Moby Dick: Chapters 6-7

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Chapter 6, “The Street”
 
Summary
Queequeg’s savage ways are nothing compared to the sight of the streets of New Bedford where natives of all the wild places on earth have gathered, along with American woodsmen and farmers and mountain men, to earn money by shipping out on a whaler. New Bedford’s opulence comes from the money of whale oil.
 
 
Chapter 7, “The Chapel”
 
Summary
It is Sunday, and Ishmael says no whaleman ships out without visiting The Whaleman’s Chapel and listening to Father Mapple. He takes shelter there during a winter’s storm and sees Queequeg standing in the back with his harpoon. The two worship together. Ishmael gets nervous reading the memorial tablets on the wall to dead fishermen and wonders what his fate may be.
 
Ishmael wonders why there is no comfort for those left behind when our religion tells us the departed are in bliss. But “Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs” (7. 36). Ishmael says his body is not his true essence, so “take my body who will . . . it is not me” (7.36).
 
Analysis - Chapters 6 and 7
Here is set up one of Melville’s dualities, this time—faith and doubt—that are inexplicably linked. The chapel with its monuments to dead whalemen is a foreshadowing of the danger and death to come. There is a feeling of bleakness and mourning in the chapel, and this is Melville’s critique of Christianity, that it gives so little comfort, and yet it prods people on because they cannot bear the death of their loved ones without some religion. Ishmael, like a true Transcendentalist, says cheerfully that he is not his body, and so he doesn’t mind losing it, for his soul will survive. Melville sprinkles Transcendental philosophy throughout, but usually to point out its inadequacy. Ishmael has not yet been tested.
 
 

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