Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 10–21

Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

Ishmael starts admiring Queequeg’s serene comportment, he develops a great respect for his new friend, and notes that “you cannot hide the soul” under tattoos and appearances. Ishmael still has an image of Queequeg as a savage, but he becomes, in Ishmael’s mind, “George Washington cannibalistically developed". Ishmael with his small gestures extends a hand of friendship toward Queequeg, and the two become friends. He starts liking Queequeg’s sincerity and lack of Christian “hollow courtesies". According to the customs of Queequeg, both are “married” after a social smoke out of the tomahawk pipe. Queequeg gifts half of his belongings to Ishmael. The two continue to share a bed, having many long chats. Ishmael joins Queequeg’s in idol worship, clarifying to his Christian readers that he is only obeying the Golden Rule, as he would hope the “savage” to join in Christian worship with him.

Chapter 11: Nightgown

One night Queequeg and Ishmael are awake as it is cold outside. The warmth of the bed and of their companionship is pleasant. They share a smoke and Queequeg recounts his life story.

Chapter 12: Biographical

Queequeg hails from a South Pacific island called Kokovoko, which is “not down on any map; true places never are". He was the king’s son who wanted to leave the island to see the world and to learn about Christianity. When a whaling ship came to Kokovoko, he sought a job in it but was denied. He stowed away on the departing ship and was finally taken on as a whaler. Since then he has become a skilled harpooner. His father is probably dead by now, meaning that Queequeg would be king, but he can never go back because to his island as his interaction with Christianity has made him unfit to ascend his homeland’s “pure and undefiled throne". For Queequeg, Ishmael notes, “that barbed iron [Queequeg’s harpoon] was in lieu of a scepter now.” The duo plans to go to Nantucket to set sail on a whaler.

Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

Ishmael and Queequeg leave for Nantucket with a wheelbarrow full of their things. The people of New Bedford are surprised to see a white man and “savage” behaving so friendly with each other. Queequeg narrates Ishmael stories about the first time he used a wheelbarrow — he picked it up instead of wheeling it. He also tells him a funny story about a white captain who attended a wedding feast on Kokovoko and became a butt of jokes. On their way to Nantucket, an idiotic man mimics Queequeg. The savage flips the man around in the air and is gets scolded by the captain. Suddenly, a rope in the ferry’s rigging snaps and that falls into the sea as the ferry goes out of control. Queequeg immediately secures the ferry and then jumps into the water to save the man. His bravery in saving the man wins him everyone’s respect.

Chapter 14: Nantucket

The narrator here digresses from the story to describe the island of Nantucket. He recounts some of the legends about the island and narrates the tall tales told about life on the island. He also notes that Nantucketers own the seas and that their empire, covering two-third of the globe, is bigger than that of any country.

Chapter 15: Chowder

The duo settles at the Try-Pots inn for the night. It is owned by the cousin of the Spouter-Inn’s owner. Ishmael is concerned about an old topmast above the inn that looks like gallows. Everything on Nantucket is related sea in one way or the other: the milk tastes of fish, and the innkeeper’s wife wears a necklace of fish vertebrae. The two friends have a supper of hearty chowder.

Chapter 16: The Ship

Ishmael takes the blessings of Yojo, Queequeg’s wooden idol, to find a ship for the two men. He alights upon Pequod, a ship “with an old fashioned claw-footed look about her” and “appareled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory". Ishmael calls Pequod a “cannibal of a craft” because it is bejeweled with whale parts. He strikes a deal with the ship’s Quaker owners, Peleg and Bildad, who are described as conniving fellows and bitter taskmasters. Quakers are generally pacifists but these two have dedicated their life to the slaughter of whales. Peleg carefully evaluates what amount Ishmael should get, his portion of the ship’s profits and his only wages, and finally agrees to give him the 300th lay. Ishmael also learns that the ship’s captain is the mysterious Ahab, named after a wicked biblical king. Ahab has been eccentric and secretive since losing his leg in an encounter with the great white whale Moby Dick. But, Bildad and Peleg trust his competence and take him as harmless as he has a young wife and an infant child waiting for him at home.

Chapter 17: The Ramadan

The duo returns to the inn and Ishmael lets Queequeg off for a day for his “Ramadan” ceremonies. He gets worried when his friend does not open the door in the evening. Ishmael gets panicky and finally opens the door to find Queequeg deep in meditation. Queequeg does not respond to his friends' calls and continues to meditate until the next morning. They discuss with each other the discomforts of Queequeg’s religion. The next morning the duo has a heavy breakfast and return to Pequod.

