Ti of the blog Book Chatter is sponsoring a challenge/readalong to read the classic Moby Dick. On Mondays, we’ll be posting about our progress. I am listening to the unabridged audiodisks for this book, which my husband listened to and loved.
I am very much enjoying the audiobook. I did, however, resort to the free electronic version to pull out some savory quotes for you to sample, from some notable passages thus far. This book is difficult and intellectually challenging, but the rewards are great.
Now on to Moby Dick!
First, the beginning. Everyone should know this famous opening paragraph:
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen [foul mood], and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos [periods of depression, anxiety, or ennui] get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
I know that mood exactly. I tend to turn to chocolate rather than to the sea, but I can relate.
Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn
In this chapter, Ishmael, the narrator and would-be whaler, meets Queequeg, a harpooneer, for the first time, when he finds he has to share a room with him (not enough room at the inn). Because Queequeg looks different, Ishmael assumes the worst, taking him for a cannibal, and shouts for the landlord.
The landlord assures him Queequeg is harmless, and informs Queequeg that Ishmael will be sleeping with him:
“Queequeg, look here — you sabbee me, I sabbee you — this man sleepe you — you sabbee?’ —
‘Me sabbee plenty’ — grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his pipe and sitting up in bed.
‘You gettee in,’ he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself — the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
Naturally this reminds me of Broadway show lyrics, in this case from “South Pacific” and the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”:
“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”
Chapter 6: The Street
While strolling around New Bedford, Ishmael gives a rather poetic appraisal of the scenery:
“And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell me the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands.”
A lovely and chaste appreciation of women!
Chapter 7: The Chapel
Ishmael goes to church on Sunday at the “Whaleman’s Chapel” (where he also sees Queequeg in attendance) and reads the memorials to the dead arrayed around the walls. (Most of these died on failed whaling missions.) He ruminates on death, wondering:
“…how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him, if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; … why the Life Insurance Companies pay death- forfeitures upon immortals; … how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.”
I thought he made some pretty good points!