Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
While working in the dark, damp place where the oil casks are stored, Queequeg falls ill. With a high temperature, he is taken to his hammock. As his condition worsens, the crew is sure, he will not survive the fever. One day he asks that he should be buried in a coffin, which is made in the form of a canoe. The carpenter makes one for him and it brought to the ailing harpooner. He is then placed in coffin at his request along with this harpoon, food and a bag. Queequeg says that it is a fine coffin. Later, he is placed back into his hammock. In a few days, Queequeg recovers miraculously. While recuperating from his fever, he rests and eats more and more food. Queequeg has a rather strange and funny explanation for this surprising recovery. He says that he suddenly remembered that he has some unfinished work left ashore before he dies.
Here, the author once again uses the coffin imagery. Melville wants to suggest that all things can have more than one meaning. For instance, Queequeg asks for a coffin in the shape of a canoe. When he recovers, he turns the coffin into a storeroom for his things. In the following weeks, he makes several carvings on the coffin--making it an object of art. Later, in the novel at the end, the same coffin becomes a life buoy, which saves Ishmael’s life. Thus, what the author intends to show is that the meaning of a particular object is not in the object itself. Instead, it is the particular meaning that individuals bring to it.
Also, from the amazing recovery that Queequeg makes, one learns about his over-whelming desire to live. It is his desire to live and finish the tasks ashore that make him struggle against death.