Summary and Analysis Chapter 16



On Tuesday morning, Queequeg has a surprise for Ishmael. The harpooner says that his little black idol, Yojo, has informed him that Ishmael is to choose the whaling ship on which they will sail. After considering several vessels, the narrator selects the Pequod and negotiates with two of its owners, Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad, regarding enlistment and pay. The owners settle with Ishmael but are more enthusiastic about hiring Queequeg because he is an accomplished harpooner. Ahab, the ship's captain for the voyage, is not available but is briefly described.


Although Moby-Dick is sometimes thought of as a deep, dark, serious novel, there are moments of delightful humor and even satire. This chapter is an example. Ishmael justifiably feels inadequate to the task of selecting a ship because it is Queequeg who has the whaling experience, but he rather comically accepts Yojo's authority and heads for the docks. He chooses the smallish Pequod (named after an extinct Massachusetts Indian tribe) because it is quaint, noble, even melancholy, all of which are virtues to Ishmael.

Melville has fun with the negotiations regarding Ishmael's pay. There is no set salary for the journey; each man is signed on for a fraction of the ship's profits, called a "lay." Although this is the narrator's first venture on a whaling ship, he has been to sea four times in the merchant service and anticipates a share of 1/275 — about enough, he figures, to pay for his clothing — plus food and lodging aboard the ship. Bildad, a hypocritical Quaker, figures a 1/777 lay is plenty, reminding Ishmael of the biblical passage (Matthew 6: 19-21) warning those who lay up treasures for themselves on earth. With Peleg's intervention, they settle on 1/300. The elaborate satire of the hypocrite, Bildad, is consistent with Melville's ambiguous view of Christianity, which he respects when it is practiced sincerely but criticizes when it is not. Bildad pretends to be very concerned about Ishmael's soul and wouldn't want him corrupted by filthy old money, but he doesn't mind laying up treasures for himself!

The mysterious aura surrounding Ahab is suggested by his absence and increases with a brief description. He is, according to Peleg, "a grand, ungodly, god-like man," a man of few words but deep meaning who has "been in colleges, as well as @'mong the cannibals." He lost a leg to an "accursed whale" on his most recent voyage. A reference to the biblical Ahab (1 Kings 16:33), who "did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him," foreshadows a serious spiritual or cosmic struggle for it was that Ahab who denounced Jehovah (God) for the false god, Baal. All this is developed as the novel progresses.


XXXIX Articles the Articles of Faith of the Church of England.

venerable worthy of respect or reverence by reason of age and dignity or character.

transom here, a horizontal beam in the stern (rear) of the ship used as a seat.

anomalous deviating from the regular arrangement or general rule, abnormal.

heterogeneous opposite, dissimilar, incongruous.

incorrigible that cannot be corrected or improved.

celerity swiftness, speed.