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Chapters 1 - 5

Chapter I: Loomings

We meet Ishmael (at least that's what he wants us to call him), the novel's protagonist and narrator, who begins his story of an adventure that happened "some years ago." Ishmael describes the liberating effects of sea voyage, explaining his desire to leave land "whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul." He explains, further, that he decided to undertake a whaling voyage in particular because of the "overwhelming idea of the great whale himself." This idea of the compelling mystery of the whale will dominate the rest of the novel, particularly as expressed in the imagination of Captain Ahab.

Chapter II: The Carpet-Bag

In this chapter, images of darkness prevail. Ishmael arrives by night in the town of New Bedford, a departure point for ships en route to the Pacific. He wanders the shadowy streets, looking for a hotel, and stumbles upon the first of the novel's many scenes of religion: a "negro church," in which a preacher describes the "blackness of darkness." Eventually, Ishmael finds "The Spouter Inn," run by a man with the ominous name of "Peter Coffin."

Chapter III: The Spouter-Inn

Ishmael describes the place where he'll spend the night. In particular, he describes an oil-painting hanging on the wall inside. This "boggy soggy squitchy" picture continues the novel's imagery of obscurity and darkness. Defaced by dirt and smoke, it depicts what Ishmael describes as "chaos bewitched," and eventually discerns as a whaling boat in a hurricane. This, coupled with the frightening array of spears on the wall and the bar made from a whale's jaw, suggest the terrifying adventure to come. Ishmael is told that there is a bed available - as long as he doesn't mind sharing it with another sailor, mysteriously described by Coffin as "a dark-complected chap" who eats rare meat. Ishmael, understandably, opts for a bench instead - but this proves uncomfortable, and he takes the bed, only to be awakened by the arrival of his mysterious roommate. To Ishmael's considerable terror, he turns out to be Queequeg: a huge South Sea Islander with facial tattoos, a bag full of shrunken heads, and a habit of worshipping a small ebony statue. Ishmael conquers his initial fear and, concluding that Queequeg is "a human being just as I am," falls back to sleep.

Chapter IV: The Counterpane

In an episode interpreted by some critics as "homoerotic," Ishmael awakens to find himself embraced by Queequeg, whose tattooed arm is almost indistinguishable from the quilted bedspread (known as a "counterpane"). "You had almost thought I had been his wife," Ishmael recalls. After remembering an incident in his childhood when he awakened with the distinct sensation of a mysterious "supernatural hand in mine," Ishmael extricates himself from the sleeping Queequeg's clutches. Sitting up and silently getting out of bed, the "savage" then puts on his clothes - starting with his hat and boots - and shaves with the naked edge of his whaling harpoon.

Chapter V: Breakfast

Ishmael and Queequeg head downstairs for "grub," surrounded by other guests of the hotel: shaggy sailors and whalers who surprise Ishmael with their general shyness. Queequeg "coolly" uses his harpoon once more as a serving utensil, and demonstrates his "queerness" by eating nothing but rare beefsteaks.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Prefaces
Chapters 1 - 5
Chapters 6 - 10
Chapters 11 - 15
Chapters 16 - 20
Chapters 21 - 25
Chapters 26 - 30
Chapters 31 - 35
Chapters 36 - 40
Chapters 41 - 45
Chapters 46 - 50
Chapters 51 - 55
Chapters 56 - 60
Chapters 61 - 65
Chapters 66 - 70
Chapters 71 - 75
Chapters 76 - 80
Chapters 81 - 85
Chapters 86 - 90
Chapters 91 - 95
Chapters 96 - 100
Chapters 101 - 105
Chapters 106 - 110
Chapters 111 - 115
Chapters 116 - 120
Chapters 121 - 125
Chapters 126 - 130
Chapters 131 - 135
Epilogue



 






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