Moby-Dick By Herman Melville Summary and Analysis Chapters 10-12

Summary

When Ishmael returns to his room after chapel, he finds Queequeg already there, carving on the nose of his small black idol, Yojo. After some friendly conversation, they bond by sharing a pipe of Queequeg's tobacco. Ishmael even joins the pagan in a burnt offering to Yojo. The narrator justifies his behavior by an allusion to the Golden Rule, which urges us to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us (Matthew 7:12). Queequeg shares his personal history, and the two roommates resolve to be shipmates.

Analysis

The development of Ishmael's character continues as he opens his mind to Queequeg's character and background. Although the harpooner is a heathen, by Christian definition, Ishmael increasingly notices the man's independent dignity, good heart, and generous spirit. Despite outward appearances, Ishmael concludes, "You cannot hide the soul."

The harpooner is a native of Kokovoko (called Rokovoko in some chapters and editions), an island in the South Pacific where his father was king and his uncle a high priest. Ishmael has sensed his friend's noble spirit, with or without the pedigree. In fact, almost immediately Ishmael recognizes Queequeg's noble character, noting that he "treated me with so much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness." Queequeg is a synthesis of all racial and ethnic characteristics; that is, he is a symbol of all mankind. His signature is the symbol for infinity.

The two men seal their bond by sharing a smoke from the harpooner's tomahawk pipe as well as a brief religious service honoring Queequeg's idol. After all, Queequeg has just attended a Christian service, which Ishmael appreciates; it seems only right to Ishmael to reciprocate. Opening his mind to religion is an important step for Ishmael, one which Queequeg took by leaving his home to sail the world and learn of Christians. The narrator mentions that both men are discovering that evil exists among Christians at least as much as among pagans. While this knowledge is somewhat disillusioning, it also expands their outlook and leads to a kind of wisdom that narrower minds miss.

Glossary

magnanimous noble in mind, generous in overlooking insult or injury.

confabulation talking together in an informal way, chatting.

ignominy loss of one's reputation; dishonor, infamy.

for the nonce for now, for the time being.

sceptre rod or staff held by rulers on ceremonial occasions.

hap chance occurrence or event, especially an unfortunate one.

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