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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 17 - 19


When Ishmael returns to the inn, he finds the doors of his room locked from the inside. Since Ishmael does not wish to disturb Queequeg’s day of fasting - the Ramadan--he decides to wait. For Queequeg, it is an auspicious day. When Ishmael left the inn that morning, Queequeg had been kneeling before his idol - Yojo, and he seemed to be in a trance.

Ishmael waits for Queequeg to break his fast and open the door, but when evening arrives, there is still no sign of the door opening. Ishmael wonders if Queequeg has collapsed due to exhaustion. He calls for the innkeeper’s wife Mrs. Hussey who peers through the keyholes of the locked doors. She thinks that Queequeg has committed suicide, despite the sign - ‘No suicides’ she has put up. By now, Ishmael cannot take it anymore, so he forces the door open, only to find Queequeg sitting calmly, still praying in his kneeling position. Despite Ismael’s attempts to pull Queequeg out of his trance, he continues to sit before the idol. It is only the following morning that Queequeg gets up and greets Ishmael. Ishmael is rather annoyed by now. He tells Queequeg that though he has nothing against fasting, sitting in a trance throughout the day and a night can be harmful. But Queequeg does not understand. Finally, after breakfast, both the friends go to the Pequod to get Queequeg enlisted.

At first, Ishmael finds it a bit difficult to convince them that Queequeg is not a cannibal, but has become a Christian. When Captain Peleg asks for the papers, Ishmael does not have any papers as proof. Instead he tells Peleg that Queequeg is the member of the greater Church to which all human beings belong. This seems to convince both Captain Peleg and Bildad. Moreover, when they learn what a fine harpooner Queequeg is, they are very happy. Queequeg is accepted and signed for the voyage.

On their way back to the inn, Ishmael and Queequeg meet a stranger with a pockmarked face. He asks them if they have signed up for the voyage on Pequod. He also inquires about the Captain. When Ishmael tells him that he has heard that he (Ahab) is an able one, Elijah asks him if he (Ishmael) has heard the other things about the Captain Ishmael finds all these questions as well as the stranger’s behavior odd. The man says his name is Elijah. Furthermore, he tells Ishmael that it is a tragedy that they have both signed onto the Pequod for a voyage and that may God have mercy on them. Ishmael becomes very uneasy and both he and Queequeg try to brush him aside and walk away. The stranger follows them for a while and then disappears. Though a bit rattled by the stranger’s words, Ishmael is convinced that Elijah is nothing but a ‘humbug’.


In the ‘Ramadan’ chapter, the subject of religion is once again brought up. But now it has to do with Queequeg’s religion which requires him to fast all day. The author reveals that his views on religious practices are critical of religious practices that may do more harm than good to men. However, at the same time, Ishmael is fearful of what Queequeg’s propensity for extreme religious rites may do to him, he also defends him to the captains as a man who belongs to the greater religious order that is concerned with moral issues of right and wrong.

In chapter 19, the author creates a mood of impending doom using the mysterious Elijah. Once again, without even having met Ahab yet, Ishmael gets a sense of foreboding about the journey that he is about to embark on. Yet he cannot resist going on board the ship despite the evidence gathering that it may not go well.

The reader also learns about Ahab, the brave and humane captain of the ship. He was once someone who was overly concerned with humanity. However since his leg was severed by the whale he has become narrow-minded and cynical. This change in his attitude about life will greatly affect what occurs on the Pequod.

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