Chapter 18: His Mark

The ship owners object to Queequeg's pagan beliefs but he impresses them with his skill by hitting a tiny spot of tar on the water with his harpoon. Peleg and Bildad are mighty impressed with him and give him the ninetieth lay, “more than ever was given a harpooner yet out of Nantucket".

Bildad vainly tries to convert Queequeg to Christianity but Peleg advises him to give up: “Pious harpooners never make good voyagers — it takes the shark out of ’em; no harpooner is worth a straw whoain’t pretty sharkish.” Peleg reminds Bildad that, at sea, practical concerns are important than religious matters.

Chapter 19: The Prophet

As Ishmael and Queequeg are signing the papers they run into a scarred and deformed man named Elijah. Some say he is a prophet, others think of him as a frightening stranger. He hints to them about the dangers of signing aboard Ahab’s ship. Elijah tells them of several frightening incidents involving Ahab but Ishmael and Queequeg do not pay much heed to the man’s warnings.

Chapter 20: All Astir

For next several days the ship is provisioned for the upcoming voyage. Ishmael learns that Ahab’s health is improving — he is still recovering from the loss of his leg — but the duo has yet to meet the mysterious captain.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

Approaching the Pequod at dawn, Ishmael thinks that he sees sailors boarding the ship and feels that the ship must be leaving at sunrise. Ishmael and Queequeg encounter Elijah again just before they are about to board the ship. Elijah asks Ishmael whether he has seen “anything looking like men” boarding the ship, Ishmael says that he did. However, the ship is quiet, but for one old sailor, who informs them that captain Ahab is already aboard. As the sun rises, the Pequod’s crew starts arriving and the ship prepares to sail.


A remarkably intense bond begins to grow between Ishmael and Queequeg. From seeing Queequeg as a thing “hideously marred” about the face and body with tattoos, Ishmael starts comparing Queequeg to George Washington. The duo becomes “a cosy, loving pair” and become an example of ideal friendship based on respect and sharing. People in New Bedford, though used to seeing cannibals in their streets, are shocked by the pair’s closeness. Here, many of Ishmael’s comments about Queequeg are made deliberately to shock the 19th century reader. Ishmael’s willful acceptance and embracing of Queequeg’s pagan beliefs is a prime example of Melville’s attempt to provoke a reaction. Though Ishmael acknowledges that he is a Presbyterian, he does not insist on the correctness of his own religion. Instead, he focuses on the unity of religions and the brotherhood of man. The narrative continues to cast doubt on racial and religious prejudice and dogma. Ironically, Queequeg is of the belief that his exposure to Christianity is a sort of contaminant that leaves him unfit to rule his native people rather than a deliverance from ignorance. By saving the ferry and the idiotic person from drowning, Queequeg shows that he is not a dangerous “devil". In this way, he also disproves the prejudice of the Nantucket ferry’s passengers and captain. His exceptional skill with the harpoon impresses Peleg and Bildad to ignore his religious practices and take him on board the Pequod. Owner Peleg, though a Quaker, admits that religious beliefs are of little use at sea where daring and attention to the task at hand are the necessary skills for survival. However, there are limits to Ishmael’s tolerance. Queequeg’s extreme abstinence during Ramadan ritual makes Ishmael angry but it does not have any effect on Queequeg. Ishmael considers excessive fasting a folly as it leads to malnourishment, for him, it is akin to the folly of religious “dyspepsia”.

Chapters 10 to 21 are filled with foreshadowing and dark imagery. Elijah, named after the Old Testament prophet who foretold about the destruction to the biblical Ahab, tells Ishmael and Queequeg that the vessel Pequod is doomed. The ship is indeed an emblem of death. Named after a tribe of New England Indians who were killed by the white settlers, it is adorned with whale bones and teeth and painted in a dark color. Elijah’s fears seem to be rational as he refers to the incidents of bad judgment and unnecessary risks taken by Ahab. Captain Ahab is himself “desperate moody and savage,” inspiring sympathy, pity, and “a strange awe” in Ishmael. Named after an Israeli king who draws God's ire with his idol worship, Ahab seems a jinxed figure. His obsession with the whale — sorts of perverse worship — has already injured him corporeally and spiritually. There is a looming sense that the conflict will only heighten as the story progresses.

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