Moby Dick, or, The Whale

Chapter 9. The Sermon. & Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend.

Instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east, and the sea is still. ~ Herman Mellville, Moby Dick

Here we have two very different chapters. ‘The Sermon’ is the longest chapter yet, I think, and also the most boring. At least to me. ‘A Bosom Friend’ returns us to the one-and-two page chapters. And I’m happy to be back to the development of Ishmael’s and Queequeg’s friendship. It is so sweet.

For me, Chapter 9 drags. I understand the significance of ‘Jonah and the Whale’ foreshadowing Ahab’s pride and unwillingness to recognise his sin. But I’m unsure what Melville gains from recounting the story in such a detailed way. Especially considering the religious attitudes of the nineteenth century, wouldn’t his readers have been even more familiar with biblical stories? So why the need to spend a whole chapter recounting the story?

One thing I will give ‘The Sermon’, though, is that some of the passages have nice visuals. The lamp rocking in Jonah’s cabin, and the ‘oily calm’ I quoted at the beginning of this post being the two moments that stood out to me the most.

The change of pace and theme from Chapter 9 and its biblical reference, to Chapter 10 and its descriptions of growing friendship is welcome. Of course, I’m still not comfortable with calling Queequeg ‘simple’ just because he isn’t from a European, or Christian, nation. I do appreciate how Ishmael is fairly self-aware about his assumptions. Though when he starts talking about how his Christian God would not begrudge him worshiping an idol alongside Queequeg, I have to wonder, did he read the bible? God killed a bunch of people for worshiping a golden calf because they wanted an image to focus on. Not jealous? Okay, Ishmael.

I digress. The sentiments and small actions in ‘A Bosom Friend’ warmed me and woke me up after the eye-drooping previous three chapters. But, speaking of action, when are we moving on? We’re not even in Nantucket, yet! Never mind on the ship. I’m impatient for things to move forward.

Definitions

Chapter 9

Canticle – a hymn or chant that forms part of a church service.

Amittai – Jonah’s father

Joppa – modern day Jaffa, Israel.

Spile – timber driven into the ground to support a large structure.

Parricide – killing of a parent or near relative.

Cupidity – greed for wealth.

Nineveh – ancient Assyrian city, where Jonah went to preach about their wickedness

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