Moby Dick: Chapters 10-12

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Chapter 10, “A Bosom Friend”
 
Summary
When Ishmael returns to the inn, he finds Queequeg there, alone, carving the face of his black idol. Ishmael watches and concludes, “You cannot hide the soul” (10.49). He sees Queequeg, though heathen, a simple and honest man with lofty bearing. He thinks of George Washington when he looks at the shape of his shaved head. Ishmael’s heart melts thinking of Queequeg so far from home. He is attracted to have him for a friend, thinking a pagan may prove more trustworthy than a Christian. They smoke a pipe together and Queequeg pronounces them “married” or “bosom friends” who would die for each other, and he gives Ishmael half his possessions. When Queequeg worships his idol, Ishmael joins him, thinking that true worship is friendliness towards one’s fellow man.
 
 
Chapter 11, “Nightgown”
 
Summary
Lying in bed with Queequeg, Ishmael thinks about who he is. He knows himself in two ways. First, through contrasts: “there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrasts. Nothing exists in itself” (11. 53). To enjoy warmth, you must know cold. On the other hand, when he closes his eyes in the darkness, that is “the proper element of our essences” (11.53).
 
 
Chapter 12, “Biographical”
 
Summary
Queequeg and Ishmael sit up in bed in the middle of the night as Queequeg tells his life story. He is from Kokovoko where his father was the chief. He got aboard a visiting ship so he could see the world, and they made a harpooner of him. Queequeg had the noble quest to learn from the Christian world so he could take the knowledge back to his people, but he learned that Christians could be wicked, and decided to die a pagan. Queequeg says he cannot go back to his people to become king because he has been defiled and must be baptized anew before he can return. Meanwhile, his harpoon is his scepter. Ishmael and Queequeg vow to go to sea together.
 
 
Analysis Chapters 10, 11, and 12
The speculations on identity as merely composed of contrasts vs. identity as a specific essence plays out in the philosophical content of the novel. In one view, everything is made of contrasting polarities, such as good and evil, light and dark, heat and cold. Nothing exists in itself in the world. On the other hand, according to Transcendentalist philosophy or religion, the soul has its specific and inviolable unitary essence, which Ishmael knows when he closes his eyes in the dark, thus blotting out contrasts. Which is the truth, or are both ideas true? The novel explores both lines but favors the philosophy of contrasts.
 
Ishmael’s education begins with his friend’s perspective on Christianity. The idea that a heathen who worships an idol could be purer than a Christian sailor is new to him, but he is open to the idea because of the magnanimity of Queequeg’s character. Ishmael is drawn more to Queequeg than any of the crude sailors at the inn, for Queequeg’s heart is developed. This comments on the universal spirit of Ishmael who is able to appreciate diverse points of view and yet to see commonality in the human condition. Ishmael’s broad mindedness is a practical trait, for he will ship with men from all countries and races.
 
 

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