted by Bildad, who sings hymns to drown the sailors' bawdy songs. Ishmael is dreamily contemplating the voyage when he feels a sharp poke in his rear as Peleg kicks him and warns him to get busy.
The boat moves into the Atlantic proper. Peleg and Bildad, no longer needed as harbor pilots, return to Nantucket, at last showing emotion in leaving men who have a long, difficult journey ahead of them. But Bildad's final words show the conflict between his religion and his business sense-the men shouldn't work on Sunday, he piously advises, but if on a Sunday there is a fair chance of catching a whale they had better not reject heaven's gifts. The conflict between leading a Godly life and a profitable one is also apparent in the holiday on which the Pequod sails-Christmas Day.
CHAPTER 23: THE LEE SHORE
Ishmael discovers that Bulkington, the tall, silent man he had seen at the Spouter-Inn, is now at the helm of the Pequod. Yet this brief chapter is this intriguing figure's "stoneless grave"- we never hear anything more about him. Some critics have suggested that Bulkington may have played a more important role in an earlier version of the novel. Here Melville uses the helmsman as a way of contrasting land and sea. The land means safety, yet, paradoxically, during a storm a ship is safer in the open sea than near shore. The sea is the home of independence and truth; it is-and this is an important clue to Melville's view of the universe-"indefinite as God."Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version