Moby Dick: Chapters 26-27

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Chapters 26 and 27, both called “Knights and Squires”
 
Summary
These chapters introduce the mates (knights) and their squires, or harpooners. First is Starbuck, the First Mate of the Pequod. He is of Nantucket Quaker stock like Captain Ahab, but contrasts with Ahab in being tough, strong, healthy, and calm in peril. Starbuck is reverent to life, religious, and therefore superstitious or sensitive to portents and presentiments. He has a wife and child at home, giving him a measure of caution: “I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale” (26.112). Starbuck is brave but not foolhardy. He wants to return home. The harpooner of his whaleboat is Queequeg.
 
Man in the ideal, says the narrator, is so noble, that over any flaw we rush to conceal it with a robe. The dignity of every man comes from God, “The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!” (26, 113). Nevertheless, the narrator will have to weave together noble qualities and tragic graces for these characters.
 
Stubb is the Second Mate from Cape Cod, a happy go lucky soul, who takes peril with indifference. He is good humored, easy and careless, never perceiving danger, perhaps because of the pipe he always is smoking. His harpooner is Tashtego, a Native American from Gay Head, Massachusetts. Flask is the Third Mate from Martha’s Vineyard. He is short, round, and ruddy and likes to fight whales. His is an unconscious fearlessness. He is called King Post for his shape and because he is like a wrought nail, made to clinch tight and last long. He is like a short square timber that braces the ship. His harpooner is the 6’5” African, Daggoo, a fierce black man with two gold hoops for earrings.
 
Completing this cast is the little black cabin boy, Pip, from Alabama, whom the narrator tells us, preceded the rest to the eternal realm on this fatal voyage.
 
 
Analysis
The Pequod is a microcosm with all races and religions, a sort of Ark of whaling. The crew therefore symbolizes all men for Melville. However democratic Melville likes to sound, he does occasionally reveal a certain bigotry in his comments as in these chapters when he says that although one out of two whalemen are not Americans, almost all the officers are. The Americans supply the brains, the other countries supply the muscle, as in the building of American canals and railroads. This kind of remark, along with his assurance that whales are not endangered like the buffalo, do not sit well with later readers, although in his time these remarks were not offensive to the majority of Melville’s readers, for he was echoing a common sentiment. Melville’s stance on race and religion were very liberal for the times and were not theoretical but derived from working side by side with men of all nationalities as a sailor.
 
He says that Islanders make the best whalers, such as the sailors from the Azores or Shetland Islands, and of course, Nantucket. They are surrounded by the ocean and make good Isolatoes, those who live on board a ship, like a separate continent, “federated along one keel” (27. 118). This continues the theme of water and reflection being wedded forever, as well as the theme of the democracy of a ship, all the souls equal before God. A ship gives us therefore a more primordial view of life without the elaborate pretenses of the land.
 
The foreshadowing of little Pip’s death is another blatant omen of the tragic voyage. He is pictured playing his tambourine, waiting for his eternal summons.
 
 

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