Moby Dick: Chapters 17-19

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Summary
Ishmael is a Presbyterian but tries to respect Queequeg’s period of fasting or Ramadan before the voyage. When it goes on into the night, he knocks on the door, bolted from the inside. There is no answer. Looking through the keyhole, he sees only the harpoon and no friend. The landlady assumes it is another suicide and wants to paint a sign for the parlor, “No suicides and no smoking.” They break open the door and find Queequeg squatting on the floor with his idol on his head, in a sort of trance. He does not speak or move.
 
 
Chapter 18, “His Mark”
 
Summary
The next day, Ishmael lectures him on fanaticism in religion, to no avail. When Ishmael brings Queequeg to the Pequod, the Quaker captains insist on seeing papers showing Queequeg’s conversion to Christianity. Ishmael argues that his friend belongs to the same universal church as all other beings.  When Queequeg throws his harpoon and hits a mark, Peleg and Bildad instantly sign him on. They give Queequeg a larger share than any other harpooner.
 
 
Chapter 19, “The Prophet”
 
Summary
Queequeg and Ishmael leave the ship and run into a shabby pockmarked stranger on the street, who asks them if they shipped on the Pequod, if they met Old Thunder, and if they know how Ahab lost his leg. He says his name is Elijah, and he seems to be warning them of danger, but is a bit addled in the head. This makes Ishmael uneasy.
 
 
Analysis Chapters 17, 18, and 19
 
Ishmael stands for religious tolerance, but he draws the line at any sort of fanaticism, either from Queequeg or from the Quaker captains. The strain of fanaticism in the Quaker captains will be seen in Captain Ahab’s behavior towards Moby Dick.
 
Elijah is the name of a biblical prophet who warned King Ahab of Israel and his queen Jezebel, to leave off their worship of the nature god, Baal, and return to Mosaic Law and the God of Israel. He warned of catastrophe for their sinful ways and guidance of the land, for they had been killing the prophets. Similarly, the street Elijah of Nantucket seems to know something of Captain Ahab and warns sailors about shipping with him; his warning is vague because the man is something of a crackpot, perhaps because of his own bad history on Ahab’s ship.
 
 
 

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