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Chapters 16 - 20

Chapter XVI: The Ship

Making plans for the next day, Queequeg announces that Yojo (the little ebony statue) has insisted that the choice of ship for their voyage rest entirely with Ishmael. This does not thrill Ishmael, who has never been on a whaling voyage before, but he agrees. The two men go together to the docks to look at their choices: the Devil-Dam, the Tit Bit, and the Pequod. Ishmael chooses the latter, based on its dramatic appearance: an old-fashioned ship, she is decorated with what Ishmael calls "the chased bones of her enemies." Ivory dangles everywhere, and the tiller is fashioned from a whale's jaw.

He seeks the ship's captain, and finds an old and wrinkled man dressed in Quaker clothing who is immediately hostile: the owner of the ship, Peleg. Captain Peleg interrogates Ishmael, demanding to know why he wishes to go on a whaling voyage. Ishmael declares that he "wants to see the world," and Peleg asks "Have ye clapped eye on Captain Ahab?" Peleg tells Ishmael of Ahab's misadventure: he has had one leg chewed off by a whale. Ishmael is unfazed, and assures Peleg that he is willing to risk life and limb in the pursuit of whales, and to live for months without the sight of land. Peleg accepts this, and introduces Ishmael to Bildad, another Quaker and joint-owner of the Pequod, notorious for his stern and difficult manner. Bildad and Peleg debate over what "lay," or part of the ship's profits, to pay Ishmael. Ishmael expects a 225th, but Bildad offers the 777th - a lucky number, but a very small sum. Peleg, a softer hearted man, gives him the 300th, and Ishmael tells the two men that his friend - Queequeg - wishes to ship as well.

All seems settled, until Ishmael asks where he can find Ahab. Peleg reacts strangely, offering mysterious reasons why Ahab can't be seen. Ishmael recalls that the Ahab of the Bible was a wicked king, but Peleg assures him that Ahab "has his humanities." Still, Ishmael begins to feel a "strange awe" regarding Ahab, one that will only grow over the course of the voyage.



Chapter XVII: The Ramadan

Ishmael returns to tell Queequeg the news. By nightfall, Queequeg has not left the locked bedroom, and finally, in a panic, Ishmael and Mrs. Hussey break down the door. There, they find Queequeg crouching, silent and absolutely still, on the floor -- with Yojo balanced on top of his head. Ishmael tries to talk to Queequeg, but he takes no notice. Finally, Ishmael falls asleep and wakes before dawn to find Queequeg in exactly the same position. Finally, when the sun rises, Queequeg gets up as if nothing has happened. Ishmael attempts to convince Queequeg that such practices are foolish, but realizes that Queequeg might feel the same way about Christianity. Leaving aside such questions, they go downstairs and eat chowder.



Chapter XVIII: His Mark

Ishmael brings Queequeg to the docks to meet Peleg and Bildad. The two Quakers refuse to allow the "heathen" to board, but Ishmael assures them that his friend is a church member. When asked "What church?" Ishmael responds "the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world." This seems to satisfy the Quakers, and they ask Queequeg (whom they insist on calling "Quohog," a word meaning "large clam") on board. When they ask him if he's ever been whaling before, Queequeg gives a marvelous sharpshooting demonstration with his harpoon, and they offer him the 90th lay. Not knowing how to use a pen, Queequeg signs his name by tracing one of his tattoos on the contract. Bildad, in return, offers him a religious tract.



Chapter XIX: The Prophet

After Ishmael and Queequeg sign on with the Pequod, they encounter another warning sign: a crazy man on the docks, who calls himself "Elijah" after an Old Testament prophet. Elijah tells the two that they have signed away their souls to Ahab, whom he calls "Old Thunder." Momentarily nervous, Ishmael decides to forget about the warning as a "humbug."



Chapter XX: All Astir

The Pequod prepares for departure. This is the first of the novel's "informative" chapters, in which Melville provides the reader with all manner of detailed knowledge about the facts of whale voyages. Here, he describes the provisions put on the ship, courtesy of Bildad's aging sister, "Aunt Charity." Ishmael notes that Captain Ahab has still not made an appearance.

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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