Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Chapters 4 & 5
In chapter 4, Ishmael gives the reader a rather amusing account of his roommate as he gets ready to start the day.
When Ishmael wakes up, he finds Queequeg’s dark, tattooed hand thrown over him in an affectionate manner. Lying there, with Queequeg’s arm round him, he experiences a strange feeling, one that reminds him of an incident in his childhood. When Ishmael was a child, his stepmother had sent him to bed early. After lying awake for several hours in his bed the young Ishmael had dozed off. When he woke up, his room was dark and he felt a supernatural hand placed on his. A chill ran down his spine. The silent figure seemed to be sitting by his bedside, and, for what seemed like ages, Ishmael laid there in his little bed, speechless with fear. Ishmael now compares his present strange feeling to that of his childhood incident. Only now he is not afraid.
When all his attempts to free himself from Queequeg’s loving ‘clasp’ fail, he tries to rouse him (Queequeg). Finally, Queequeg wakes up. Through signs and sounds, he asks Ishmael that if he does not mind, he would like to dress up first and leave room for Ishmael to wash and change in privacy. Ishmael agrees. As Ishmael lies on his bed watching Queequeg doing his toiletries, he admits that curiosity gets the better of him. However, he adds that very few people have the opportunity to see an unusual man like Queequeg at such close quarters.
Queequeg too provides ample entertainment as he sets off for the day. It is indeed amusing to read that this huge man wears his hat before wearing his clothes. And that he goes under the bed to put on his rather tight boots! He emerges from under the bed and walks up and down the room with ‘little else’ besides his boots and hat on. Since the window in their room has no curtain, the house on the other side of the narrow street would easily get a view of their room. So Ishmael requests Queequeg to hurry up with his toiletries and wear his trousers. Queequeg solemnly slips into his trousers. Then he proceeds to shave his face with the steelhead of his harpoon.
Ishmael dresses quickly to join Queequeg and the other boarders at breakfast. The bar room by now is quite full of sailors, mates, harpooners, and so on. From their physical appearance, Ishmael is able to figure out who has just returned from a voyage and who has been on shore for a long period. For instance, a young cabin boy’s sunburned cheeks reveal that he has only just returned from a voyage to India while an older man must have been on shore for several weeks.
At the breakfast table, everyone is extremely quiet. This disappoints Ishmael, as he expects to hear some good whaling stories. At the same time he is surprised that men who are such dare devils at sea should seen so timid and sheepish at a ‘social’ gathering like the breakfast table.
In chapter 4, Queequeg provides light moments through his antics and odd behavior. Ishmael’s sympathetic attitude reveals the his sensitivity as well as his ability not to take people at face value. It is through Queequeg and his supposedly odd religious customs that the author makes an analogy between Christians and the ‘uncivilized.’ For despite his looks and foreign customs, Queequeg appears to be more civilized than most Christians that Ishmael has ever met. Queequeg and Ishmael will prove to be fast friends as they go through the adventures on the Pequod together.
In showing the sailors as being quiet and timid on shore while sitting at the breakfast table, Melville reveals that life and people are full of contradictions, i.e., a brave, tough man on board a ship can be timid and shy in a given situation.