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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapter 16


The following day, Queequeg tells Ishmael that he has confessed with his god - the wooden idol called Yojo--and that Yojo has told him that Ishmael must go on his own to select the ship, which they both will join. Queequeg further adds that his God Yojo has said that Ishmael will instinctively know which ship is the best. Initially, Ishmael is not too keen on going alone, but Queequeg insists that it is what Yojo wants. So Ishmael gives in and goes to the docks.

At the docks, he comes across three ships that seem sturdy enough to sustain the three year long voyage on Sea. They are ‘Devil Dam’, ‘Tit-bit’ and the Pequod. After giving a careful thought, Ishmael decides upon choosing the Pequod. The Pequod is named after an extinct Indian tribe in America. The ship is both stately and sturdy, and Ishmael climbs on deck. On the deck, he asks an imposing man where he can see the captain. Instead of answering his question, the man fires questions at Ishmael. When Ishmael tells him that he wants to sail on the ship and has had experience on three merchant ships, the man gets worked up. He informs Ishmael in an angry tone that working on a merchant ship and working on whaling ship are two entirely different things. Ishmael learns that this rather haughty middle- aged man is Captain Peleg, co-owner of the Ship. Captain Peleg takes Ishmael to Captain Bildad’s, (the other owner) cabin. While deciding on the 'lay' (money to be paid to Ishmael), Captain Peleg and Bildad get into a heated argument. The argument reaches a point where Peleg goes up to Bildad menacingly, all set to beat him up, and Bildad jumps off his chair and rushes for cover. Ultimately, the 300 th lay is decided for Ishmael.

Ishmael signs the paper and inquires if he can bring along Queequeg. When both the partners learn that Queequeg can wield the harpoon very well, they tell Ishmael to bring him along. At this point Ishmael inquires about the Captain of the ship and expresses his desire to see him. However, Peleg informs him that the Captain Ahab does not wish to meet anyone, as he is not well. Moreover he wants to be with his wife for a while before sailing. Ishmael should not worry as Ahab is an able and competent captain who knows his job well. Peleg assures Ishmael that though Ahab has only one leg, he is not as evil as his name suggests. (Ahab is the name of an evil king from the Bible.)


In this chapter, the reader is introduced to several new characters, Captain Ahab being the most important one. Once again the author brings out contrasts by setting up the two owners, Peleg and Bildad, as being markedly different from each other And yet despite the differences in their physical appearances as well as their behavior, they are close friends and good enough partners who run the Pequod’s affairs together.

Captain Peleg gives Ishmael some information about the captain of the ship. He is described as the "grand, Ungodly, god-like man," which seems strange to Ishmael. But Ishmael discovers on the journey that it not far from the truth. For Ahab is ‘god like,’ in his determination and single mindedness of purpose. However, it his purpose that is evil which makes him ungodly.

Through this chapter, Melville also comments on the religious beliefs and practices prevalent then. The wages received by the sailors after the journey is called ‘lays’. So, when the time comes to decide on the lay to be paid to Ishmael, Captain Bildad reads from the Bible: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth..." When the owners have to pay a sailor, they give the smallest amount possible and keep the lion’s share for themselves. In other words, Bildad is using what the Bible says about material possessions to selfishly hoard a larger portion of the ship’s earnings.

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