Before there was Bill and Ted, Harold and Kumar, the dudes from Dude, Where’s My Car?, there was Ishmael and Queequeg.
I’m trying to make up my mind about Ishmael and Queequeg. Are they more than besties? When Ishmael wakes up that first morning, he finds Queequeg’s arm wrapped protectively around him: it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me. Then things take a humorous turn when Ishmael can’t wake Queequeg up. Oh, those guys! Later, the pair become better acquainted and Queequeg splits his worldly goods with him. [H]e pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends. Bosom friends. Sure. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair. They then spend the night cuddling under the covers.
So, okay, I know there are cultural differences, but I’m pretty sure they’re a couple now. Even in the 19th century, this would be clear, right? In the previous chapters, Ishmael claims that no man wants to share a bed with another man, even his own brother, and now he’s totally down with it. What changed, bro?
For fun, look at this artwork created by AmbrMerlinus. It’s pretty awesome.
During these chapters, Ishmael spends some time observing Queequeg. At first, he finds his habits strange, but looks beyond their differences to see the man that Quuequeg is. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor. His forehead reminds Ishmael of George Washington. He admires his aloofness: content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. That aloofness makes me wonder. Here was Queequeg, surrounded by strangers who show little interest in him other than revulsion, when this very intense weird guy shows him all this attention. Was Queequeg lonely? It’s hard to say, since this story is told from Ishmael’s POV. I can only guess, but I would say yes.
Queequeg tells Ishmael his origin story. He was the son of the Chief of his homeland and was all set to take his father’s place, except he had the wanderlust. One day he just up and hops on a ship and is gone. It’s like if Prince William became a stowaway on a mission to Mars without telling George and Kate. He thought by learning the Christian ways he could make his people happier, but found out they were a miserable bunch. Still, he enjoyed whaling well enough: They had made a harpooneer of him, and that barbed iron was in lieu of a sceptre now.
The pair decided to travel to Nantucket together to search for work on a whaling ship. They catch a packet schooner to the island. There is a bit of a kerfuffle when a young jerk starts making fun of Queequeg. Queequeg grabs the guy and tosses him into the air! While the Captian has words with Queequeg, the guy he tossed is swept off the boat. Queequeg rescues him and when the whole ship congratulates him, Queequeg acts like it’s no big thing. Ishmael puffs off with pride. “That’s my man!” I imagine him thinking.
Yojo, Queequeg’s god, has decided that Ishmael will find them a ship. Ishmael begrudgingly accepts the task, though he thinks an experienced harpooneer would be more qualified. While Ishmael is gone, Queequeg settles in for a fast in their rented room at the Try Pots inn. Ishmael calls this “The Ramadan” because Ishmael knows nothing about religion. Queequeg takes this fast seriously and sits unmoving for hours, until Ishmael arrives and finds him locked out of his room. Eventually he breaks down the door, but Queequeg remains in a trancelike state until morning. At this point, Ishmael tries to argue that this religious practice is bad for him, but Queequeg is deaf to his entreaties: He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.
Religion has come up twice now. I think I’ll have some thoughts on that later on.
That’s the story of Ishmael and Queequeg so far. What do you make of them if you’ve read it?
Next Post: There are other people in this book.