Reading Melville at Sea: Going Aboard

Chapter 21:

Whaling
Whaling boat, 19th Century

Somehow I have gotten off track.  Or got off track.  Now not sure.  As am off track.   I thought I was writing about chapter 21 but seem to have commented twice on chapter 20.  Not as though I kept track of these things.  Clearly I don’t as a rule.  And therefore am frequently off track.

At any rate have a general thought about Moby Dick as it pertains to our times.  Melville wrote this novel about different cultural actors interacting with one another during a period of intense political poloarization.  We as a nation are horribly fractured, divided, at odds, off track. Radical Right versus Radical Left, and deadly divisions within each party.  As it was so it shall be.  So what can we learn about this world that we live in by meditating upon a mirror nearly 200 years old?

What’s interesting about chapter 21, ‘Going Aboard” ?

Elijah once again accosts Ishmael and Queequeg the night before they sail, with impertinent and nonsensical questions, such as

“See if you can find ‘em now, will ye?”

Perplexed, without maps, Ishmael and Queequeg step aboard the Pequod and go below, where they find a man sleeping across two chests. Queequeg sits on the man’s face.  Ishmael protests that he is grinding the face of the poor and makes him get off.  Then Queequeg tells Ishmael that in his country the wealthy people enslave poor people and make them serve as cushions and couches.  Queequeg flourishes his tommahawk and boasts that it would be very easy to kill the man sleeping before them. That unfortunate awakens.  Queequeg and Ishmael hear a noise upon deck.  It is Starbuck.  The sun comes up and more crew boards.  But Ahab does not appear from his cabin. 

I have gone off track. I have nightly nightmares about being lost.  I want to go home to “rescue” my son who can’t be rescued, who seems determined to drown. I will stay here, grit my teeth, set my sails and keep my own vessel on course.

Thinking about it Queequeg is pretty scary and unpredictable.  So Ishmael is one brave dude.

I have so many regrets but also believe I have had a very happy life.  So many happy experiences, such great passions, such rich encounters.  And also great sorrows and heartbreaks and frustrations and periods of intense pain and yet still perhaps not as much as I could bear.  No, it has been largely good, rich, and beautiful.   But so intensely painful, like a blade sharp and cold, at times.  The immense losses: mother father husband sister son.  Not that last loss, no, no. Please no. 

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Author: Kimberly Latta, Ph.D.

Psychotherapist, writer, artist, and independent feminist scholar.

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