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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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CHAPTER 110: QUEEQUEG IN HIS COFFIN

The crew searches deeper and deeper in the slimy depths of the Pequod for the leaking casks. The wet chill of the hold nearly proves fatal to Queequeg; he catches a fever and wastes away until there is little left but bones and tattoos, though his eyes remain bright symbols of his healthy soul.

The dying Queequeg makes a strange request: he wants a canoe-shaped coffin so that like his Polynesian ancestors he can sail after death into the Pacific. The carpenter measures Queequeg then displays the finished product to the sick man for final inspection. Queequeg takes his harpoon, a paddle, his idol Yojo, and other items, and lies in the coffin while Pip delivers a mad tribute to his bravery.

After all this preparation, Queequeg recovers. He remembered a minor duty ashore, he tells his amused shipmates, and so decided against dying. To his thinking, any man can save himself by deciding not to die; only some violent outside force, like a storm or a whale, can kill him against his will. Within days Queequeg is throwing his harpoon. The coffin he converts into a sea chest, carving it with replicas of the tattoos on his body. Those tattoos, we learn now, were placed on Queequeg by a prophet and represent a theory of the heavens and the earth, and a way of finding the truth. But because Queequeg himself can't understand what's written on him, they become another sign that the universe is an unsolvable riddle-no wonder that when Ahab looks at them he grows angry at the gods that placed them there.

CHAPTER 111: THE PACIFIC

The Pequod sails through the Pacific, to Ishmael's eyes the most lovely and serene of all oceans. Notice, though, how the tone of the chapter changes as Ishmael moves from his own thoughts of the ocean to Ahab's. To Ahab, the Pacific is only the home of his enemy; even in his sleep he dreams of the moment when at last he will defeat Moby-Dick.



CHAPTER 112: THE BLACKSMITH

After finishing work on Ahab's leg, Perth, the soot-covered old blacksmith, doesn't move his forge back into the hold but keeps it on deck in readiness for the work required as the ship moves into prime whaling grounds. Perth toils away as if "the heavy beating of his hammer [were] the heavy beating of his heart," for he has suffered much in his life. Once a skilled craftsman with a lovely young wife and three children, he saw his life destroyed by alcoholism-the evil thief Melville calls "the bottle conjurer." After the loss of his business, the resulting impoverishment, and deaths in his family, the blacksmith fled to the whaling ship, which is for him almost a death without suicide.

NOTE:

Melville draws many parallels between the blacksmith and the Pequod's captain. Both limp, both married women younger than themselves. Perth's fate is grim; is this a hint that Ahab's will be grim as well?

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Barron's Booknotes-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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