In the chapter titled The Ramadan, the reader is educated on the actions and practices of Queequeg, through the outside perspective held by Ishmael. This begins with Ishmael expressing his toleration of Queequeg’s religion, but not necessarily the respect it deserves. Ishmael claims to have respect, but he also describes the religious obligations of Ramadan as comical. As the day progresses, Ishmael becomes concerned that Queequeg is in danger, or may have harmed himself, because the bedroom door is locked and he is not getting a response.
We follow along as Ishmael frantically recruits help from the landlady, eventually busting the door open because of his increased worriedness. After discovering Queequeg squatted silently in the bedroom, Ishmael states, “I began to grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright senseless and insane to be sitting there all day and half the night on his hams in a cold room, holding a piece of wood on his head”.
These harsh feelings are extremely contradictory to Ishmael’s neutral thinking that we were exposed to in the beginning of the chapter.
In doing this, Melville leaves the reader questioning whether Ishmael respects Queequeg’s actions and beliefs, or if he views them as crazy. Throughout this chapter, Melville has done a wonderful job capturing and transporting the reader to the internal struggle that Ishmael is faced with. As readers, we begin to understand the difficulty behind accepting people who we struggle to relate with. Melville is using the mixed emotions of the narrator during Queequeg’s Ramadan as a way to express the narrow mindedness of many individuals.
Lastly, Ismael states, “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”. Here, it is made clear to the reader that Queequeg is looking down upon Ismael, but we are not sure if this due to their difference in religion, or their difference in character.
In the chapter titled The Whiteness of the Whale, the reader learns what Ishmael thinks of the white whale that the Pequod has been in pursuit of. It is made clear that the color of Moby- Dick has a tremendous impact on Ishmael. Melville takes the reader on a poetic journey through the different lenses in which the color white can be seen. He states, “…yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of a panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood”. Here, Melville is explaining that whiteness can signify both purity, which is our preconceived notion of it symbolically, and malevolence, which he refers to as the color red. In providing examples of both good and evil representations of the color white, Melville is allowing the reader to form their own interpretations. It causes the reader to ponder whether “whiteness” is full of light, or simply devoid of everything else.
For example, “Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors..”. In using Moby Dick as a figurative representation, Melville is creating the whale to be the most ambiguous symbol, and its whiteness is the most ambiguous aspect. In doing this, he is allowing readers to use this text as a means of increasing their own understanding, through interpretation, in regards to the aspects in their own life that may hold symbolic meaning.In the chapter titled Brit, the reader is listening to Ishmael discuss his time spent among the brit, which happen to be a major food source for Right Whales. He begins describing these whales, “Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they paused and were stationary for a while, their vast black forms looked more like lifeless masses of rock than anything else. Here, in using his words to paint a mental image for the reader, Melville is also suggesting that the sea offers only its surface for interpretation, while hiding unknown events in its depths. He goes on to discuss the very lively happenings of life beneath the sea, something even he is left pondering.
This provides itself as a perfect model for human perception, given the fact that individuals often pass judgements based on appearances, or surfaces, rather than the story behind, or underneath, an individual. In addition, Ishmael begins to explain the savage tendencies of the sea, “No mercy, no power but its own controls it. Panting and snorting like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider, the masterless ocean overruns the globe”. With this vivid description, Melville leaves the reader questioning if the sea has no destiny or rather if the sea itself is destiny. With this, the reader is left to shape their own ideas regarding their destiny, and the destiny of others, in relation to the larger forces that take control in society. Finally, the reader is asked to consider both the sea and the land in comparison to themselves. This connects to Melville’s earlier words regarding the Right Whales resembling rocks, for example, even when we examine ourselves, we see only surfaces and quick glimpses of hidden truths. Throughout this chapter, the reader is able to use Melville’s words as a crucial tool in beginning to understand how they perceive both themselves and others, and how this could potentially affect their destiny.
In the chapter titled Queequeg in his Coffin, we learn that Ishmael’s companion, Queequeg, has become extremely sick due to an aggressive fever. Soon after, Queequeg requests that the carpenter make him a canoe that will eventually function as a coffin. Ishmael goes on to explain that Queequeg wishes to have this made because the wood resembles the war-wood of his native isle, where it was a custom to leave a dead warrior stretched out in his canoe floating on the water. In explaining this desire, Melville helps the reader to understand that even though Queequeg is deemed a savage, he is still a person with feelings. Once the coffin is made, Queequeg lies down inside and then comes to the conclusion that he is not ready to die yet, “…at a critical moment, he had just recalled a little duty ashore, which he was leaving undone; and therefore had changed his mind about dying: he could not die yet, he averred”.
In choosing to use the words “little duty”, Melville is adding a touch of humor to a rather serious matter, once again helping the reader to better understand the mental state of Queequeg. Following through with his word, Queequeg soon begins to heal. The coffin now functions as a chest, which is filled with carvings of Queequeg’s tattoos. These tattoos function as a record of experience and knowledge. With this representation, Melville is demonstrating that tradition and learning are passed on from person to person, and every person is a book, albeit in not quite so literal a fashion as Queequeg. Since he has no one from home to pass on knowledge from his body, he copies them onto his coffin hoping the information will survive when he no longer does. Here, Melville is using the carvings in the coffin as a symbol of inevitable death, leaving the reader wondering if the novel will survive the writers eventual death.
The chapter titled The Symphony begins with Ishmael giving a vivid description of his surroundings. In doing this, he labels the gentle birds above him as feminine while referring to the sea and its inhabitants as masculine. With this, Melville is using the power of his words to help the reader make their own assumptions about their surroundings. Later in the chapter, Ahab begins to contemplate his free will and his identity, “What is it, what nameless inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time…” (pg 406). Here, Melville is showing us a more vulnerable side of Captain Ahab, while also hinting at the true strength of the white whale. Ahab understands both the folly of his quest and the fact that he is compelled to pursue it by some force he cannot overcome.
Even though he has called himself foolish and thinks himself pathetic, he doesn’t think he could give up the hunt because he’s impelled by fate. In taking us through these realizations, Melville is conveying a deeper message about the fate of individuals and who is necessarily in control of it. In seeing this vulnerability and honesty within Ahab, the reader is better able to develop feelings or sympathy, which in turn helps the reader to make personal connections to what is being said within Melville’s writing. Finally, this chapter comes to a close with the statement, “Ahab crossed the deck to gave over on the other side; but started at two reflected, fixed eyes in the water there”. By ending this chapter with Ahab looking at his own reflection through the ocean as a mirror, Melville is suggesting that Ahab could potentially be the only one truly in control of his destiny. This leaves the reader pondering their own fate and who they believe to be in control.