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Chapter Summaries With Notes:
Chapter 1 Summary
The novel begins with the principal character addressing the reader. He then goes on to regale the reader with a description of his life on the sea. Six months has passed since they left the shores, and all their provisions are exhausted. The speaker misses the sight of land and yearns for a glimpse of greenery.
Food is really scarce on the ship. Only a single cock remains in the chicken-hoop, and he too is to be devoured soon. Nerves are strung tight among the crewmen and a fault in the steering of Jack Lewis, a crewman, is explained back boldly to Captain Vangs.
Finally, it is settled that in a week’s time, the ship would be harboring at an island called Marquesas. The speaker is overjoyed and relieved at this decision and is gaily expectant of a lovely time there, with "cannibal banquets, groves of cocoa, nuts, tattooed chiefs and bamboo temples."
A brief history of the island is also revealed. This island still remains barbarous as ever. Some missionaries had attempted to being the tribals to the right path but had given up the fruitless task. The island, after a brief spell of glory had relapsed into its obscurity and it is only now that its peaceful repose is to be broken. The speaker finds a great deal of joy in the realization that his narrative would be helping in withdrawing the veil from this romantic region.
The opening of the novel is unique, in that it is almost like a conversation between the speaker and the reader. The speaker addresses the reader occasionally as in "Yes, reader as I live..." or in "Hurrah, my lads!" This of course, does not continue for too long, and the narrative continues on a normal course.
From this quaint one-sided dialogue one can realize that the speaker is a young lad, on board a ship which has been sailing for a considerable amount of time. They are supposedly cruising after the sperm whale, but the depletion of the resources seems to have sidelined their motive.
The strong, deep urge to see land has been explicitly conveyed- "Oh! For a refreshing glimpse of one blade of grass." At the same time, the sad lack of food describes well the plight of the crewman. Death seems to be ordained for the cock to fill the empty bellies of the crewman, yet sorrow is felt deeply too.
The islands of Marquesas had been among the earliest of European discoveries in the South Seas and had been earlier visited in the year 1595. The inhabitants were barbarians, living a life undisturbed by urban civilization. Vessels which were engaged in whale fisheries had harbored there but not for too long, fearing the natives. Thus, the speaker envisages an interesting stop at these islands expecting adventure and beauty intermixed here.