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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 10 - 12

Summary

Ishmael returns to the Spouter-Inn. Here, he sees Queequeg who has left the chapel before the sermon came to an end. Queequeg is sitting alone, looking at his ebony idol. As Ishmael studies Queequeg’s ‘ugly’ face, he observes that despite the hideousness of his appearance, the harpooner has an honest heart and a face that reveals quiet dignity and courage. What Ishmael finds truly admirable in Queequeg is that in spite of his loneliness (a man who is 20,000 miles from his native place will always want a friend), he did not force himself upon the other sailors. Therefore, Ishmael decides to befriend him. They talk to each other and Queequeg offers his pipe to Ishmael as a friendly gesture. After the smoke, Queequeg presses his forehead against Ishmael’s and holds him at the waist. By doing so, Queequeg tells him that they are now ‘married,’ i.e., they are friends, who will protect each other until the end.

Later, Queequeg and Ishmael go to their room after supper. In the room, Queequeg gives Ishmael half of his all his possessions including his money as a token of their friendship. Once again, before retiring to bed, Queequeg kneels down to offer his prayers to the idol. But this time, he asks Ishmael to join him in the strange ceremony. Though Ishmael is uncertain, as he does not believe in idol worship, he decides to join Queequeg in return for his friendship and to befriend someone is the will of God.

The prayers are done and both the friends go to bed. But the room is extremely cold for their comfort. So they sit up and huddle together to keep themselves warm. Queequeg produces his pipe, and sitting together on the bed, they share a smoke. Between the puffs from the pipe, Queequeg tells about himself and the native place where he is from. Queequeg belongs to the Island of Kokovoko in the South Pacific. His father is king of his tribe, while his uncle is the priest. When Queequeg was young, a whaling ship visited his island. The whaling ship with its crew rouses interest in Queequeg to travel round the world and see new people and places. So he pleaded with the captain to take him aboard for he had heard about the Christian world. Now, he wanted to visit it. But the captain refused. Determined to pursue his dream, Queequeg took a canoe and paddles his way through the sea until he meets the whaling ship returning home. Realizing that Queequeg is determined to have his own way, the captain decided to take him along. On this journey Queequeg learned the fine art of harpooning and became an expert at it. He also learned that Christians can be just as cruel and evil as the pagans.


Ishmael asks him if he would like to return home and become the king of his tribe. To this, Queequeg replies no. In any case it is too late for that. Besides, he plans to go to sea again. Ishmael is pleased to hear this and they decide to go to Nantucket together.

Notes

These past three chapters depict the bond developing between Ishmael and Queequeg. The friendship that flowers between these two strangers reveals the fact that despite differences in race, religion and nationality, a close friendship based on mutual respect and understanding can be formed between human beings.

The chapters also reveal the finer points of the ‘cannibals’ world as opposed to the limitations of the civilized world. Through the depiction of Queequeg, the author shows that non-Christians such as Queequeg can possess fine qualities of quiet dignity, courage and unconditional friendship. Furthermore, though Queequeg leaves his pagan world to learn the ways of the Christian world, he does not benefit from it. Instead, he discovers that the Christian world can be cruel, harsh and full of hypocrisy. Therefore, what the author suggests is that the superiority of a civilized nation does not depend on how technologically advanced it is. Similarly, an individual’s values do not depend on his religion. This contrast between the two worlds - the civilized and the pagan - brought out by the author appears elsewhere in the story.

These contrasts are also set up between what constitutes good and evil. Ahab sees Moby Dick as being a symbol of all that is evil and makes it his life’s work to destroy him. However, Melville suggests that evil cannot exist without good. As the narrators says, "Nothing exists by itself." Therefore by trying to destroy the white whale, Ahab is in effect not eradicating evil but simply reducing the amount of good in the world as the two cannot be separated.

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