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Moby-Dick – Chapter 5 Synopsis – Breakfast

Chapter 5 is the shortest one yet. Not a lot happening here- just a breakfast scene with Ishmael joining a bunch of seasoned whalemen and being surprised that they weren’t having a rip-roaring rowdy time at the breakfast table. Maybe they were out late last night drinking rum and whatnot. Who knows.

The best sentence was in the first paragraph when Ishmael was speaking about the landlord…

I cherished no malice toward him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.

You know that Peter Coffin, always skylarking with the guests. A little later the landlord used the phrase “Grub ho!” when he opened the door for breakfast. Yep, that Peter… always skylarking and talking nautical. The most interesting part of the chapter was toward the end when Queequeg was described as sitting at the head of the table “as cool as an icicle” until he pulled an even cooler trick by reaching over several heads with his harpoon and grappling some beefsteaks. Yeah, Queequeg is the epitome of 1850s studliness.

Moby-Dick – Chapter 4 Synopsis – The Counterpane

Nothing too exciting from Chapter 4. What the hell is a counterpane you may be asking? Yeah, I had to look it up too. It’s a quilt or cover for a bed. Ie, a bedspread. Anyway, Ishmael wakes up in the shrunken-head peddling harpooner’s bed, with the harpooner affectionately spooning him. Queequeg then gets up and shaves with his harpoon. I guess that’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Not the getting spooned by a cannibal part, but the not being able to find a razor and shaving with whatever is handy part.

Moby-Dick – Chapter 3 Synopsis – The Spouter-Inn

chp03Chapter 3 starts getting a little interesting. When our boy Ishmael heads into the Spouter-Inn, he spends a lot of time telling us about some large funky painting on the wall. After a few paragraphs and a lot more exposition we learn that it’s a picture of a whale attacking a ship. Okay, that wasn’t too interesting. I’m sure it’s some advanced literary device on Melville’s part– maybe just foreshadowing, or maybe something deeper.

The interesting part is when the Inn’s owner tells Ishy that he’s going to have to share a bed with a strange dude called Queequeg. The owner says he’s not a bad guy, in fact, he may not even come back that night since he’s out selling some shrunken heads. Aside, I had to do some research on buying shrunken heads. It turns out that you can’t buy them today. But as recently as the 1920s or so, you could pick one up in say, England, for the equivalent of about $25 US in today’s money. Man, I would pay $25 for a genuine shrunken head. Back to the story…

Ishmael gets all high and mighty and tells the owner that he’d rather sleep on a bench than with some strange man. But after a while, it’s not very comfortable and he decides he’ll take his chances with the shrunken-head peddling harpooner’s bed. Lo and behold, Queequeg does come home that night. He doesn’t notice Ishmael in his bed, so he does his little voodoo prayer routine (with Ishmael watching), and then he notices him when he hops in bed. Queequeg almost kills him (he is a crazed cannibal after all), but after Ishmael tattles to the owner, Peter Coffin, the two reconcile a bit and enjoy the bed together after all. And that’s how Chapter 3 ends.

Moby-Dick – Chapter 2 Synopsis – The Carpet-bag

chp02In the last chapter, our man Ishmael tells us he is restless and wants to go to sea on a whaling ship. So he packs a carpet bag with a couple of shirts. What the hell is a carpet bag? A suitcase-like bag for poor people? I know the old South called Northerners coming down after reconstruction carpetbaggers, so I’m sticking with a suitcase-like bag for poor people. Probably made of carpet. Anyway, he heads up to the whaling capital of the United States, New Bedford, Mass. We also get the impression that Ishmael is a nostalgic guy as he wants to go to sea on a Nantucket ship as it was the “original” whaling capital of the nation. No way was he going to hang out with these New School Whalers out of New Bedford. But… he can’t get a ferry to Nantucket upon his arrival in New Bedford so he gets stuck there for a couple of nights.

Ishmael wonders around looking for a place to stay. The first place he finds looks too expensive. The next place is a black church. They look at him like he’s from Mars, so he keeps walking toward the water where he’s bound to find cheap lodging. He does find the Motel-6 of the day in the Spouter-Inn, owned by one Peter Coffin. What a name. Peter. And there the chapter ends.

Moby-Dick – Chapter 1 Synopsis – Call me Ishmael


Call me Ishmael. So that’s it. That’s how one of the greatest (some would say THE greatest) novels in the canon of American literature begins. Who is this guy? From what we can tell in Chapter 1, he’s a sailor. Or, he could be something else but he wants to be a sailor because it was a “damp, drizzly November” and he found himself pausing involuntarily in front of coffin warehouses. And whenever that happens (the pausing in front of coffin warehouses thing), he realizes it’s time for an adventure. And I guess in the American 1850s, there’s no adventure quite like signing up to be a whaler on a whaling ship.

The rest of the chapter he describes the city, which I’m assuming is New York since it’s crowded and he calls it the city of the Manhattoes. A quick search (no thanks to Wikipedia) tells me that Manhattoes was a village which later became New Amsterdam, which was on the tip of what is now Manhattan and sometime later became New York City.

Ishmael also tells us that he likes to go to sea as a common sailor, instead of a passenger. This makes me think that 1) he’s gone to sea before and 2) he may have gone to sea as a passenger before, or at least at some point in his past he has had the means to do so.

What else do we learn from Chapter 1? The story is going to be told in first-person, from the point of view of a common sailor, although he does seem to be somewhat educated. He never tells us what he used to do, but he mentions that getting ordered around takes some getting used to, particularly if you’ve held an important position before, like a schoolteacher. Maybe Ishmael was a schoolteacher. We can only guess. We also learn that Melville’s writing can be a bit grandiose, or at least seem so compared to more recent writers. Maybe that’s common for American novels written in the 1850s. I don’t know. I haven’t read many novels from this era. The style does sort of remind me of Robinson Crusoe (published in 1719), not in that it’s particularly difficult to read, but that a lot of the vocabulary is outdated and I’m finding myself having to look up more words than normal.

And finally, if Herman Melville was writing Moby-Dick via twitter, here’s chapter 1.