Though dreadfully behind on Brona’s readalong, I am still plugging away at this American tome and really savoring it. This is my second time reading Moby-Dick, the first time being nearly a decade ago. The familiar scenes and phrases are coming back to me like old friends.
|NASA Johnson Space Center – Earth Sciences and Image Analysis (NASA-JSC-ES&IA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
The first 18 or so chapters cover Ishmael’s land journey to his ship the Pequod, anchored at Nantucket, and meeting his unexpected, cannibal friend Queequeg. Much has been written about the exploration of religion and culture that Melville covers in this introduction, where we see both conflict and communality between different characters, both on a broad scale and on a personal level.
What really gets at me this time is the range of emotions and “worlds,” if you will, which Melville shows us. You feel Ishmael’s wanderlust in the first chapter, his mix of fear and humor on meeting Queequeg, and the gloomy aura of the church where Father Mapple preaches. The whale bones which decorate the Pequod are just one detail which foreshadow things to come and which Ishmael, in spite of his irritating personality, will tell you about incessantly, like a close and endearing friend.
It is a slow and gentle descent into the plot’s ultimate chaos. If you did not know the ending, you might not suspect it from this opening, which reads like a series of chronological vignettes. That is part of the genius of the book.